SKIN-DEEP  by DF Lewis

Lisa tried ever so hard to keep the flat clean.  She’d recently moved there, vowing to top and tail its residues every morning, but the road to Hell was surely paved with such intentions of Godliness.  So, as the days ensued, small chores were gradually left undone, the devil’s motes accumulated in the guise of common dust and grime grew unsightly as entropy encroached.  Everything became a mildewy mountain that Lisa convinced herself was unscaleable.

Having barely quit the nest twig-twined by her mother, Lisa was hit hard: crockery with organic stains; bedroom ceiling crazing over with more and more cracks, whilst their patterns seemed unchanged from one day to the next; varieties of mould spanning the mineral, vegetable and animal surfaces of daily life – well, she even believed that her inability to cope would, sooner or later, cause the walls to collapse like a house of cards.

Daytime was easier, since she could escape into the streets, where she began relaxing, convinced that she wouldn’t be held responsible for the city’s deep-skinned fuckweed.

“Hey, lady, stick yer nose in that!”  One of the food vendors shouted to her from a stall which he was clearing after a day’s business.  This was evidently his normal sales-cry for cut price bananas.  He prodded his finger into a brown mushy pile on his trestle, and laughed his tongue out.

Lisa cold-shouldered him and continued towards the theatrical quarter, where she hoped to feel less like the interface between flesh and stone or between blood and gutter-swill.  Everything was on show for what it was worth, whether good or ill, where personal responsibility and humanity’s common savagery could walk hand in hand.  Lisa laughed for the first time that day, as the ludicrous words which her thoughts employed came to mind.  Yet her thoughts had false bottoms.  She didn’t even know she had such quake-lines in her mind.

Eventually, she’d’ve leave the shimmering arcade and return ‘home’.  Night brought new ills to the city streets, from which even the flat seemed haven.  She scrutinised the flashing lights, each coloured bulb being a constituent of a saying or a title or a message or dancing sequinned lady beckoning man to her embrace.  Lisa shivered off a sob.  She felt need of her mother’s enfolding arms and bruised breasts upon which to rest a worried head.

A man accosted her.  He had crept up to her ear like a stealthy cat and whispered sweet nothings in a foreign language.  She did not appear to care, since here she was as anonymous as everybody else.  Were a knife to be surreptitiously eased between rib-bones to carve an arc from her heart, she’d die in peace with a self she no longer recognised.

But she returned, she knew not how, to the street where her flat was to be found.  She sensed her own personality slipping back into position between the ears, as she recalled with a shudder the unfinished washing-up, the dust-clogged hangings, the undarned trappings of her lost youth.  Mother had died too soon, before Lisa had fully emerged from the eggshell that had been moulded around her by hen Aunts who could never countenance the way human beings tended to give birth.  They’d thought Lisa too pure for those honking party-games in a brown butcher’s shop…

Lisa’s thoughts tailed off again, before she could grasp their meaning.  The flat was opened with a key that grated in the lock.  Not bothering to switch on the lights, she fumbled her way to the bedroom where, if she were lucky, she could collapse under the quilt without even seeing any of the dark rubble around her.

The bed sucked Lisa in even before she realised she’d reached its unmade mouth.  The innards were in tatters: shredded by long toe-nails.  Only Lisa’s head remained outside, a sweetly pitiful expression fleeting across its features under cover of darkness.

The lower ends of her body were the first to become as one with the bed’s thick-cut soup of animal, vegetable and mineral.  Then, she heard street-callers, costermongers and a solitary cat’s-meat man distantly selling their wares to those of us who only come out after dark.

Tomorrow, Lisa vowed to top and bottom the whole world.

Published ATSATROHN 1993

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