The Skin is the Largest Organ (an extract)

Step 1: Anticipation

The mouth is the beginning of the digestive system. Before you even take the first bite, the saliva glands start to secrete, triggered by the smell of food.


It is humid and the streets are tired. My skin is gluey with sweat and the city smog leaks through my sandals. It is so hot in my apartment that I soak my t-shirts in cold water and wear them dripping. I make small puddles on the floor, but everything evaporates quickly. I like it when the dust from the gutters gets ground into my bed sheets at night, and my days seep yellow into the mattress. It is evidence that I am living some kind of life.

I do not feel like eating anything. I am sticky and clammy and the thought of holding solid shapes in my mouth makes me want to vomit. I can stomach fruit because it is gentle. I slice watermelon into patient chunks and keep it in the fridge. I suck strawberries, pert and bitter, a collection of green tufts furring on my windowsill. Apples are sharp and sensible in the afternoons and pomegranate seeds roll between the floorboards like spilt rubies. Sometimes I add some natural yoghurt, or a few flaked almonds. Mostly, I have fruit and cold coffee, sitting on the floor.

I get home from work and kick off my sandals. I place a brown paper bag filled with bottles of beer on the kitchen table. When it is hot like this, beer quenches my thirst like nothing else can. I open the windows and roll a cigarette. I don’t smoke, but when the pavements are cracking with the force of the sun then all of the rules must be broken. I take off my bra. My apartment is at the top of the building and looks out over rooftops. I often sit in my chair with my legs resting on the window ledge. My bare feet hang over the city like a dirty secret.

Step 2: Insertion

As you put food into your mouth, the flow of saliva increases.

Julian turns up with two oranges. They are blood oranges, or perhaps satsumas, or clementines, or maybe even tangerines. I can never remember the right names. He says I need to learn categories and boundaries in order to understand the world, but I like it when things are blurred and indistinct.

(Saliva contains chemicals that begin to break food down.)

He cuts the oranges into large segments with a knife and puts them into two bowls: one for each of us. I watch his strong, clever hands chopping and slicing. He rinses his fingers under the tap and looks in my cupboard for brown sugar. I like that he knows where I keep it. He washes his hands again and we sit cross-legged, watching the sun seep through the window. The oranges are cold and hurt my teeth. The sugar sticks to my gums. Beer and citrus leak down my chin and the clouds are lemon drizzle in a persimmon sky.

Julian has a pip caught in his beard and I reach out to wipe it away, but he catches my arm and gives me a look that makes me quiver. He says that he is practising delayed gratification, and that an unfulfilled desire is more satiating than a satisfied one. I think that all of Julian’s needs are already realised. Wanting is a luxury and having is something he can do without. I have nothing, and so I want everything. I bite his hand, gently. He digs his pulpy fingernails into my skin and I focus on the birthmark on his forearm, the size and shape of a kumquat.

(Chewing breaks food down into pieces that can be more easily digested.)

Read the rest of this story at Somesuch Stories.