Fiction: Skin

By Courtenay S. Gray

It's my birthday, and here I am, sitting by myself in his apartment while he plays happy family with his wife and kids. We've agreed to keep this secret, but the fact that he has chosen to spend time with her on my birthday makes me sick. I've gone through four bottles of red wine, three cans of coke, and an entire cheesecake. So, it's safe to say that I'm officially drowning my sorrows. He told me he would be back at 10 pm, but it's midnight. I assume she has seduced him into bed again. 
My phone buzzes in my pocket.

On my way back, I'm so sorry that I'm late. I'll explain when I get in. I love you.

I strip down to the new lingerie that I bought for tonight, red lace bedazzled with cherries. I spritz myself with a bit of perfume and wipe down with a baby wipe. He's going to be so sorry that he missed out on spending my birthday with me. I'm going to make sure that he doesn't do it again. The lock turns, and he walks through the door with a massive sigh of relief.
"Baby, I'm so sorry. The kids were glad to see me. I couldn't break their little hearts."
 He rounds the corner and sees me standing there.
"No, of course, you couldn't," I state bluntly.
"Wow! You look fucking amazing. My dick is already hard."
I pull away from his tight grasp.
"Oh no, you don't get me that easily. Especially not when you left me alone on my birthday."
To my surprise, he doesn't try anything. He walks away and goes into the kitchen.
"So, you don't want to have sex then?" I ask.
"Not really. Your childish attitude has kind of killed the mood, you know?"
I grab a glass of wine and smash it against the wall in a moment of irrational anger.
"What the fuck?! That'll stain, you stupid—!"
I start laughing and run across the couch with a second glass, pretending that I'm going to spill some on his bright white sofa. He runs over to me and grabs my arm harder than I anticipated.
"Get off!" I scream.
He shoves me up against the wall.
"Stop it!"
"Shhh, the neighbours!"
He slams his fist against the wall next to me, and I sink to the floor.
"I can't do this, Colette."
"You left me on my birthday, Grayson. I didn't ask for much, did I? All I wanted was a quiet night in with the man I love."
"But, the kids," he says gently.
"Yes, I understand about your children. On a different day, I would have put up with it, but this is a special occasion."
I go over to him and start rubbing his back. Sitting on his lap, I start kissing his neck.
"Come on, let's enjoy the rest of the evening."
He turns around and grabs at my bra, frantically undoing the clasps. My tits spring out like two lumps of white dough.
"I've always loved your breasts. They're one of your best qualities."
I make a concerted effort at undoing his belt buckle. His pleasure is as evident as mine, and we fondle each other until we both find our release. He turns to face me.
"Should we order food?"
"Sure, how about Chinese?"
"Sounds good to me! I'll get the menu I have in the drawer, and you can pick what you want."
I notice a postcard sticking out of the back pocket of his jeans. I am conflicted about whether I should look or not, but I eventually can't stop myself.

Grayson, I have to express my most profound concern about the apparent disappearance of your wife. I recently tried to arrange a follow-up appointment, but she hasn't replied. Now, I do not know her as well as you, of course, but I must say that it seems unlike Georgia to ignore such a pressing matter. If you manage to get in touch with her, please let her know that it is urgent.
All the best,
Dr. Keith Jessop, PhD

Georgia isn't missing because Grayson was just with her tonight. Why would a doctor send such a message on a postcard? It's almost unheard of. Grayson returns with the menu but becomes increasingly angry as he sees me holding the postcard.
"What are you doing?"
"Don't bullshit me, Grayson. You were with her tonight, weren't you?"
"Of course I was." he laughs.
"Then what's this? If you weren't really with her tonight, then where were you?"
Grayson snatches the postcard out of my hand with such force that he rips it in the process. He tears it into tiny pieces and runs the tap. Shoving the mushy paper down the drain, he starts muttering to himself.
"Where's Georgia? Where's Georgia?"
"Grayson, sweetheart. You can tell me anything, and I promise I will not judge you, no matter what is plaguing you right now."
He takes a few calming breaths, his hands gripping the sink until his knuckles turn white. With a slight tremor in his voice, he says:

"Get your clothes on. We're going somewhere."

