The Flesh

Holding it in a tight grip, Duncan could feel the random bumps and dips that covered the skin pressed firmly against his own palm. If he was honest it was, above all else, the skin that had always fascinated Duncan. How it could be soft, hard, scarred, bruised and discoloured but always there: a constant over the gelatinous and permeable flesh.

It was cold in his hand, unsurprisingly. A safe, medium 3°C; exactly like the fridge it had just come out of. Duncan always set things to just below what was the medium level of safe was, call it a quirk or an obsession it was a habit he has never been able to shake. He thought it was a news segment he watched as a child that started the ridiculousness of it all (yes, he did know it was ridiculous). The reporter, a yuppie-ish man with short cut ginger hair, describing in intimate detail how deadly a malfunctioning fridge could be. The screen illustrating his points with a test subject: your average fridge that looked straight out of a 2point4 family home, just like his own, engulfed in horrendous, unstoppable flames.

So fridges became the first example of obsession. Be it in his dilapidated childhood house, his first flat in West Drayton or his current two-up two-down they were all set at that odd, but completely safe and satisfying 3°C. Now, it wasn’t just fridges but the freezer too (always -12°C), the television volume (always number 15) and his lottery numbers 18 35 37 23 37 and 7 (the same every week for the last eight years).

Placing it on the clean, white marble countertop Duncan ran his thumb and forefinger along the length of the skin. Pressing lightly, he mapped out all the soft spots and hardened areas that lay just microscopic distance beneath the surface. He marked a mental ‘x on the spot’ where he wanted to make his first incision, around three-quarters of the way up and just left of a tiny darkened bruise that looked like a half-moon or Cheshire Cat smile. He needed the spot to be just the right amount of firm. Too soft and the knife will slide through too quickly, unsatisfyingly. Too hard and he’ll have to work to penetrate the layers of epidermis, equally unsatisfying. If that happens then all his precision and planning, internet research and time studying videos, as well as the careful selection of the perfect specimen, would be wasted.

Duncan kept a loose hold on his prize as he reached across to the set of drawers nearest to him, sliding open the top draw it revealed an assortment of brand new cutlery and cooking utensils. Dipping his hand into the draw he felt along the cutlery tray for the third, and widest, compartment. He knew he had found it when his fingers brushed the familiar notches that made up the tang of his favourite knife. While the knife itself does not look at any more special than any other, it was, in Duncan’s opinion at least, the blade that set it apart. Short, thin and incredibly sharp it was the perfect tool for the messy task at hand.

Lifting it out of the draw by its black handle, as Duncan retracted his arm towards his workstation the stainless-steel blade caught the kitchen’s bright light. The gleam danced up and down the length of the blade and back and forth over the printed, light grey IKEA logo at its base. The knife was called Vardagen which translated as ‘Everyday’ in English and, unlike most people, Duncan had taken the careful time to look that up. After all, even if IKEA did offer practically priced kitchen utensils it didn’t mean he was a poverty-stricken philistine.

Duncan felt tiny beads of sweat break out on his palm as he began to concentrate, his forefinger balanced where the blade meets the handle and the tip of the knife positioned on his specially chosen spot. He paused momentarily before pushing the tip in, the skin concaving slightly before splitting under the pressure from the acute edge of the blade. Smiling lightly at his success only then, with the knife securely immersed in the flesh, did Duncan begin to run his knife through an invisible trail he had already set out for himself. Gunge unexpectedly oozed up the sides of the knife, and onto Duncan’s fingertips, as it moved through both flesh and skin. He pulled the knife back out, the blade slick with gunk and slime, as the invisible path he had marked out mentally was complete.

The pathway Duncan had sliced open allowed him to pull at the still connected flesh and skin with his hands, separating the whole into two, almost equal, parts. Now able to see more clearly where soft flesh and hardened skin met he repositioned his knife horizontally against this spot, no less than a millimetre below the epidermis layer. Easily sliding it in, he began a cutting motion beneath the skin. It resembled, he thought, the way in which fishmongers remove the skin of salmon. His hand, much as they do, holding the skin steadily in place as his knife glided through the flesh underneath. It was near enough the same if you thought about it, Duncan mused.

Removing it in one, unbroken piece he set the thin skin to the side, pleasantly satisfied with his work. His hands covered all over in the oozed gunge, Duncan thought it pointless to wash them just yet. There was, after all, one step left. Picking up his knife for the final time he pressed the full length of the blade against the now exposed flesh. Pushing the weight of the knife down he sliced long, slim segments which were perhaps no wider than a thumb nail.

Yes, Duncan thought, this avocado will go nicely in my salad.