The After-Effects of My August

On warm October evenings I keep the back door open and moths come to circle the kitchen lights. The door’s estuary permits a sweet decaying smell of orange and brown to enter, although beyond there is not a sound nor can one spot a single neighbour’s house. It is a strange expanse of nothingness that I stare into, but it is gone midnight, so what does one expect?

The outbreak of my skin coincided approximately with my loss for words. It must have been the beginning of September. Foods were removed from the diet, water was guzzled, sleep was sacred, alcohol was avoided (although such abstinence could not be extended to coffee), toiletries were considered and then substituted, detergents and fabric softeners were viewed with suspicion, but they had not changed. Nothing seemed to help. My skin would loosen of its own accord, forming tiny white flakes that either lingered separate but on the surface, lodged in my beard, or falling when disturbed in little puffs of dust. Headless boils began to form. They irritated me terribly so that I was driven to insanity trying not to itch them constantly, and they wept. Orange crumbs of hardened puss fell onto my desk. In the morning, the orange crumbs would be on my bed, and I would swipe them off onto the carpet. My pillow appeared as though a muddy rain had fallen during the night; the drops indicating where my jaw had been during sleep, turning back & forth.

I have had bad skin half my life. Now, at the age of thirty-six, I take it for granted, but I so wish I had enjoyed my smooth skin before puberty struck. It took me many years to grow accustomed to the sore sight of my face, a surrendered acceptance of another misfortune I had to endure. However, this was different, and after a few weeks, I went to the doctor for the first time in a decade. The surgery had moved. The nurse stared at my face, not quite a face but an object of some kind, a puzzle she had to solve. I told her what I thought it may have been; she wrote a prescription for that and told me to put my mask back on. My skin has not improved. It is torturous at the end of a day in the office when I sit on the busy train home, and the mask aggravates my jaw and cheeks. I resist as long as I can. In a moment of indulgence, I rake my fingernails against my skin, and, o! it feels so heavenly, even as the white dust and orange crumbs fall onto my black raincoat. The scent of broken skin and agitated puss can be detected. Surreptitiously, in the packed car, I attempt to brush my collar. On the way home I wait till I am in the dark end of the street before I remove my mask and claw at my face with gleeful relief.

Valentine’s Day is better suited to October. The air of the tenth month clings to one’s skin with mist. It is temperamental. Its warmth is divine, its chill charming. The perfume of decomposition speaks to a wonderful past that feeds a better future. La petite mort of one year to another. In the early night, I rescue bedsheets from the washing-line; too late, the cottons are heavy with dew.

‘Maybe it is a delayed reaction to your August,’ she says. My August. Caesars be damned! A whole month dedicated to my turmoil and birthday. The devil is sick at such trauma that causes my own epidermis to leap from its countenance like rats from a sinking ship! The tap in the shower is turned right till it steams and burns my tiredness. I dare to dream of the white dust catching in the hair on my chest, around my navel, the hair that coppers around my genitals, the hair on my thighs and then points towards my feet before stopping as though they were hallowed ground; the white dust spun about the sinkhole and flushed beneath streets until it reaches the sea; entire expressions used and rolled off, never to be seen again until they are gobbled up by a shimmer of aquatic invertebrates.

‘How was your evening alone?’ she asked me, her attention shared between me and a pear tart; raising her hand—‘Don’t tell me about that bit!’ she chuckled.

‘It was nice. It was really nice. I love being alone. I think I like being alone when I know that I people will return, you know?’ Mildly hungover, she was nodding before I even got the words out. She was mildly hungover. We both had poppyseeds on our lips. ‘But what I found was that I went back to talking to myself…!’


‘It reminded me of how much I used to talk to myself when I lived alone. Nothing insane, you understand. But I will respond to the TV, tell it to fuck-off or something. I don’t know. But I kinda enjoyed it. I didn’t recognise it at the time, but afterwards it made me laugh, made me smile.’ It reminded me of long ago, of living alone. Did I talk to myself to conquer the silence or because it was simply a behaviour I relished when there was no one else around. She smiled at me and I at her, then I became conscious of my skin and turned away.