The woman and man are on a date. It is a date! The woman rubs a lipstick print off her water glass. The man turns his butter knife over and over and over and over and over. Everyone has to pee. What’s the deal with dates! The man excuses himself to go pee. At the table, the woman scratches her forearm a little too hard, and a slice of skin peels up with her fingernail. She tries to smooth it back, but it doesn’t go even when she presses her palm to it. It curls around itself like a pencil shaving. The woman is dismayed.
She holds her hands on her lap when the man returns from the bathroom. The man pulls back his chair and sits heavily. When the woman sees him, she covers her mouth to stop her laughter. The man must have washed his face too hard in the sink because his left eye and cheekbone are stretching apart. Bits of paper towel stick to his cheek. He has wiped off his face! He observes her mirth with a skewed sullen glare until she shows him the skin of her forearm, then he laughs with her. He uses his butter knife to scrape up a portion of his own skin to match hers. She plucks at her cheekbone until it forms a sharp point. He twists his thumb around. It pops into his palm, and he overhands it into the kitchen. The woman bares her breasts and flicks her nipples off her body like flies on a summer day. They land on the floor, and a waiter catches one under his heel and slips across the tile.
The other patrons have been watching this central pair. Underneath the couple's skin a clear paneling emerges: a carapace, a subcutaneous shell. Their bodies are mannequins holding skin and clothing and color. Here’s the deal y’all, there is a layer of skin, do you see what I’m saying? And then underneath that, you can’t get in there. YOU CANNOT GET THERE.
A wild look enters all eyes. Individuals wipe flesh off one another with napkins soaked in wine. A mother gnaws her child in its booster seat. One man lifts his ruddy toupee to reveal a few pathetic strands of glue-coated hair hair, blond in color, which he swipes off in one motion and stuffs down his shirtfront. A woman, watching the man, flicks open his button fly, and the hair scatters like dandelion feathers. The man howls, and the woman rips his dick off and drops it into a bowl of soup. What’s the deal with soup!
Tablecloths are pulled from tables, and the tables themselves are scrubbed of their color. A waiter dumps a tray of meat onto the floor, shines the tray on his ass, and wears it as a breastplate to go into battle with the cook, a stout man with a blistered face. The cook wipes himself clean to reveal a featureless figure dripping with rage and shame. He tips a boiling pot of pasta water onto the waiter, who himself is freed from ears, hair, dermis and his white waiter’s gloves, which he had once bleached every night and which now gunk up the kitchen drain along with the drippings from a holiday ham and a full set of teeth.
The room contracts. A woman screams until a child slips a dessert spoon under a muscle in her neck and flings her larynx to the floor, at which point the woman grasps both breasts, rips them from her body and applies them to her throat. The breasts produce twinned howling wails which consume a grown man whole. Flesh is siphoned into a bowl and poured without discrimination into a free-standing grandfather clock which is set on fire and rolled into the street.
This is no sepsis, no sucker heart, no blind agony. There rises a rallying cry of mutual recognition. This is a celebration! Each piece of internal armor on each individual is so thick with shine that even light from the recent past and the future finds a way to burst forth, shattering across shattering glass, covering all in a blinding healing bleeding screaming LIGHT because that’s what LIFE is, you assholes! That’s what it means to be alive!
Amelia Gray is the author of AM/PM (Featherproof Books) and Museum of the Weird (FC2), for which she won the 2008 Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize. Her first novel, THREATS, was published in March by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Her writing has appeared in American Short Fiction, McSweeney’s, DIAGRAM, and Caketrain, among others. Find more at ameliagray.com or on Twitter @grayamelia.