I think it's better to leave without asking any questions. It saves time and Grayson's very low patience. I put on a pair of leggings and one of his t-shirts. He drives in complete silence, which makes me anxious for what is to come. What has he been hiding from me? The streets are desolate, dusted with that dirty green colour that only comes after a heavy rainfall.
We come to a stop in front of a run-down terrace house. Some of the windows have been boarded up, and the windchime whistles softly.
"Where are we?"
Grayson doesn't say anything. He reaches inside his pocket and pulls out the key that I recognise to be the key to his marital home. Surely this can't be it? Inside is the complete opposite of its dingy exterior. The place is as pristine as a showhome, bar the boarded-up windows. He still hasn't said one word to me since we left his apartment. He leads me to a door which I assume leads to a basement. The butterflies in my stomach turn into a furious swarm of wasps.
"Colette, you must remember that you promised not to judge. I want you to keep that in mind when you see what's down here, ok?"
"Grayson, just open the fucking door."
Once he does, all I can smell is formaldehyde. I am familiar with the smell because I was once an apprentice at a funeral home. The presence of such a chemical is a cause for alarm. There is a large sheet covering three lumps in the corner, one taller than the other two.
"I was with Georgia and the kids tonight, but not how you think."
He rips off the sheet to reveal the preserved bodies of Georgia and her two children. I want to look away, but I can't. I fixate on their shocked expressions, elements of pain in their eyes.
"Remember what you said, no judgment." he cries.
"How long have they been dead?"
He kneels in front of Georgia and caresses her grey face.
"About three weeks. I put some SFX make-up on her because her skin was falling off, exposing her teeth."
I feel overwhelmingly faint, so I sit down in the opposite corner.
"How did they die?"
"She found out about us. One night, she cleaned out the gutters, and she found a bag containing a bracelet. It was meant to be your birthday present. I had it engraved with a Latin phrase meaning forever and a day. She confronted me as soon as I got home from work. I was still wearing the clothes I had been when I spent the night with you before, so she smelt your perfume. We had a massive fight, and it got physical. She pushed me around the house, slapping me as I tried to get away. We ended up down here, and I eventually shoved her against the wall. I forgot that I had a handsaw attached to it. It went through her stomach. I kept her in here while I saw the kids who'd just arrived back from school. If you look closely, you'll see that they are realistic dolls next to Georgia."
I get up to inspect the dead children, and sure enough, they are dolls. So, where are the children?
"I couldn't bear to do anything to the kids, so I drove them out somewhere far away. I tried to explain that they couldn't come back to their mother or me. I gave them enough money to sustain them until someone takes them in. I'm not a complete monster, you know."
"Do you still have the bracelet?"
Grayson looks at me with a look of bewilderment.
"I have just shown you this shit show and told you that I abandoned my kids, and you're asking about a fucking bracelet! Shit, and I thought I was messed up!"
"Grayson, listen to me. It said forever and a day, and I want to commit to that. I promised you no judgement, and I am keeping that promise. There is no going back, now that I know what happened. I want to wear the bracelet, so go and get it if you still have it."
He gets up and runs up the basement stairs. Not even a minute has passed before he is handing me a blood-stained box. I open it up, and the bracelet is a beautiful gold. The Latin phrase is on an oval pendant.
"Forever and a day, Grayson." I say, hugging him.
"Do you mean that?"
I take his hand and place it on my heart.
"Yes, I mean it. I love you."
He collapses into my arms, sobbing into my chest. Inside I am terrified, but I'm a smart girl. I'll figure this out.
