Skin Before and After Packaging
by Maggie Veness
To save time, Doc, I’m writing down everything that’s happened over the past two years so you can read it prior to our first session tomorrow. Like I said over the phone, I’m desperate for help with this incredibly private issue. You said we’d need to go way back to where my problem began (the trigger, I think you called it) so we’ll only need to go back two years. But just so you know—when I was nine I told my mother I’d chop one of my toes off with her secateurs if she didn’t buy me a soft-serve from the musical ice-cream van heading down our street. She didn’t, so I did. Chop it off, I mean. Small toe, right foot. I’ll show you tomorrow if you like.
Anyhow, in my case the trigger was love. Asha. She was female-perfect and the talented lead singer in our senior school band. I was shy, had mega-zits, and wore braces on my teeth. Funny, eh? The fix I’m in now began the day I realised I’d have to come up with a totally brilliant strategy if I was gonna win Asha.
Looking back, the first step of my plan was pretty lame. It involved song lyrics. I never even got to work out step two because somehow I kept finding myself in these bizarre circumstances and Jesus, it was like dominos falling—each weird situation pushing me onto the next, and me stumbling along without planning any of it. Anyhow, I’ll start with the song bit …
Everything I knew about love came from songs
Before telling Asha for the first time that I loved her, I figured I should listen carefully to the lyrics of the one hundred most popular love songs ever recorded and make a list of one hundred things I should never say to her so I didn’t sound like a douche-bag. (Told you it was lame.) There’s no way I can remember all of them now so I’ll just try for five:
Every time I saw Asha hanging out at the mall or McDonald’s or working after school down at Cheap Charlie’s Video Shop I almost died. I didn’t dare try talking to her or anything. I only had to lay eyes on her and I’d get so stressed I’d need to go find a public toilet to hurl. After that had been going on for a couple of months my mother started to really worry about what she called my ‘significant weight loss’ and begged me to go talk to one of the doctors at the After Hours Clinic. To shut her up I eventually agreed, but when I found myself seated in front of the doctor’s desk, shyness prevented me from mentioning the loving-Asha-so-much-I-could-die thing, so I just told him I was totally panicking in social situations. That was kind of true. When he quizzed me about symptoms, seven rolled off my tongue: Palpitations, pains in the guts, light-headedness, dry mouth, sweating, vomiting, and diarrhea.
I was in there for ten minutes, and that’s about ten times longer than anyone usually gets at the After Hours. Anyhow, he wrote me a script for these fantastic meds—with heaps of repeats. And I shit you not, Doc, this guy was as skinny as I was and had these craters, these massive zit-scars all over his face, and these ugly buck teeth. Looking back, I guess I must have reminded him of himself at seventeen and that’s why he was so keen to help me out.
The end and the beginning
After only days on the new meds I noticed my appetite was returning. Mum was really happy to see me wolfing down her Milo sandwiches again. She went and bought me this new acne cream recommended by our local Chemist, and three weeks down the track the zits had disappeared. It must have been somewhere ‘round my sixth week on the meds that my braces were finally removed. By that time I was heaps more chilled out about stuff. I remember my chin and shoulders felt as though they were kind of lifting by themselves, like I was attached to invisible puppet strings. Plus, I no longer got diarrhea every time I thought about Asha. Those meds sure were good for my confidence!
Lessons in packaging
My Mum’s older brother’s a hairdresser. He owns this exclusive salon on High Street. You’ve probably heard of it: La Urban Scissors. Anyway, this night I overhear Mum on the phone telling Uncle Sean how much I’m improving in the confidence department and he’s so pleased he insists on collecting me on his way to work the following Saturday so he can style and color my hair then take me shopping in all these boutique men’s-wear shops.
So on Saturday morning, after two hours of snipping and fussing, me and Uncle Sean hit the shops. I knew he was having a nice time copping a perv every time I stripped down to my underwear to try something on, because truth is, Doc, I’m well hung, and hey, this was his first ever open-wallet-day with me so I wasn’t gonna risk pissing him off. Anyhow, by then the meds had me really chilled.
When Uncle Sean brought me back home that afternoon and told me to go check myself out in the full-length hall mirror, it felt like my brain flew out into deep space on a mega rubber band and snapped back into my head with all the cells reconfigured. With my new threads and styled hair and stuff I no longer looked anything like me. Uncle Sean was incredibly proud of his work. He said it was all about packaging the package. I guessed he meant if I no longer looked like a nerd I wasn’t a nerd.
Hungering for approval
I’m not sure how to explain what happened next, but, try to picture a grub morphing into a butterfly. My new exterior made me feel kind of weightless and shiny. And now that I wasn’t a nerd any more there were a few boys from school who wanted to hang out with me.
