Strip of Skin

by Leigh Harken


It’s not like I killed anyone. And while learning that a loved one had been dug up nine days after burial and had a strip of skin cut off from head to foot was probably upsetting to the family of Roger Theodore Sterling 1938-1999 it didn’t cause any harm. The police never found who did it. It made the front page of the town weekly, big news in our little town, and even had a little article in the Hometown section of the city newspaper. Police said the incident was gang related.

Matt rolls over in his sleep. We’ve been married almost five years. He insisted we get married right out of high school, he was so in love with me. It was the gossip of the high school and the town. The most popular boy falls for the least popular girl. The girl who had been following him like a shadow since middle school. The girl he had pushed out of a bus seat so he could sit with his girlfriend in eighth grade. The girl he’d scorned for twelve and a half years—kindergarten to senior year—and then one day he woke up madly in love with her. It was like a movie.

After we got married we moved to the city. Matt decided he didn’t want to go to college, though he could have had a full baseball scholarship, because he wanted to get a job right away and take care of me. He got a job selling cellular phones. I stay home. He doesn’t like the idea of me working. I sit at home and watch soaps. I volunteer with the historical society. He’s been passed over for manager twice.

In our town he’d always been the Big Shot. The pitcher of the winning baseball team. We won because of him and the whole town knew it. He was even scouted by a bunch of colleges and a couple of minor leagues. He was the most loved son. The one everyone wanted to be around. So full of potential. And for the first few years it was still like that. It was like being married to the crown prince of Westchester, Illinois. But now Leif Harris, who graduated in our class, has already got his MBA and a good job at a Fortune 500 company. My mother talks about him all the time. And Matt, “Well,” she says, “He never went on to do anything. Except have the good sense to marry you,” and she kisses me on my forehead.

I’m leaving him. That is certain. This is not what I had bargained for when I dug up the corpse of Roger Theodore Sterling 1938-1999 and skinned off a strip of skin with my father’s black-handled hunting knife. This is not what I had intended when I picked the lock on Matt’s parents’ house and snuck into his room to tie the strip of skin around his leg.

I waited in his room all that night until the sky had lightened to cornflower blue and I knew the sun would be up soon and people would wake. I waited that whole night, sitting on the hardwood floor next to him as he slept, imagining if the spell worked. I would hear that breathing next to me at night. I looked at his baseball trophies and imagined him. How he would be a baseball star and love me and I would love him and we’d be a perfect couple. At dawn I untied the strip, which was now crusty, and snuck back out. I told my mother I was sick and slept all that day. At 3:30 Matt called. He wanted to know why I wasn’t in school that day, and that he’d just broken up with Amy so did I have a date to the prom?

I’m leaving him. There is only one question. The spell is only broken if he sees the strip of skin. I still have it. It is in a hidden drawer of my jewelry box. It has dried out and collected some dust. It doesn’t uncurl anymore. Sometimes I take it out and look at it while Matt is at work.

So do I show it to him, during the divorce or as I leave, and break the spell? Do I let him go on with his own life? Or do I keep it hidden forever?