jackson-hendry-eodA_8CTOFo-unsplash (1)

Shed This Skin

Tonight, I make my return to the water. The weather is warm, the moon full, the time right again to take stock of all I’ve removed and dropped into the deep black lake behind my home.

I wrote and sunk the first message a decade ago, now. Recorded my confession on paper, rolled it scroll-like, slid it down the throat of an empty glass Coke bottle, reattached the crimped red cap with noxious globs of superglue. The thick curved glass magnified and distorted the tight coil of my secret—

My Dear,

You aren’t real, so now’s the time to write. I’ve tried wanting you, willed myself to feel the rush of gooey hormones. I fail. And fail again. If you ever do come clawing into the world, you won’t know this secret. I’ll transform. Surely I will. I’ll shed this skin and glow with expectation. I’ll wear new skin—warm—to which you’ll press round cheeks. Surely. Surely I won’t fail even at this if you ever arrive?

With love I cannot fathom—  

I fetched cement mix and a bucket and cooking spray and a hammer, the last a housewarming gift from my father. I stirred water into the dust, pressed the sealed bottle into enveloping gray slop, scattered a fistful of shimmering blue marbles across the sticky surface and mashed them down secure, one by one. Next day, once mud had set to stone, I gripped tight the hammer’s handle, busted the bucket, peeled away greased plastic and stashed the heavy gray plug in the darkest corner of the garage until the next full moon, when I hefted it to the lake and plunked it into the water and watched my secret slip fast away.

Took a year for me to make another confession—a memory of a man, recurring dream with no ending, a wispy haunting. Three lines of text, and then: roll, slide, glue, mix, bust, peel, heft, plunk, disappear.

Secrets flowed out of me quarterly for a few years, then monthly. I sunk them all, good riddance, careful removal of my dark gnawing parts.

I crafted a placid smile, went about life. Wife. Friend. Worker.

Then the baby came, pulling much from me, reshaping my body soft. Mother.

I adored the baby from moment one. I did and I do. She and my husband and me, molded into family, a new set of selves in the world. So much more to tear and carve and hollow, though—plunk plunk plunk, discarding myself piece by piece into the lake.

So little left, I hardly recognized my new sleekness, the gaunt whittled thing I’d become.

All that time, I’d hoped to muffle the noise of my secrets underwater. Instead, I heard a new sound. Always in my ears, that lapping of lake water against pebbled shore: waiting in the carpool line, arguing with passion at PTA meetings for longer recess periods and music and art and story-time, watching my darling toddler-chubby girl struggle to learn first and second position in her pink tights and tiny black leotard sagging at the rear. Always in my ears—a faint whoosh and trickle, calling.

So I bought a diving light and began to visit my scattered, sunken selves on full moon nights in summer only. Each year, winter has frozen the lake and desiccated me. I’ve spent the cold months gulping water from a bottle refilled hourly, spreading thick lotion over scaly skin, filling baths nearly to the tub’s brim. Me sliding under the surface, closing my eyes, holding my breath. Seconds and minutes stacking like bricks on my chest. I’ve gotten good at it, learned to be still within myself, learned I can wait and wait to breathe again.

Sometimes I hear the muted tones of my daughter’s voice lilting, Ma-ma Ma-ma, from the other side of the bathroom door. And shortly thereafter my husband’s deep rumble—Mama’s resting. Let’s let her rest.

Tonight, I make my return to the water. Well after midnight, family asleep, I shed my clothes and loosen my braided hair. The air is thick and summer-damp though it’s only early June. I walk down the sloped yard to the lake, moonlight silvering my skin, mouse-brown hair wisping at my waist. Bare feet against pine straw. Sick-sweet scent of a neighbor’s dryer sheets vented into the night. The banter of two owls.

From the creaking dock, I survey the black water, the surface stillness, the mist rising wraithlike. My skin glows bright and I arc my body to dive, breaking the surface with hardly a splash.

I swim down down down, releasing air in mercurial little beads, and when I reach bottom, I turn on the diving light—thousands of blue marbles glinting, enlivening the jagged graveyard I’ve made of myself.

I touch fingers to my stones. Slip of green algae, grit of cement. I know each one.

Hair floating gauzy, I press my feet into sludgy lake-bottom, launch myself toward moonlight and break back into air, gasping but full. I dive again. Again. Again. I dive until I no longer need to gulp air above the water’s surface, dive until my body feels silver-skinned, flattened and thinned, sliding swift and silent through murky water, between sunken tombs. Home again and nearly whole.

Annie Frazier is from North Carolina, where she lives and works as a freelance editor and as a fiction faculty member for Great Smokies Writing Program at UNC Asheville. Her fiction and poetry can be found in Lost BalloonAppalachian Review, Paper Darts, Longleaf Review, CHEAP POP, and elsewhere. Find her at anniefrazier.com and say hey on Twitter @anniefrazzr.

Submit Your Stories

Always free. Always open. Professional rates.