SKINLESS • by Chester Onion

The news says that today’s temperature is the highest recorded in twenty-five years. With this comes a choking humidity. To relieve myself of the oppressive weather, I take off my skin, unzipping it from the back. Immediately I’m rewarded with coolness, a freshness like the first whiff of morning air. I go to the mirror. My reflection presents an ensemble of red muscles twitching and contracting as I perform a medley of poses. Deciding to show off my ingenuity, I search the house for my mother. I find her in the parlor.

“Look at me,” I say, striding into the room. My mother looks up from the novel she’s reading and shrieks.

“Why on earth would you do this?” she asks.

“To cool off,” I say. “With the A/C broken, fanning oneself can only do so much. Try it.”

“Absolutely not.” My mother punctuates the refusal with the thump of her book against the sofa. “Look at the mess you’ve made. It’ll take hours to clean.” She gestures to a trail of bloody footprints that lead into the room and onto the large, patterned area rug on which I’m standing. “Put your skin back on right now.”

I maintain that my skin will remain off out of necessity. The air’s simply too hot. We argue for a while until finally I’m fed up. I announce that I’m going out, unskinned, and that I will stay that way until the temperature goes down. I leave the parlor. Down the hall I hear my mother protesting, labeling my look indecent.

“Just wait till I tell your father about this,” she shouts as I stomp out the front door.

I head into town. Unfortunately for me, everyone’s on the side of my mother’s argument. At the café, the library, even the cigar lounge — I’m barred entrance due to my “inappropriate” appearance. Eventually I conclude that I owe my mother an apology, that perhaps from now on I will bear the heat in accordance with society’s expectations. Embarrassed and defeated, I return home.

When I arrive there’s noise coming from the kitchen. It’s nearly dinner time. I assume my mother is cooking, so I go to offer an apology. But when I enter the room, I find that my mother isn’t there.

“Look who’s back,” my father says. A dripping aggregation of naked muscles, he stands at the counter, tosses fruit into a blender. “Your mother told me all about the idea you had—what a way to beat the heat.” He pours the contents of the blender into a cup, adorns it with a straw and a tiny umbrella. He comes over to me, holds out the cup, and asks, “Smoothie?”

I accept the beverage. My mother enters the kitchen. She stares at my father and me. My father brings my mother a drink of her own, and exhaustion spreads across her face as he ambles back to the counter and pours himself a smoothie. At last, my father raises his cup to make a toast.

“Here’s to staying cool,” he says, blood dribbling onto the countertop. My mother shakes her head in disapproval at the two of us.

“Do you see what you’ve started?” she asks me.

Chester Onion’s work has been published by Defenestration and Sunday Mornings at the River. His influences include Barry Yourgrau, Richard Brautigan, and Charles Bukowski, among others. For more of Onion’s work, see his Instagram page, @poetryonion.

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