Handmade Skin by Suzanne Sutherland

I can never remember how to spell enough. I always leave the “o” out. My feet are always cold, but I rarely wear more than one pair of socks. I have cried on each of my birthdays since I was eleven. I have never told anyone my middle name, though it’s unremarkable. My favourite movie is The Princess Bride, but whenever someone asks me I say that it’s Dancer in the Dark, that Björk movie. I once told a group of close friends that I had never sneezed, which was a lie, and now can’t spend time with any of them without having an anxiety attack.

I once told my mom that I planned to go to Korea for a year to teach English after I graduated. She has bought me travel guides and phrasebooks for the trip every birthday and Christmas since. But Korea was just one of those things you say you’ll do—to other people and to yourself—once you finish school with a degree that only qualifies you for more school. I have no interest in more school. I have no interest in Korea.

I don’t like cooking, but I’m learning to deal with it. The last girl I dated, when she dumped me, gave me a book: Feasting Solo. She’d been the one with culinary inclinations in the relationship. The one with an impressive bookshelf, the one with a decent paying job. I’d been the one who required hourly texts on the evenings she spent without me. At the time, her giving me the book felt cruel, but after recovering it from the trash—where I’d thrown it after coming home from my twenty-sixth birthday party—I recognized, flipping through its recipes and scant philosophy of the single life, that it might be helpful. This, after weeks of pining and desperate attempts to bring Kal back, too cliché to bother recollecting beyond this sentence. Except to say that it is a mistake to send naked pictures of oneself, in tears, to one’s recent ex in hopes of reconciliation.

Now You Are Single!

Or perhaps you have been for quite some time. The particulars of your situation matter less than you might think, and, like it or lump it, you are alone. What fun! No squabbling over which movie to watch on a Saturday night, or where to stroll on a Sunday afternoon. No one else’s dirty socks to pick up off the floor you asked them to sweep three days ago, and no one to make inappropriate comments to your mother over Thanksgiving dinner. No, now is the time to live for you. While some may perceive this as selfish, you, the proud singleton, view it as an opportunity to make yourself your first priority—and rightly so!

The book, with a damaged cover and a few pages torn from the beginning, was a puzzle. No amount of Googling turned up who had written it or when it had been published. But its cheerful pragmatism carved into me and I carried it around like an amulet. I made each recipe and annotated its pages as I went.

Sassy Singleton Spaghetti

"Spaghetti alla bolognese" (photo by Flickr user gtrwndr87)

Ingredients:

  • 100g spaghetti
  • 1/8 cup of extra virgin olive oil (extra virginal—what Kal considered herself before me)
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • basil to taste (she was going to grow it in the garden, I was going to help)

Stir-Fry for the Stir-Crazy

Ingredients:

    "Steak Stir Fry Over Noodles" (photo by Flickr user chuckwaters83)

  • Basmati rice (she read Stolen Harvest and then suddenly I couldn’t eat rice anymore)
  • 1/8 cup of vegetable oil
  • ½ can of garbanzo beans (K hated when I called them chickpeas)
  • ½ cup of green pepper
  • ½ cup of broccoli
  • ½ cup of snow peas (her favorite)
  • ¼ cup of dry white wine (that leaves the rest of the bottle for me…)
  • 1 tbsp of soy sauce

Fajitas for You, You, You
 

Ingredients:

"Grilled or Pan-Seared Chile-Spiced Skirt Steak Fajitas" (photo by Flickr user thedabble)

  • 100g flank or sirloin steak (she mooed at me when I ate beef)
  • 2 tbsp lime juice
  • 1 tsp hot sauce (couldn’t handle this stuff—heartburn ruled everything around us)
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 small green pepper
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tortilla (our first dinner out we went to a Mexican place, I pronounced it tort-till-uh and she couldn’t stop laughing)

More pages, filled with pep talks and craft projects: Perfect Personal Vacation Planning, No Date? No Problem!, Dealing with Formal Occasions and Family Functions, Making Your Mark When “It’s All About Me!”

The last of these had several blank pages bound in between DIY projects for around the house. It was an error in the printing, a blank space, its emptiness a mockery of my attempts to put my life after Kal into ordered piles with just a stupid book. But I knew how to make my mark, how to fill in the pages.

I’d done it before. Had memorized the shallow pricking and the slight tug of skin upon the needle’s exit. The dull throbbing that came later. My first boyfriend had given me a tattoo. We were drunk and I’d always meant to get it fixed up.

You Will Need:

  • a sewing needle
  • a spool of thread
  • a bottle of India ink
  • a lighter
  • a shallow dish
  • a pen
  • some tissues

I started with my feet, the toes, as methodically as I could, though I got bored and sore and changed positions as I went.

Step One:

Using the lighter, sterilize the needle.

