Wednesday Briefs: Icky Skin

Welcome to Wednesday Briefs―a blog hop where authors post 500-1000 words of free flash fiction every week. 

Icky Skin 
“Here. Try mine,” Alex said offering her the ice cream cone.
She leaned in and reached to steady his hand which held the cone, noticed his thumb. “Ick,” she said and pulled back her hand.
“What?” he asked.
She pointed to his thumb and then he remembered: he’d scratched a patch of dry skin on his knuckle in his sleep so relentlessly, it was now raw and angry looking. Icky.
She turned away and addressed his brother who glanced at him and said something he didn’t hear. She leaned in and licked his brother’s ice cream. Hurt and embarrassed, Alex dropped his ice cream cone into the trash and walked away. 
Alex suddenly yanked his hand out of Jared’s. Jared stopped and watched him. “What?” he asked.
Alex realized Jared, holding his hand, had absently stroked his thumb, exhuming the long buried memory from the tomb of his childhood.
Alex lay naked on the bed, staring at the ceiling, waiting for Jared. Jared entered the room and stood at the edge of the bed; his erection jutting out, nearly perdendicular to the floor. He sat on the edge of the bed and stoked Alex’s thigh. “Roll over,” he said, “I want to look at your ass. I’ve waited long enough.” His voice was husky, tight.
Alex tensed but rolled over onto his stomach. His arms folded under his head he watched Jared as his eyes skipped over his body. He was nervous, but he trusted Jared, had trusted him from the first. There was something about him, something familiar as if they shared a secret, a connection that was older than the ages.
“We were brothers in another life,” Jared had insisted. After their first searing kiss, he’d retracted, “Okay, so maybe we weren’t brothers.”
Jared stared at the patches of faded, ruined skin that covered Alex’s legs from knee to ankle. “What happened?” he asked softly, “Were you burned?”
Alex rolled onto his back, sat up and pulled his knees to his chest, his erection bobbing in the air helplessly.
“No. It’s a skin condition. Atopic Dermatitis with secondary exoderma. In my case, if I scratch myself, or get cut, when my skin heals, the pigment doesn’t come back.” Icky skin.
Jared nodded, ran his hands caressingly up and down Alex’s leg.
Alex swallowed hard. “Does it—does it bother you?”
“Does it bother you?” Jared countered.
Alex shrugged.
“Is that why you won’t go swimming, or wear shorts?”
“They used to call me icky skin,” Alex blurted.
“When I was a kid—it was much worse then. I had allergies and it made me scratch all the time. I would scratch and scratch and still I itched. Then my skin would get raw and infected.  The itching used to get so bad that I would take really hot showers because at least if my skin was burning, it wouldn’t itch. “
“Wasn’t there anything they could do?”
“Oh they did a lot—none of it helped. They used to make me bathe in tar oil. I walked around smelling like a sewer. When I was really young, they used to apply this ointment then wrap my arms and legs in Saran Wrap and put my hands in white socks and tie them together so I couldn’t scratch myself. I was like some kind of shrink-wrapped mummy. I couldn’t even get out of bed by myself in the morning—or go to the bathroom—”
“That’s awful.”
“Oh it was worse when they didn’t do that because then I’d scratch and the blood would make my pajamas stick to my skin and my mother would have to soak me in a tub of warm water just to get my pajamas off.”
“Oh Alex, I’m so sorry.”
“The worst part was all the kids calling me ‘icky skin.’ And no one wanted to sit next to me on the bus, never mind touch me.
Jared scooted up beside him and wrapped his arms around him.
Alex twisted around and faced Jared. “You didn’t answer my question.”
Jared’s eyes narrowed, and his forehead creased. “Alex, I don’t care. You’re more than the skin you’re in.”
When he was eighteen and in love for the first time, Alex had asked his boyfriend if the appearance of the skin on his legs bothered him. He’d answered, “Well it’s not the most attractive sight.” Seeing Alex’s crestfallen expression, he’d said, “Oh that wasn’t the right answer was it?” No, it hadn’t been. Until the moment Jared spoke, Alex had not known what the right answer was.
The first time a man saw him naked, the first time he revealed his damage was always stressful. He worried: What will he think? Will he still like me? Will he be turned off? Churning just below the surface of those questions, always another, perhaps more important question: Is he “the one?”
Now by answering one question, Jared had answered the other, more important one. Yes, he was “the one.”
As they prepared Thanksgiving dinner, Alex’s mother said, “Alex, give Jared the grater in the drawer there.”
Alex pulled open the drawer; the light caught on the hard edge of a cleaver.  
“See this?” His mother asked, voice shaking, as she pulled a great shiny wood-handled meat cleaver from a bag. It looked just like the one he’d seen their butcher using to hack through bone and gristle. She waved it in front of his face. “If you don’t stop this relentless scratching, I am going to chop off your hands.”
His eyes grew wide. He was seven and thought his mother capable of anything.
Alex lifted the cleaver out of the drawer. “You still have this?” he asked her.
“Have what?” His mother asked, then turning saw the cleaver in his hand. “Yes,” she said, then laughed a little. “For the life of me I can’t remember why I ever bought such a thing.”
Alex said nothing, laid the cleaver back in the drawer, and handed the grater to Jared.
Copyright © 2014 Larry Benjamin
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