"Grayson, you need to pull yourself together. We know nothing about your wife or your children, ok? You need to call her doctor and explain that she has gone missing and taken the children with her. Turn on the waterworks, tell him you miss them so much that your entire being aches."
I look around at Georgia's body, and I hear the sound of the skin sloughing off her face. It hits the ground with a wet sound.
"We need to get rid of her body. This is going to be the hardest part, both physically and mentally. You need to help me because she's too heavy to carry on my own."
"I bought acid to dissolve her. We can carry her up the stairs and take her to the bathtub."
"Ok, let's do it. I'll go backwards."
We lift our respective ends of Georgia's corpse, but as we make our way up the stairs, her right arm drops off, causing me to drop my portion of her.
"Watch it!" 
Her arm falls through the gap in the stairs.
"Just give me a minute. This is still a lot to take in, and I'm feeling a little nauseous."
After the wave of nausea passes, I struggle with half of her body as we back into the bathroom. It is so beautifully decorated that it seems wrong to dissolve a body in here. We place her down as gently as we can without putting our backs out. We're both sweaty and out of breath.
"We're going to need some gloves and a mask, but if you don't have the latter, we can just use a t-shirt." I explain.
"I've got it all. I'll go and find them."
I am left alone with her in the lavender bathtub. Her hair is the only beautiful thing about her now. I always wondered what made her so special to Grayson. Was she prettier than me? In her current state, I can neither confirm nor deny. He returns with the supplies, and we both don the protective gear. We both have no idea what we're doing, but I pour the entire litre of corrosive acid into the tub.
"We're dressing her like a salad. She's my wife,"
"She isn't a person anymore. She's gone. Her soul has left her body. This is what is left."
I continue to pour the liquid until he stops me.
"Her wedding ring, it's still on her finger."
Grayson leans forward, getting dangerously close to the acid and removes the gold band from her finger. His display of affection is breaking my heart because I still can't compete with her. She has always been superior. He stares at it for a little too long.
"Grayson, step away from the acid. I need to keep pouring."
As soon as I carry on pouring, Grayson lets out a loud wail. The sound is gut-wrenching, but I have to focus on the matter at hand. I take it upon myself to retrieve the arm from the basement and the dolls.
"They should all dissolve in here."
Grayson's wails have now turned to sobs at two-minute intervals.
"We need to leave now. We need to go back to your apartment and scrub ourselves down. I know you're upset, but you need to find whatever strength you have inside of you and use it to survive this."
"You won't leave me, right?"
"I've told you a million times. I am committed."
We promptly leave the terrace and return to Grayson's apartment, where we strip off and scrub ourselves thoroughly. We pack up our clothes securely so we can burn them tomorrow. I make us hot chocolate and turn on a comedy film. It soon gets us roaring with laughter, and I can see that Grayson's mood has improved. As the night draws to a close, Grayson falls asleep. I remove myself from his grasp and place a blanket over him.
As there is no chance of me sleeping, I write down a plan of what needs to happen. We need to remove all traces of this depravity. I keep wondering if this chain of events makes me a terrible person. Grayson didn't intentionally kill Georgia, and I didn't consciously find her body. We happened upon these situations, but does that make us evil? I love Grayson with all my heart, and I can't just abandon him. I know the expected thing would have been to run and turn him over to the police, but I just can't do that.
People underestimate the power of love; it is the most dangerous drug. When I think back to those nights we spent in hotel rooms at the beginning of the affair, it fills me with happiness. We'd stand on the balcony, basking in the moonlight while Grayson smoked a few cigarettes. The city lit up beneath our feet, and the world was ours. I can't give that up, not now.
