I saw something disturbing today. I was at work, manning the counter, when a man in a T-shirt walked by. At first glance he was nondescript: pale and plain and a little bit dorky. His forearm was normal, but what I could see of his bicep was furred.
Initially I took the dark patch on his skin to be a gigantic mole or some form of discoloration inexplicably linked to the mild-mannered and brainy, but as he breezed by the counter I could see that the entire upper length of his arm was covered in a dark, silky pelt. It grew thick and straight, in what seemed like three layers, with not one glimmer of skin peeping through. The fur bristled out from his shirt-sleeve, coated his arm, and ended neatly in a curved sort of hairline at the elbow. It looked, on my honor, like the flank of a dog.
My first thought was that he was a scientist who had offered up his body for the cultivation of an abnormal mold: the firsthand study of a virus’s lifespan. This particular flesh-eating strain was more subtle, I thought, replacing skin-cells with brown fur. Or perhaps it was performance art, a somewhat tacky tribute to the wild in us all. He saw me watching him and smiled, as if nothing was wrong, as if he was normal. I could’ve killed him then; I’m not ashamed. But I smiled back and served him his latte.
He sat in a corner and I spent the rest of my shift sneaking glances. I couldn’t stop trying to picture his shoulder, how far the odd wool extended over his body, where it dwindled into patches and where it grew the most densely. I expected him to be unable to lift the furred arm, for it to hang leadenly off the side of his chair, but he used it to bring his mug up to his lips, carrying on as if it were as bald as the other. I think that’s what turned my stomach the most.
Now with everyone I see, I can’t help but imagine where their own fur begins. I find myself scaling their arms as they reach for their coffees, hallucinating their secret afflictions. When at first I wanted him to suffer, I can’t help but seek this man in every crowd, in every sweatered arm I brush. Make no mistake about my disgust: but it’s true that I both loathe and cherish this man in that I can’t get him out of my mind. The backs of boys’ necks have been spoiled for me. I see only that fur in the stray scruff of napes, the buzzed ruins of newly-bared skin. Beards are the worst; I fixate on their outer limits, where the hair starts to space out, to curl, and can only conceive of this stubble as filth. So many pretty cheekbones lost now to a plague: the jaws around me cannibalized.
I tend toward melodrama.
In reality, I steamed milk and felt dizzy. The heebie-jeebies hit me like a breeze (my own braids anchored); like the soft, insistent pull of hate. I didn’t even break a dish. Nobody saw what I was thinking.
And still, a part of me longs to see it all: the entire disease start to finish. Who can say what I’ll find on his stomach, his chest? I need to meet him again and lure him out to the beach, where I’ll watch as he hunches and takes off his T-shirt. Do I hate the animal or the man? This is the tipping. This is nonfiction. Tracing the five o’clock shadow of my beau (tanned and lanky) and feeling the skin of prepped places beginning to crawl, I know only that I have been ruined.