Friday 19 April 2013

"Skin Man' by Julia Bohanna

No one in the street knows what happens in the warehouses. When others around him speak of what they do, he will smile and pretend to be a simple man. The Skin Man is happy to do but not to talk about it. His fingers twitch as he sits with friends, as if the thread he held in his hands during the day is still there. It forces his fingers to dance.

How difficult it had been to thread that needle on his first day; the eye seemed to shrink and taunt him. The room too, that cold room, seemed to hold their screams like echoes in every corner. He moved his chair around when he felt the creep of ghosts, sweat moustaching his upper lip.

It is organised at least. Every worker knows well enough where their work begins and ends. Several to kill 
behind closed doors. One to skin and he, the tailor of the group, to sew with the other craftsman. Flesh is strange in death, tougher to work than he had imagined. He has to keep dipping the pieces into warm water, baptising it again and again for the needle to slide through. But with the glasses he wears for the needlework, he can see every tiny ridge, follicle or birthmark. Birthmarks are  discarded and there is a burgeoning heap of tainted curling skin, to be fed to the pigs that will end up on the best men’s table.

Of course he half knows where the pieces he works on will go. It is recycling. If material was needed for upholstery, for example……it  makes him sick at first but the answer is not to think of the other rooms, especially the one where there are still faint cries. But what else to do with the population exploding into anarchy? Everyone living past their hundredth birthday? There is no choice.

So very organized here, precise and sterile. He wears a mask and takes pride in the accuracy of his stitches. Sometimes he watches one of the women bringing out baskets of clothes, clothes of all colours that have been bought and chosen once, perhaps mended when they have worn away. The shape of children removed, they are purposeless. There is never any expression on the women’s faces. Later, the basketfuls are burnt of course; rainbow rags in flames in the courtyard.

He does not want to think what happens to the innards, those miniscule hearts and livers yet to be tainted with wine and bad food. Walter the butcher is old and overworked; he is the only man with the appropriate skills. In the evening Walter is grey and exhausted under lamplight, going home to a wife with very little left to offer. He imagines too that the butcher still smells of the place, although the man is so clean that he silently surgeon-scrubs his hands several times a day.

 In a place like this, Everyone washes as often as they can.

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