I take a trip to the bathroom, where I examine myself in the mirror. I look like a panda from the mascara that has collected beneath my eyes. I spent so long on this make-up before my entire life changed. We cannot dwell on what has happened, and we have to be strong. If he crumbles, our relationship is on the line. Grayson is stirring in the next room; he'll probably wake up thinking he needs to go to work.
"Colette! You have to get out of there. I need to get ready for work. I'm going to be late!"
Right on queue, I think to myself.
"Grayson, it's Saturday. You don't have work today."
He opens the door with a sheepish grin.
"Have you slept at all?"
"Not a wink, but it gave me time to create a plan. It's on the kitchen table if you want to look."
"I'm going to check on her later on tonight. Does anyone live next door?"
"There used to be an old woman who lived there, but she died about six months ago."
"You didn't shove her, did you?"
My joking isn't welcome.
"Ok… no jokes."
Grayson unzips his pants and starts to urinate. As I'm sitting on the edge of the bath, I fall backwards and hit my head off the tap.
Grayson tries to pee faster, and I can't stop crying. The anxiety and fear have finally made their way out of me.
"Hey, baby, don't cry."
"No, no, this is good. I need to get it out so I can be strong." I sniffle.
Grayson lets go of me and leaves the room. He comes back with a fresh set of my clothes.
"We're going to take our mind off this horror and visit that new café that's just opened."
It's probably a bright idea to do something that will put our minds at ease for a few hours. The hardest part is getting rid of the evidence. Once that is done, all we have to worry about are Grayson's kids possibly locating us. I can just picture a hot coffee and a croissant.
"Good idea, you go downstairs, and I'll be down in five."
"Sure, I wasn't going to bother with changing anyway."
After I put my clothes on, I spray my perfume which makes me feel suddenly nauseous. I think my brain is associating last night's perfume with dead bodies. I'll just wear some of Grayson's cologne. Before I lock up, I pick up a piece of paper, a pen and an envelope because he needs to write to Georgia's doctor. Whether we get away with this is a mystery to me, but the longer I can be with Grayson, the saner I will be. I depend on that man. He is the air I breathe. I know that women are supposed to be independent, strong and self-sufficient, but that isn't me.
The café is a short walk from Grayson's apartment. We act like colleagues when we are out together, as we need to keep up the pretence that he is married to Georgia. We arrive and see that the sun is relentlessly beating down on the only accessible seats, so we decide to take our drinks away and sit on a bench outside. The fresh air is a welcome respite from the cloying terror I feel.
"What time will you check on Georgia?"
"I was going to head there at about 7 pm."
"I'll come with you. It will be easier to have me drive you there and a lot less suspicious."
"I wish I hadn't pushed her. God, how fucking badly I wish for it." Grayson cries.
Putting my coffee down, I rub his back.
"I know, darling, but you did."
"Grayson! Did you receive my postcard?"
We both look up to see a man who is Georgia's Doctor. My heart is racing, and I'm sure Grayson's is too. Doctor Jessop sticks out his hand, and Grayson promptly shakes it.
"I did receive your postcard, and I intended to reply, but I've had a lot on my mind. Georgia has gone missing, and she's taken the kids with her. It's been a terrible time for me." Grayson says, forcing out a tear.
I stand up and outstretch my hand towards Doctor Jessop.
"Hello, I work with Grayson. My name is Colette."
Doctor Jessop shakes my hand while looking at Grayson with a pitiful expression.
"I'm so sorry to hear of your predicament. If there is anything I can do, do not hesitate to get in touch."
I smile at him as he walks away until he rounds the corner where I can drop the pretence.
"Nicely done, Grayson."


