My skin is cracking. It started, this cracking, in the places you would probably expect. Between my fingers, at the corners of my mouth, over the tough pads of my bare feet. Needle-thin fissures separating my skin into a puzzle-work of uneven patches. Naked in bed, I roll over; after a bath, I towel off—and pieces of me flake away in sheets.
It’s probably just the weather, my father says. It’ll pass.
And it’s true—it hasn’t rained in months. Fire scalds the nearby mountains and hills, stripping away the quaking aspen, the lodgepole pine. The air sizzles with electricity, hacks up gray ash.
Still, I don’t think the weather explains what is happening to me. Yes, I know I am young, but I am not that young. I am almost an adult. I have a few years behind me. I have experienced dry seasons. I have lived through droughts and wildfires. This is different. This—this cracking—has never happened before. Not to me.
It hurts a lot. The cracks web across my arms, my chest, my neck, even my face, the skin ripping slowly apart into separate tracts like a tight weave unthreading. The longest crack is located along the anterior section (I looked it up) of my right thigh, running from the head of my patella to the pop of my pelvis. It’s very strange: no blood seeps up from the cleft; instead, what is there, the exposed tissue beneath, glows red like lava. It is hot to the touch.
A boy I like, a boy on my cross country team, he said to me—in the locker room, when I was looking at him and he was looking at me—he said to me, holy shit, that looks like it hurts like hell, you should get yourself some painkillers.
But my father, he tells me: Son, bite the bullet. We are in the garage and the car’s front hood is open and he looks at me with the dipstick in his hand and he says, don’t let it get you down. Want me to punch you in the arm? he jokes. It’ll take your mind off your skin. His eyes are encouraging, they are bright and merry as goldfish, but when I lift my shirt for him to see, they go belly-up.
He motions for a clean rag. You’ll be okay, he says.
I nod at him, trying not to grimace. I throw back my shoulders, hoping they will remain intact. I laugh at his joke. I love my dad. I want him to love me back.
I do not tell him there is a boy I like. That I like a boy.
My skin is cracking. Beneath it, bright red tissue pulses and burns. I do not know how I will keep it all in.