I put Let It Bleed on my turntable, but turned it off at the end of the first side and put on a playlist from my computer instead. Weeks worth of music, my favourite albums laid end to end to end to end. After the Gold Rush came on first, kicking off with “Tell Me Why.” Neil didn’t have any more answers than I did.

Step Two:

Starting 1 mm from the tip of the needle, moving towards the eye, wind the thread around the needle until it is completely covered. Make sure only the tip is exposed or the needle will pierce too deeply.

Hours later I couldn’t feel any part of me below my belly button, having been bent over for so long, having pricked myself so many times. Sitting on my bedroom floor with foreign limbs folded underneath me, I kept going. Hours later I weighed the massive bottle of India ink I’d bought at the art supply store down the street with my hands. It had been heavier when I started, though through the opaque plastic of the bottle I had no idea how much I’d used. Thankful that I had two more bottles sitting in the plastic bag I’d had to pay five cents for at the store.

Step Three:

Prep your space: lay out the supplies, and pour the ink into your dish. Wash your hands while you’re at it.

Inked to the ankles, I was shaking. Whole days passed as this new skin climbed my legs. I missed large patches as I went, hazy from no sleep, my eyes coming back into focus periodically, finding impossible energy to fill in the blanks.

Step Four:

Draw out your design on the place you’ll be tattooing with a pen.

My manager called one morning, then once a day after that, each time leaving a message. Finding I couldn’t move my legs or remember what day it was, I let the phone ring, losing my job a forgone conclusion. It’s not like working retail was ever my dream.

Step Five:

Dip your needle in the ink and start poking. Use your tissues to dab off the excess ink as you go.

To my waist, to up and under my arms. Switching hands, my clumsy left filling my right. My breasts, my neck and chin, my lips. My arms reached around to cover my back. Without a mirror, I imagined that I had covered it perfectly. The back of my neck where the reaching was easier. My ears, and around my eyes.

Step Six:

Go over your design several times until you’re happy with how it looks. When you’re done wash your new tat with mild soap and try to keep it clean for a few days as it heals.

In the dream, Kal kissed the top of my head. She traced the ridges of my ears with her tongue. She whispered something to me but I couldn’t hear what. She was so close, but it was as if the words weren’t coming from her mouth. Like she was throwing her voice down the street so it sounded like a little girl drawing out a hopscotch course on the sidewalk across the street. But I needed to know what she was saying. If she was teasing me for sending drunk text messages, or, instead, describing the way her dad used to read her bedtime stories.

“Do you really think, ‘Hey girl, I miss you. Come over later? I miss missing you,’ was sexy? You’re lucky I think you’re so cute.”

Or, “He’d hold the book away from him so the pages faced me, careful with the pictures. He always did the voices, too. Really committed to them, like he’d practised and knew how each character should speak.”

But I couldn’t hear her. I grabbed her by the wrists and told her to talk to me, I couldn’t understand. She laughed, tiny and absent, and I picked up my clothes from the floor of her bedroom and ran. The doors opened as I passed through. My pants and shirt were in my hands, but I didn’t stop to put them on. I dropped them, eventually. They were slowing me down.

"The Tattooed Men of Old Japan 入れ墨" (photo by Flickr user Okinawa Soba)

I kept on running. My feet were bleeding, leaving footprint puddles as I went. The blood was black and I noticed the sweat beading on my back, my chest and under my arms was black too, and it dripped down, covering me as I ran. When I finally collapsed, emptied, I lay down covered in blood and sweat.

And I woke up and nothing had changed. Amazed that my legs still moved beneath me. They walked me to the bathroom. I drank a glass of water, then three more. I washed my face and the blood, the new skin, didn’t come off.

I saw my hands and arms, my belly, my thighs, my calves, my ankles and my feet. My toes. I was filled. I was covered. There was no more room for K, but there was none for me, either.

I packed one bag. My landlord had never given me his address, and, because of some tenants’ rights loophole, it meant I didn’t have to give him notice that I was leaving. K taught me that. We used to joke about leaving this way. Going east together, to Newfoundland. We were gonna go get real, whatever that meant. I put on a stretched out hoodie and wrapped a scarf around my face. I walked down to the bus station and bought my ticket. Hours later, in the back seat, I took off the scarf and stared at my reflection in the window. I ran my finger over the ridges of my ear, then fingered the needle in the pocket of my sweater.

I can never remember how to spell enough. I always leave the “o” out.

Suzanne Sutherland is a graduate of the University of Toronto, and is a founder of the Toronto Zine Library as well as the Lovely Picnic concert series. Her fiction has appeared in the Varsity and Fatigue Magazine, and she is a former contributor to Shameless Magazine and JUICEBOXdotcom. By day she works at one of Toronto’s last great independent bookstores, and by later in the day she plays rockstar with her friends in Beatrice Sparks. You can read more of her writing at suzannesutherland.blogspot.com.