Grayson is cooking his famous pasta dish in the kitchen. Once we've eaten, we're going to visit the secret nightclub we've heard about.
"So, is it underground?" I ask.
"It is. I've been told that the owner is known as Whispie or Lady Whisper. She has permanent aphonia, so she can't speak above a whisper. She supposedly mingles with the guests that turn up, but you don't know it's her."
"How peculiar." I lament.
The smell of the beef is strong, and I can't stop staring at it in the pan. My mind flicks back to the image of Georgia's skin sloughing off her face and that god awful sound when it hit the floor. I start to feel green, so I sit down in front of the television where an announcement appears.

"Authorities have discovered traces of human remains in an abandoned terrace. Forensic detectives were seen entering the house located in Pagoda. We will be updating you as more news comes in."

Fuck. They've found her. I can't tell Grayson. He won't be able to cope.
"Here we go—Spaghetti Bolognese for the pretty lady." he says, placing the plate in front of me.
I switch the channel to our favourite comedy show. Grayson cannot find out.
"Eat up. We've got to visit the club!"
We eat primarily in silence, except for our laughing at the television.
"We'll worry about the dishes later. Let's get ready." Grayson says.
It takes us an hour to get ready. I have chosen a skater dress, and I've gone heavy on the make-up. Grayson is wearing suit pants with a crisp white shirt. This is the hottest he's looked in months. We walk hand in hand as we leave for the club.
"You look just as hot as you did on your birthday."
"Don't mention that night, please?"
He is taken aback by my sudden change in mood.
"What's wrong? It's over now. We're good, right? I love you, and you love me. Forever and a day, remember?"
I instantly look down at my wrist, where the bracelet hangs delicately. We descend the stairs into the nightclub, which are adorned with a triangular pattern. The music is already blaring, and I am immediately transported into a place where death is an unknown. Grayson presses his body close to mine as we dance the night away. Not long after our arrival, I spot a woman who looks to be in her mid-fifties sitting in a pod near the wall.
"Grayson! Is that the owner?"
He looks to see where I'm pointing.
"Yeah! I think that's her!"
"How does she talk to anyone here if all she can do is whisper?"
"I don't know!"
Lady Whisper locks eyes with me and starts to make her way over to us. I try to warn Grayson, but he's too invested in his dance moves to notice me furiously tapping his shoulder. She gestures for us to follow her. I drag Grayson along as we are led to a room at the back of the club. The overpowering stench of nicotine clings to the walls.
"I have brought you here because I have something to tell you."
Grayson looks at me with panic.
"About six months ago, my older sister passed away in her sleep."
I'm starting to understand now, but Grayson isn't catching on.
"She lived next to a couple and their two children. I believe the woman's name was Georgia." she wheezes.
I can feel Grayson start to shake, and I feel beads of sweat forming on my forehead. She knows about what we did.
"I have no idea what you are talking about, and quite frankly, I don't care to know. My wife is standing right beside me, and all we want to do is dance after a long week. Can we go now?"
Grayson tries to leave, but I can't let him go.
"Let's just indulge her, darling."
The woman laughs like a smoker.
"You can drop the act. I saw you both that night. I had come by to collect some of my sister's things when I heard wailing."
I want to be sick.
"I snuck around your house because I thought he was hurting you. I was about to leave when I heard you both talking. I'm nosey. It's my nature."
"You're lying. You're just an old witch who hasn't got anything better to do with her time than to make up stories."
"Grayson!" I shout as I look at him in horror.
"That bracelet she's wearing, you got it for her, didn't you?"
"Anyone could make that assumption." he laughs.
"What if I told you that I know your wife found it in the gutter when she found out about the affair."
"Oh god!" I cry, slumping to the floor.
"What do you want from us?"
"Oh, come on! Don't fuck us around. What. Do. You. Want?"
"When you commit such crimes, you must remember that there will always be somebody listening, somebody watching. You won't know they're there, but rest assured, they are." 
"I am not playing this game. If you're going to turn us in, do it now and do it quickly."
"No, I'm not going to give you up. I'm far too tired for that, and I would like to keep this club going."
"So, what happens now? Where do we go from here?"
We all stare at each other in uncomfortable silence. I know I won't sleep tonight, god knows what Grayson will do.
"Colette, we're leaving."
