This story is by Karen McCandless and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
Laura (her assumed name) took off her face as she walked through the door. She shed her skin and padded into the living room. Her party skin was sitting on the floor where she had left it last night. She’d been so tired, talking to many people, new people, human people. Her skin had paid the price. It was grubby, frayed around the edges, showing cracks at the hairline. The skin hadn’t been strong enough to protect her from the banalities of the evening.
In her world, these skins weren’t necessary. Little talk (or was it small talk? Petite talk? Minute talk?) didn’t exist. When she had first arrived here, she hadn’t understood what people had meant when they said that they took their face off at the end of the night. She’s taken it literally, and had almost wept with happiness that this species wore skins to fit into different environments as well.
She had more in common with the humans than she thought, had imagined the aesthetics, wondered if it was the whole head or just the face, how the humans looked underneath, and whether they would ever let her close enough to see. This was where the idea of fashioning her old skins had come from.
Laura had realized early on in her life on this planet – after painstakingly looking through the catalogues for her year abroad – that conformity was celebrated. There were people who liked to think they were being different – those types that called themselves legsters (armsters? Hipsters?) But they rebelled within certain parameters. This seemed like it was going to be the challenge that she had to learn how to navigate.
And so Laura set about creating these skins for different purposes. There was work skin, which spouted corporate language that nobody seemed to listen to, nevermind understand, and sent emails saying one thing but meaning another. She had learned the phrase “passive aggressive” early on. This skin had an ambitious personality and was a master at office politics.
The second skin Laura created was the party one (the one that needed some maintenance now). This skin knew exactly what to say in social situations and how to be funny and interesting yet not monopolise the conversation. It was key not to piss people on (piss people off? Piss people around?) and to seamlessly make tiny talk to strangers without saying anything inappropriate or embarrassing.
The relationship skin was complex, as it needed to have a certain look (complete with slinky lingerie) as well as the confidence to subtly flirt with guys. Just a little, but not enough to make you look like a bore (whore? chore?) or to piss over the other girls. This skin was a dedicated follower of the rules: never contact him first, always wear makeup, pretend you’re not interested and, if you must return a message or call, wait a few hours.
Next came the gym skin, which was a master at taking shelfies (when she wasn’t wearing her skins, her human vocabulary suffered). She then posted these shelfies on antisocial media where people would say incomprehensible things or say “u ok hun?” if she looked to thin.
She had started making skins for certain groups of what these humans called friends. The work friends skin knew instinctively that she should bitch about her boss and complain about creepy Brian from accounts who smelled of PO (BO? KO?) With her gym friends, she’d learned to talk about leaving it all out on the floor, how grueling their latest spin class had been, and what brand or protein shake she favored.
Now she was even developing an “at home” skin so could adhere to the correct behavior when in her flat. This involved shopping for (and lighting) fire in a jar (candles?) that had this funny smell and watching live broadcasts of humans making fools of themselves on a flat, black device on the wall. She wasn’t sure if the government was responsible for making these humans humiliate themselves by exposing bits of their bodies in the freezing cold, spewing carrot-textured liquid all over the place, and having incomprehensible conversations about whether size matters. Her work friends skin then talked about these broadcasts the next day when she was wearing her work skin.
As Laura set about repairing her work skin, she wondered if she could focus her year abroad assignment on human interest in these skins. In a world where nobody ever said what they thought (her species had the gift of seeing inside people’s minds), wouldn’t it be easier if you could let your skin do the talking so you could more easily keep up the pretense? Which skin could she use to propose this? She’s have to create another one: entrepreneurial skin.