Me and my boys started chilling together at the Mall every weekend. And because I was no longer suffering from any of the seven previously mentioned symptoms I could eat fries and shakes and donuts like everyone else. Plus I was zit-free and smiling with straight teeth. It was amazing. For the first time in my life I was popular. Hell, I was up for anything! Right? Then this one Saturday morning Asha comes walking past, and when I throw her one of my laid-back winks and she responds with a little wave, my new-found confidence ramps up to like, invincible.
I was turning eighteen the following Sunday so I hit Asha up for a date to help me celebrate. She agreed on the spot, which must’ve really impressed my boys because after she left they started cheering and punching my arm and stuff.
So that Sunday I took Asha to Pete’s All You Can Eat and at first she laughed at how much I was packing away. Somewhere between the French cheesecake, the strawberry gateau, and the chocolate profiteroles, she gave me a birthday present: a silver key-ring with this black enameled spider in the centre. She’d wrapped it up and everything. Unfortunately we didn’t get to talk much because I was far more interested in the self-serve food situation that night than I was in Asha or her lame gift. That’s why she turned down my second invitation, which was for the budget Chinese smorgasbord lunch down at Luv Fat Choy’s. I went anyway.
Stretch and pay
Then this one night in the shower I noticed all these weird purple lines running across my guts and hips that seemed to be spreading around to my back. At first I thought I must’ve caught some rare disease but when I showed my mother she told me they were called stretch marks and that my skin was stretching too fast. She said I got them from eating so much, and explained that it wasn’t my fault because perpetual hunger was obviously a side-effect of the meds I was taking. She started buying in diet soda and low-calorie snacks and shit like that, which I consumed on top of everything else.
By this time all my expensive new threads were too tight, but I still didn’t want to stop eating. I couldn’t stop eating. The meds kept me totally chilled about the situation, though. Mum called Uncle Sean, explained about the clothes. He wasn’t angry or anything about wasting all that cash. He said it was time we had another make-over day anyhow, and organised to pick me up on his way to work the next Saturday so he could give my hair a trim before we hit the boutiques.
The Salon was mega busy when that Saturday rolled around, so he sent this nice hairdresser named Lyle to collect me. Lyle helped with my shampoo and conditioning scalp massage, which felt amazing, and ended up tagging along on our shopping trip. Later, when I was trying on some clothes at Fab Fabian’s and Uncle Sean got called back to the Salon to sort out some drama with a customer’s hair melting off, I was left in Lyle’s expert hands—and mouth, if you get my drift. I didn’t mind that, either. Why would I? The way he handled Mr. Snake felt good, plus for a few minutes it took my mind off some serious cravings for a works-burger, large fries, and a double chocolate fudge sundae, which Lyle happily paid for afterwards. Now, that’s what I’d call a win-win situation. Right?
Next thing Lyle invites me to join him for a mini shopping trip every Saturday morning followed by lunch of my choice. It was a no-brainer. He wasn’t as rich as Uncle Sean, so I’d only choose one thing each week, like a t-shirt, or a cap, or a wallet or belt or something. I remember one Saturday we were on the escalator inside Dimity Plaza heading up to the food court when I noticed Asha just meters away heading down. When she was right next to me she threw out her arm and made an unladylike sign right in my face. Thanks to the meds even that didn’t bother me.
Me and Lyle decided not to mention our weekly arrangement to anyone, and especially Uncle Sean—in case he felt left out or something. I mean, he was stuck managing his salon most of the time anyway.
Me and Lyle soon got to know which shops had the most private change-rooms and the most discreet staff. Lyle carried a tube of special moisturizer and would always start by massaging a little into the purple stretch-marks on my hips and stomach. Round and round, lower and lower, up and down, with a quick gum-job to keep things tidy. Sometimes he’d bring Graham or Dean along—his best man-friends—and they’d take turns with Mr. Snake. They were great guys, all three of them.
I hope this part hasn’t offended you, Doc. I don’t think I’m Gay or Bi or anything. Back then I was just nicely chilled out and totally enjoyed being the centre of attention. I mean, these guys were incredibly nice to me—always turning up with little treats, like boxes of chocolates and stuff. Said I was the best fun to go shopping with. They didn’t mind that I was putting on weight, and I didn’t give a shit about anything much besides the lunch menu. That particular situation continued for maybe six months.
Summer of the melting lard
Thanks to the meds, up until then I’d been easy to get along with, especially if I was eating, but I was now tipping the scales at two-ninety pounds, so walking three blocks to the mall to top up on snacks each day in the middle of summer had me sweating something fierce. After a couple of weeks the wet rolls of fat at the top of my legs had rubbed my groin red raw and I could no longer walk. I was forced to cancel my regular meet with Lyle and the boys.
To handle the agony of my weeping groin, for maybe six weeks straight that summer I lay sweltering in the nude on the sofa devouring every last thing from the kitchen pantry while I watched lame cooking shows and re-runs of Seinfeld. Eventually the pain broke me, and, man, I got angry!