Grayson pulls me through the sweaty crowd out into the open air. We don't speak at all on the way home, and I can't say I don't appreciate the silence. My stomach is in knots. When we get back, Grayson goes straight to bed. I sit on the balcony, biting my fingernails. My heart skips a beat every time I hear a police siren. I can't help but wonder how I would survive in prison. You hear all these terrible things about it, but it is terrifying knowing that there is a real chance you might end up there. 
When we moved here after we dissolved the remains, we thought we could start again. I had so much hope for our future, but it's all come crashing down. If Grayson hadn't pushed Georgia, none of this would have happened. She would still be alive, and we wouldn't have death hanging over us. 
I hear a bang coming from our bedroom. I run in to find Grayson frothing at the mouth, and he appears to be having some sort of seizure.
"Grayson! What's wrong?"
I look down to see him clutching a bottle of mysterious pills.
"What have you taken?!"
With a great effort, he looks at me and manages to get out a few words.
"They know. Police, coming."
"Grayson! No!"
The telephone is at his feet, and I can't stop crying. Grayson continues to shake until he eventually stops. He's gone. I don't have much time to leave, and I don't know what Grayson has told them. Surely they'll come after me too? My stuff is here, and it's only logical that they'll find me. I grab my bag and run. I need to see Lady Whisper.
It's the end of the night when I get there, and all the guests are leaving. I spot Lady Whisper ahead of the drunken crowd.
"Whisper! Whisper, we need to talk!" I cry.
Snot and mascara start to run down my face. She sees me and personally grabs me, and extricates me from the huddle. When we get to the back room, I start screaming and hyperventilating.
"He killed himself! He's told the police! I'm going to be arrested, but he's dead! He's gone, Whispie. He’s gone!"
She lets me cry for a while before breaking the otherwise eerie silence.
"My sister didn't die because of natural causes. She overdosed, and it was my fault. She'd been suffering, so I gave her the morphine she'd been prescribed, but I gave her too much. I didn't know what to do, so I just left her to die."
My head is killing me, and my vision is blurred, but I can just about see a tear falling from her face.
"So, I know how it feels to be thrown into a situation where you're responsible for a death. These situations find us, no matter where we are or who we're with, and they ensure that we pay with our misery. When I told you that I knew your burden tonight, I wasn't blackmailing you. I was trying to relieve you."
Maybe if Grayson knew, he wouldn't have done it. What am I supposed to do now? Not only has the love of my life died, but I still carry this guilt. It weighs on me like a stone. I have to ask myself if I want to carry on. I don't see the point in my existence if Grayson isn't beside me.
"He caused this, but I still love him. Where do I go? What should I do?"
Whispie cups her hand around a royal blue flame.
"What do you want to do? You don't know what Grayson has told the police, do you?"
"No, I don't."
"So, the police could be on their way to find you right now. You could be arrested. If you have no desire to do anything else but wallow, I suggest you find something meaningful to do before it all ends."
Suddenly, the roaring of police sirens fills our ears. The doors fly open, and three police officers stand in front of me.
"How did you find me?"
One of the officers nods towards Whispie.
"You dropped me in it! Why?"
She reaches down to her pants and rolls them up to reveal a tag.
"We aren't bad people, but we do our time. You didn't want to end up here, but you did."
They read me my rights as I'm led out of the building. The words fade into each other as I think about the expression on Grayson's face as he died. He finally looked peaceful after all this time.


I'm in the break room when I hear a blood-curdling scream coming from one of the cells. Everyone runs to the cell of the girl who killed a child.
"You coming, Col?"
I put down my yoghurt pot and jog over to look at what's going on. I squeeze between my cellmates and see the child killer with part of her skin in her hand. Someone has thrown boiling water at her. The piece of flesh falls out of her hand onto the floor in front of us, making everyone jump back.
"Gross! Watch what you're doing, child killer!"
"You got what you deserve. I hope you die, bitch."
As the crowd disperses, I see Georgia again. The smell of formaldehyde is enough to turn my stomach. I run to the bathroom and sit next to the toilet, which is covered in period blood. Rolling up my sleeve, I fiddle with my bracelet and look up at the ceiling.
"Forever and a day, baby, forever and a day."

Courtenay S. Gray is a writer from the North of England. She has been featured in publications such as Maudlin House, Daily Drunk Mag and Red Fez. She has also been nominated for a Pushcart Prize (2020) and was a runner up for the 2021 Literary Lancashire Award in Poetry. Her poetry collection Strawberry is available now from Alien Buddha Press.