This story is by Paris France and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
–Nina Simone. Patti LaBelle. Ginger Ale. Sweet tea.
-Their bodies gently swayed to the music as they tidied up the store.
–Her skin. So itchy.
-It had been a busy day and there was more cleanup needed than usual. Still, no complaints because working together was just easy. Their camaraderie was just perfect.
-A petite, caramel-skinned woman jerked her head in the direction of the voice. “Yeah?” Lilly asked.
“We should visit that pastry shop around the corner. What’s it called again?”
-Lilly giggled, “Sharon, we’ve gone there a million times! It’s still called The Pastry Shop. We should hurry; it closes in an hour.”
-Sharon’s embarrassment was hidden by her deep, cocoa complexion. “I was just testing ya’. Let’s get a move on it then.”
-“On it,” shouted Lilly, walking around a display shelf, broom in hand and mission on her mind. The sweet sounds of Nina Simone were abruptly replaced by the upbeat “Downtown”.
-“My jam,” Sharon exclaimed, as her tidying up of the headscarves and body oils double-timed.
–Purple. Lavender. Green apples. Peeled grapes.
-Forty minutes later and out of breath, they headed out.
-“We’re gonna make it I think,” Sharon said, setting the store alarm.
-The heat and humidity blindsided them after stepping out of the cool shop. Sharon just knew her afro was going to puff out another two inches and her makeup was going melt in the five-minute walk to the shop. She absently scratched near the mole above her lip.
-“Maybe we should j—,” she started.
-“Nope! Stop that,” Lilly interrupted. “Besides, Stevie’ll be there.”
-And that was exactly her concern. She wasn’t ready to me— see him. Get it together Sharon. Sharon. SSSSShhhhhaaarrronnn. She loved how the name rolled off her tongue.
-Lilly mistook her silence for further hesitation. “Listen, he hasn’t gotten over you, believe me.”
-Sharon pondered this, smiled and nodded declaring, “Yeah, I’m that -ish!”
-Lilly laughed loudly, “You and this new self-censoring. Whatever girl let’s go.”
–Stilettos. Pencil skirts. Brown eyes. Curly hair.
-They walked up the uneven brick steps, typical of the historical Danish architecture of the town. The Pastry Shop was a cozy spot only big enough to hold four tables for two in the dining area. They took a seat at the back corner of the shop. Sharon stared at her distorted reflection on the shiny silver table and absently scratched behind her ear, near the nape of her neck.
-“Hey, ladies, what you looking to treat yourselves with today?”
-Sharon startled, jerking her thoughts back to the present. She started to bite the corner of her lip before her mind screamed at her to stop.
That’s not right! Stupid, stupid, stu—
-Pulling at her earlobe instead, she nervously said, “Uhm, the usual, I guess.”
-Lilly looked up from the menu that Sharon hadn’t seen her pick up, “Turnovers? Again?! Ugh.” To Stevie, she said, “Get me those chocolate chip croissants with the mango dip.”
-Stevie smiled, eyeing Sharon the entire time, “Sweets for my sweets. Coming right up.”
-He was perfect. Mine.
-Sharon was again thankful for skin with that extra dose of melanin.
–German shepherds. Lovebirds. Math. Art.
-Sharon hugged Lilly goodbye in the parking lot. She smiled, looking down at the receipt that Stevie had written on. “Call me.” Short, simple yet everything she wanted, no, needed to hear. Stupid to let him go without a fight. I’ll fix it.
-It was dark already, one consequence of living near the equator; she needed to head home. Her skin needed some soothing attention, the discomfort always ramping up by day’s end. She grappled blindly for her bottle of water in her bag as she stepped into the, her, Miata. Mine. The X-5’s shiny black exterior suited her perfectly—sleek, powerful, fast. . . and dark. Perfect.
-She took another swig of water and pulled out of the parking lot, “Summer Rain” flowing from the stereo.
–Georgia. New York. Pillowtop mattresses. Shag rugs.
