The new skin

by Amandeep Jutla

Nobody comes around anymore. Not even my downstairs neighbor. Not long ago she was here almost every day. I learned her knock, a fusillade of insistent taps, quiet but precise, as though she were using a single knuckle. As though making a fist would somehow have been beneath her.

She always had a complaint. At first it was the noise – too much of it, she felt. Had I never lived in an apartment before? Had I no understanding that my living space existed not in isolation but surrounded by others? Did I realize she would have been well within her rights to complain to the landlord? Did I realize she was in fact doing me an enormous favor by not doing so?

Then it was the smell. The stench, she called it. Rancid, she said. Had my refrigerator stopped working? Had my cat died? Was my toilet backed up? What was the problem, exactly?

I haven’t seen her in more than a week. Perhaps what I did to drive her off was ill-advised, but I suppose I’d just had enough. I only have so much patience.

“I want to make sure I understand you,” is I think what I said. “You want to know where the smell’s coming from?”

“Of course!”

“You actually want to know. You’re sure about this.”

She said she was. I took that at face value and took off my bathrobe.

Like I said, I haven’t seen her since.

* * *

I used to think that what I have here is an infection. I’m not so sure that’s the right word for it anymore. Yes, it is a foreign agent of sorts. It is growing rapidly, with me as a substrate, a medium for this growth. I am the soil and it is the seed. Is it a parasite? I don’t like that word either. It implies that there’s a difference between me and it, that it’s somehow making itself stronger by making me weaker.

But what’s happening is very different. It’s making itself stronger by making me stronger. Whatever line that used to exist between this thing I have and the person I once was is becoming increasingly faint. I would add, too, that the person I am now is unquestionably better and more functional than the one I used to be. I was a woman with no real prospects, no clear future, working at a convenience store, pulling minimum wage.

Now, though? The future could not be more clear. The new skin marches down my shoulders, lowers itself onto my chest. Its advancement is gradual, unstoppable. The old skin is retreating, losing the war.

The new skin is slick, permeable. When I take a shower it drinks the water like another mouth. Thousands of extra mouths. The fluids in me are shifting. The balance is changing. I wonder, sometimes, what color my blood would be now, or if I even have blood. I’ve tried to experiment, to take one half of a pair of scissors and make incisions. Nothing. The new skin is too resilient to yield. It cannot easily break.

I myself cannot easily break. Some power has been given to me, I am sure of it. I am remembering things now that no human has ever known, things from before this planet had precipitated out of the dust of space. I am privy to an ancient knowledge. I am ancient myself.

My new eyes, like my new skin, are growing. They are not yet ready, but I feel them, feel my skull reconfiguring itself to let them grow.

They will open soon.