Friday Fiction – A Pledge For New Skin
I hold the piece of matted fabric close to my chest. It’s lurid yellow, like watered-down mustard and smells just as vile. I’d been hoping for silk, or wool at least, but it was naïve to think anything natural would have survived here. Anything worth selling would have been raided days ago. In fact there’s probably scroungers sitting on a pile of hand-knitted scarves that they lifted from this very spot, filthy-rich with enough cloth to fill a dressing-up box.
Once again I’m too late. Distracted by the sniff of woolen socks up in Southgate. I should have listened to Adam. I should make that the motto of my pledge so far, ‘If only I’d obeyed Adam.’
Even by 21st century standards this cast-off would have been considered ugly. It’s cheap cotton, probably the torn sleeve of a jumper, but now with chewed edges and blots of oil. I stretch it carefully to see how much I’ve got to work with. Against the light, the fibers look like a cat’s cradle, slinking in and out of each other, creating a false sense of strength. What I’d give to crawl inside it, to make it suffocate every inch of my body. I’d walk around with custard-coloured skin and defy them to tell me that it’s wrong to want to stop looking like an Eve.
I pull the sleeve over my arm and try to make a big deal out of it, closing my eyes and taking a deep breath. I imagine I’m putting on a cloak, made out of something thick and scratchy like felt. I smooth it against my skin with my palm and imagine a blouse there instead, white chiffon with a pussy-bow. It would cover my chest and float over my stomach. It would bounce and ruffle each time I moved. This is Doll-chi and Gabbanor, I tell myself. Fendy, even Michael Course. I piece together the videos Adam showed me of the Costume Wearers, of a man with a glittering glove and teenagers dancing around in fat, poodle skirts, and try to dance along with them in my mind.
There is a whir of feeling in my stomach, a twitch perhaps, but nothing like a thrill. The sleeve is only about four inches long, not enough to even cover my elbow. Probably not enough to even count as an official piece of pledge clothing. Adam would just laugh at it, but when you walk around in knit-stockings and a fur collar you earn the right to laugh at Eves. You get to decide who’s worthy of joining and who’s not.
I get out the rest of the scraps and lay them across the floor. You can tell when clothing has been worn, when it has a story to tell. They tell me that skin works the same way, but I don’t see it, not when every wrinkle or scratch gets scrubbed as soon as it appears. The new skin doesn’t mark, apparently, but thankfully it’ll be at least a year before lowly pledges like me get to use it. You could live a life of love, hate or horror and your body wouldn’t say a thing about it. Not like fabric.
When you rip a pattern, there aren’t any Fixers left to mend it so it stays mutilated for the whole world to see. It lets you add some meaning to it. Each one in my collection has its own legacy; it’s own string of lovers. I am just one in a long, long line, but I will be the last. I pull the sewing needle from my swollen ear and wipe the blood on the back of my hand. I start to build my new skin.