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Illustration: Jim Boraas

Tom Matheson: Weird Pride
Illustration: Jim Boraas

 
 

Coming home tardy and beat from work, I find Gregory curled up and cross-legged on the bed, fresh out of a long bath. When he’s hunched over, I can see his comb-over pressed against his head like a comma. Or maybe more like a semi-colon if you count the thin black, cul-de-sac tuft on his crown where my fingers play. I toe off my sneakers and climb aboard, stretching myself out behind him and around him. My glasses get dappled by the mist still creeping out of the bathroom.

There are pictures scattered around, things Gregory has cut out of magazines and set in frames. He’s clipped a picture of a lady in a feathered boa, her arm disappeared in a big tuft of fur. He must have done the laundry today because the sheets smell as fresh as he does. Not flowery, just clean and crisp. A little stiff and a little cold, the way newly laundered things can be. Like it was a baby, Gregory cradles his foot above his lap and looks at the window.

He’s carefully peeling the dead skin off while it's soft and soggy still. Summer ended a few months ago and the stubble's coming in thick and ruddy from when I shaved his back last. I lay into his nails, fingers and toes, with the clippers. If I don’t, he tends to scratch me up. When his back is fully-grown in, Gregory has these wings almost, the brown wings of some sort of bear angel. The skin's smooth and hairless all up along his spine so his vertebrae are pronounced. Not kissing, I rest my lips on one of the little knobs there. I hug around him also, finding a groove in his stomach folds for each one of my fingers. Not sniffing, but breathing. The sort of slow breathing that comes before sleep. I can hear every one of his organs silently communicating, trying not to give away how his body works.

A long strip peels thin from the side of his foot. If amplified, it might have sounded something like a piece of paper being ripped from a spiral-bound notebook. Gregory twists around to show me. His folds tighten when he turns, forcing my fingers out. He pinches his piece of skin and holds it away from himself like an earthworm and it's about as long as one. And then smiles broader to show his teeth further back – far back enough to show me the grey, dead one I hardly ever get to see.

He's amused at his own weird pride.

"Nice one," I say, taking his flap of foot skin from him, pinching it too. It's bevelled like the window seems to be. A little yellow when the light shines through. Chewing it, I can make out all the small, crosshatched connections that make up its surface, the fabric that the skin is. Just the taste of his soap, which is generic, functional, and not at all scented. Which I like. Tired, I conk off without noticing, still dressed. Which is how I wake up the next morning, my clothes twisted all tight around me from rolling and tossing like I do. Except, I notice Gregory has taken my socks off for me because he knows I like to have my feet a little chilly when I sleep.

 

 
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