-Sharon switched on her living room light and removed her leopard print flats at the door. The lavender scent from the vast quantity of potpourri throughout the house cloyed at her nostrils; she much preferred vanilla. Patting the itchy spot behind her neck, she walked to her kitchen and retrieved from the fridge a clear Ziploc bowl used to store the meat procured a two nights ago. She scooped up three spoonfuls of the precious, soft graying meat into a ceramic bowl and added some of the chili she’d bought from the fast food chain on the way. Very little pink color remained in the meat which had flattened out because of its own weight—it wouldn’t maintain its shape without floating in its cushioning fluid. It also won’t be good much longer. Freezing the meat would slow the decay, but also made it soggier, less palatable and harder. . .harder to descend. Grabbing a cool bottle of water and cradling the bowl to her chest, she headed down the hallway to her bedroom.
-She walked past the guest bathroom, guestroom, her home office-turned-stockroom—it was still a bit of a mess and she’d have to scrub that red stain out of the carpet—and turned in the master suite. It was pretty spacious, with a walk-in closet and a bathroom outfitted with a spa tub, shower stall and his and her sinks. She loved her new room. Mine.
-Turning on the TV and Roku player to find her favorite show—she would use the familiarity of it for a timely return from descent—she walked into her bathroom, set her meal on her bathtub tray and drew a cool bath. She downed her bottle of water in a few gulps, getting some relief from her irritated skin. Peeling her sticky clothes off her body, she dropped them on the ground near the tub on top of the purple shag rug. She poured in some of her new vanilla bath oil and tested the water, deciding that it was just right. The remaining itchiness immediately faded as the cool water enveloped her body. Content as the Cheshire Cat, Sharon slid her dinner tray within reach and scooped some of the meat into her mouth.
-Everything happened in an instant. Her body went rigid and her eyes snapped shut. Painfully bright lights lit up behind her closed lids, like the synapses of the neurons were jarred awake and fighting for survival. Purple. German Shepherd. Shag rugs. Apples. Cinnamon. Lavender. Chemistry. Stevie. On her skin she felt fire alternating with ice interrupted by a surge of electricity. So many feelings—pain, joy, anger, amazement—and smells—flowers, wet dogs, chlorine from the pool and barbecue fresh off the grill. Her taste buds fired up, discerning sour apples, salty fries, sweet milk chocolate, bitter tea, and savory chicken broth. She was wired and her senses brimming. Perfect.
-“You broke my heart!” Sharon heard an echo of Jane shout at Rafael. She slowly opened her eyes, staring blankly at the wall. The new images, scents and memories she’d acquired now had a slight blurriness at its edge with a tint of fear—the final signs of decay. I’ll have to finish it by tomorrow. Bittersweet, but soon all those memories would be hers.
-Sharon closed her eyes, reverently swallowed another spoonful, replaying one word over and over before her descent. Mine.
-Thirty minutes later, feeling soothed and satiated, she emerged from the tub, splashing water on the floor while donning a silk robe. After brushing her teeth, she headed towards her fluffy, purple-themed bed. As she undressed, untying her robe—she needed to sleep naked to avoid potential itchy discomfort—Sharon savored the feeling of the soft material caressing her mended skin as it fell. Reaching behind both ears, her itchiest points, she pinched some skin between her thumb and pointer finger at each site. Slowly, carefully, she pulled at the skin until she heard a low, wet pop.
-Pulling upward over the ears, forehead and then down the front, Sharon’s face folded and gathered as the skin separated from her body. She rolled the skin down, pulling one arm out then the next. Everywhere the skin separated from her with the same wet sllllurrrppp, revealing matter, ebony in color, smooth and undulating with tangible menace. The substance rippled like water while continuing to mimic the shape of Sharon’s body. The pulling continued—down the waist, hips, then one leg followed by the next until the task was done. She gently folded the skin in half, left arm over right, left leg over right, laying it carefully on the chair next to the bed.
–Can’t afford any wrinkles or damage now.
-The inky, black form slithered with inhuman grace into the bed with Sharon’s consumed memories flashing across its senses. And the clearest memory was the most pleasing—Sharon’s face, distorted in a silent blood-curdling scream as her skin was being ripped from her body.