My room copped it first. I smashed stuff against the walls and kicked holes in my wardrobe doors. Mum would arrive home from work to find the latest damage and start crying, which would just make me threaten to chop off a hand or cut out my heart or something. She’d remember what happened with her secateurs and totally crap herself. After that she’d do whatever it took to calm me down, like cook me rich chocolate puddings or trays of gooey caramel fudge, or order home-delivered banquets from Luv Fat Choy’s, or pizzas with triple toppings and steaming hot garlic breads on the side. Anything I wanted, I got.
I copped some shit around that time, like when our ancient neighbor told me I was dead lazy and should be out mowing the lawn for my mother. He learned to keep his mouth shut after I made a bonfire out of his fence palings and his garage burned down with his mangy cat locked inside. Occasionally, some smart-arse kid would call me names like Fat-Arse or Elephant Man, and I’d grab them ‘round the throat ‘til they were ready to apologize. One time I hurled a brick through a bakery window after they told me they were all out of meat pies. We had a visit from the Cops over that one and they sent Mum a bill for over five hundred bucks for replacement glass. I had a few warnings from the Cops during that period, plus one actual court appearance. Anyhow, Mum always stood up for me. She’d explain about my serious emotional problems and the meds I had to take and how nothing was actually my fault, and I’d just end up with another caution.
The ticket to Nerdsville
By this time Mum was getting desperate. She only got me back to the After Hours Clinic with the promise of a twelve pack of my favorite strawberry jam and mock cream filled sticky buns and two quarts of creaming soda.
I got the same Doctor-dude but he didn’t recognize me. I dropped my extra-extra-extra-out-sized elastic-waist shorts and flashed the weeping groin flanking dejected Mr. Snake. He read the notes he’d made on my previous visit then weighed me and almost crapped his pants. After making a call he started talking up this stomach-banding thing he wanted me to have (at no expense to myself) and then had me sign some paperwork. He made a second call to secure a date for my ‘procedure’, then handed me an informative brochure to read at home plus two new prescriptions; one for some new meds to pacify me, and one for a stinking, grey salve to treat the hideous raw flesh.
Life gradually settled back down. In fact, the combination of the new meds plus the stomach banding worked so well, twelve months later here I am, right back to being a placid one-fifty pound nerd with no friends.
Okay. Now that I’ve bought you up to speed about the last two years, you’re probably amazed that there’s only one serious personal issue I need help with. That issue, Doc, is skin. See, I can gather shimmering handfuls up from practically anywhere on my body. Jesus. If I roll it between my fingers it feels kind of cold and squishy like the bladder from a part-empty wine cask. I have enough spare skin to cover at least one more person. I mean, if only they wanted donated skin like they want donated blood.
I repeat: If only they wanted donated skin like they want donated blood!
Now, Doc, read the following three points carefully, because I’m now gonna outline this exceptional idea I had a couple of weeks back. (By the way, you can relax. I haven’t shared this with anyone else.)
Lonely me and Mr. Snake
Fact is that, undressed, no-one’s gonna want to even look at me again, let alone touch me, not while I’m toting all these floppy pink wine-bladders around. I can disguise it to some extent with loose clothes, but let’s be honest here, not even my Uncle Sean would want to perv on Mr. Snake if he knew how disgusting I looked buck naked.
Funny how things have turned out. I never give Asha a thought. It’s Lyle, Graham, and Dean I really miss. I think about them all the time. I mean, even when I was covered in purple stretch marks they were nice and polite, so I’m certain that if I could get all this loose skin cut off they wouldn’t give a shit about a tidy scar here and there. In fact, they’d probably offer me a lovely massage with some of that special moisturizing cream. Mmm.
Anyhow, this is where you come in, Doc, because you now understand how important it is that I get rid of all this extra skin. It’s the reason I angled to get some mental-health-type attention. I mean, I’ve checked out this kind of surgery online and it’s ridiculously expensive and I don’t even have a job. A smart guy like you knows how to work the system. I need a shrink to recommend I get the operation asap. You’ll only have to say it’s crucial for my mental well-being. Right?
I know you’ll help me, I mean, if you keep in mind that thing I told you earlier about my toe …
I’ll finish with the five points you’ll need to write into my case notes before tomorrow’s appointment:
I’ll be in your waiting room when you’re ready for me …
Issue #4 Contents
Bed and Breakfast
The Silver Apples of the Moon
C Was for Cat
Jack Campbell, Jr.
Skin, Before and After Packaging
The Turning of the Worm
Brian Douglas Moakley
Maggie Veness lives in a seaside town in northern NSW, Australia. Quirky, salacious, black, and unpredictable, her contemporary fiction has been print-published across seven countries to date. A 2014 Pushcart Prize nominee, Maggie’s literary influences include Miranda July, Sam Lypsyte, Hilary Mantel, Cate Kennedy, Tim Winton, and Helen Garner.