Muenster by Ross Durrence.


The sun shone brightly on that 6th day of January as she reached for a towel. Her body soaking wet, she only dried her head and her hands. The remainder of her body she kept wet, glistening. She was convinced the human body, especially her human body, looked better while wet. There was something limiting about the droplets of water covering her shoulders, torso, and legs. Especially limiting was the fact that the water she used to wash herself that day, every day, was ice cold. Most wouldn’t be able to stand the deep freeze she continually put herself through, but it served a purpose. The cold reacts to the body in the most remarkable way. Everything shrinks. Constricts. Tightens. The skin on her stomach perked in and her pores stiffened. The muscles in her shoulders looked strong and pert after having ice water run down them. Her thighs, inner and outer, upper and lower, were taut. The goose bumps tightened her skin. She rubbed her thighs, inner and outer, upper and lower. It was all worth it. Before the effects wore off entirely, she covered herself so the only memory of her naked frame that day would be of ice cold perfection. The one area of her body that ice water didn’t seem to completely cure was her face, though. Her cheeks didn’t tighten, her forehead didn’t soften, her chin didn’t retract like she hoped. And most especially, the skin on her face didn’t brighten. There were still patches of blemishes, of dry skin, of entire pockets of failure.

She surveyed her face closely in her mirror and saw those aforementioned patches of blemishes, patches of dry skin, and entire pockets of failure. She saw them as imperfections, as areas needing improvement, land requiring a till, a plow, a careful renovation. She targeted one of these areas needing a remodel – a dime-sized piece of flaky skin. Well, it was smaller than a dime. Maybe closer to the size of a tick or the head of a medium-sized nail. She carefully picked at one of the corners of this small blemish with her rather long, well-kept thumbnail. The corner slowly perked up as she slid her nail deeper underneath the blemish. Flick, flick, flick. Her thumbnail continued to dig, dig, dig, up under this place until more than half of the piece rolled over on itself like a small omelet being folded in half inside a well-seasoned cast iron skillet. After slightly more digging, a touch more excavation, a little more leverage...pop. The piece was dislodged. It was stuck to the inside of her well-manicured nail like painter’s putty gets stuck to the side of one of those flat tools they use to spread it evenly, smoothly. Satisfaction flooded her face. The blemish was gone, the crusty remainder of her facial inequity dismissed.

She almost didn’t look in the mirror as she knew she had successfully excised that sin, for this wasn’t the first time she’d done so. But as she walked out of the bathroom, her silk robe falling off of one shoulder, she saw her face. She saw the wound. She had dug too deeply, disturbed what horrible terror rested below the surface. A spot of blood and a red, red crescent lay in the wake of the blemish she, apparently, unsuccessfully removed. Well that simply wouldn’t do. That new red, red crescent and spot of blood would scar and stain and stay. She felt her thighs warming and their firmness wearing away. Her stomach, too. No longer cold, no longer crisp, no longer taut. This made her sweat. Made her upper lip swell and ever so slightly expel droplets of perspiration. This simply wouldn’t do. This, too, had to be removed. Torn off. Cut out before it could spread. Cut out like a tumor. Before it could spread.

She cleaned off the crisp dead piece of skin from her pristine thumbnail and began her new assault. The initial incision wasn’t extraordinarily deep, though it was certainly deep enough to sink below that red, red crescent, the red, red target of this dig. As she flicked her nail deeper still inside to get sufficient leverage underneath this new imperfection, she felt a sharp sting from the area around her extended thumb. A sharp sting which momentarily halted her dig as a cold tear formed inside her left eye and slowly dropped down her cheek. This only momentarily halted the dig, however. She plunged her nail deeper, under the blemish and thrust her now moist, warm finger upwards, the skin around that red, red crescent ripping jaggedly in the process. Tears were now more than slightly forming in both her eyes, but only as a reaction. She knew the sting would wear off. And if it didn’t, she knew the sting was only a small price she needed to pay to rid herself of her facial imperfections. There was only a small piece of meat holding this mostly detached chunk of skin to her cheek, she quickly dispatched it with a strong and sudden and instant pull. She threw her hand in reverse and the last string of meat ripped off, though it took a strip of previously perfect skin with it. Well, that just wouldn’t do.

She couldn’t have an isthmus of epidermis missing from her perfect face. So, again, she stuck her now blood-stained thumbnail deep into her cheek to cut out this new transgression. As she moved her thumb up and down, left and right, like an oscillating saw, she realized she was mistaken about the sting wearing off. In fact, not only did the sting not wear off, but it gained intensity with each downward stroke, each upward removal. Small price to pay, she thought. Keep cutting. Surgeons didn’t leave the entire tumor in the body if they could help it. They would remove it all if they could. It was poison, disease, mistake. It had to all come out. She could do this for the greater good.

As she finished her last cut on this new ribeye, it didn’t move. Amazingly, the entire perimeter was connected by a thumbnail incision, yet it didn’t fall off like its predecessor. With teeth gritted, toes curled, and eyes wide open and bloodshot, she began the arduous process of peeling off this skin. At first, it didn’t hurt. At first, all she could feel was the wet skin detaching from the sticky underbelly of her face. A rush of pain and heat overwhelmed her and she did the only thing she could. She didn’t retreat. She didn’t stop this necessary peel. She pulled and grimaced and felt each fiber of muscle and skin separate and burn and God it felt wonderful as she screamed and groaned and kicked and clawed and spat.

Her eyes were now bleeding and with every ounce of energy she screamed to tear off this tough, tough meat. It felt like jerky in her hand. It was that deep layer of meat and blood and fat that far too closely resembled a flab or pig or cow before it’s placed on the grill. For most, having just peeled off a three inch by two inch parcel of skin would have immediately induced panic, screams, fear. But she saw past it. She only saw the remaining mistakes now appearing on the other side of her face. What previously looked fine, began to appear old, dated, insecure. She again began to cut, cut, cut. By this time, her thumbnail, which served as her primary scalpel, had chipped. While this did provide a sharp edge for penetrating her soft skin, she now had to bring more fingers into the mix. Stabbing with her chipped nail, she then inserted two fingers from each hand into the hole and ripped, ripped, ripped apart. Now she was able to carve out skin much more efficiently, effectively, and with more pain than before. Her hair was now a mess, sweat and blood now staining her face, and her bathrobe at her ankles from the constant movement during her surgery. Naked, strong, and unfinished, she continued to cut, tear, pull, pry, and claw at her face. Skin peeling off by the handful, meat filling her nails, muscles and fibers falling into her hands.

Her forehead was a tougher task than the soft skin of her soft cheeks. There was less fat and skin to dig into with her hands, her claws, her talons. Peeling those imperfections off her forehead was closer to removing a piece of Scotch tape that had been carefully affixed to a hardwood table. Finger at a corner. Tear. Pull. Scrape. By the time she got to her eyebrows, she paused. They’d always been perfect. Not by mistake, however. She’d plucked and pulled and loved her eyebrows with such devotion over the years. They were the most wonderful eyebrows she’d ever encountered, and she was careful to keep them intact amidst her cleansing. When she was finished with her upper face, everything was gone. Everything but her eyebrows. They remained as a border against sticky, wet, hot, under-skin to the north, and bloody chunks of missing pieces and inevitable infection to the south.

And with that, she was finished. If you looked closely, you could tell she was smiling, pleased with all her hard work. You had to look closely, though, because without lips, it’s hard to tell if someone is smiling. But if you looked closely, you could tell. You could tell she was happy with herself. Happy with herself, bereft of all imperfection. The sun shone brightly on that day, the 6th of January.


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