"The Girl with Wallpaper Skin" by Hannah Gordon

One day, about a month after you left, I began to shed my skin. It started like a bad hangnail, small yet mighty. I pulled and pulled until I was pulling off whole slabs of it, like the wallpaper I tore down in the bathroom—the one with the pretty flowers and singing birds put up by the previous owners.

The doctors were baffled, of course—aren’t they always, though? The human body is a mystery yet. I tried every cream and oil and serum I could find, even the weird ones—ones made of bee venom, caviar, snail feces, and bone marrow. You could smell it on me as I sweat in the summer sun, this mixture of concoctions that couldn’t save.

They say that skin completely replaces itself every seven years. Or is that stomach lining? Either way, I’ll be purged of you someday.

As I peeled and peeled and peeled, strips of it sloughing to the floor, pink and warm, my cat sniffing it as though it were an offering, I began to wonder if this was some sort of evolution. Without skin, what could others touch?

The first time you touched me, I swear it burned. The last time you touched me, I know it did.

I stopped wearing skirts and dresses, and instead wore all black—long pants and turtlenecks—like a poet but without beautiful words.

But that was then. Now, I’ve stopped the peeling. My skin falls away on its own, or I’ll shrug it off in my sleep. I’m not a reptile; I know that underneath this skin there isn’t any more.

I think I’ll take that wallpaper and make myself a new skin. I’ll paste it on, welcome the burn, think of you. When people see me, all they’ll see are soft flowers and birds nestled in apple trees. All they’ll see is the decoration left behind by someone else, a previous owner perhaps.