By Lisa Foley
It started with sound and ended with skin.
It started with the world and at that time, I never thought it would happen to me too. Sound was the first thing the world shed, and who among us wouldn’t have welcomed silence in any other time? Or at least a lack of noise. But then, it wasn’t noise that disappeared, it was sound. The world was the world and then in a moment, everything stopped and there was no more sound. Looking back, I see that the world had been turned upside down, so I guess all the sound just fell out.
Noise maybe never left, and it got louder after a couple of years. Through anger, then uprisings, then war—war brought on by lizard-like politicians who used the anger to fuel their own popularity. My mom told me about a bomb used in the war she lived through, a bomb that flew low and made a whirring sound and a few seconds after the sound stopped, it exploded. Note to everyone—when sound ceases, things are about to get much worse.
The spread, the disbelief, the attempt to ignore it all, the declaration, we all remember exactly where we were, what we were doing, who we were with. I remember that moment sound stopped, the moment when I sensed the world had shifted. I had snuck onto the rooftop of the building I live in and stood there, feeling protected by the gargoyles Marvin and Chester on either side, looking out over our beautiful city, a city favored for clinging to its history. The streets were empty of tourists, scooters, cars, garbage trucks, people, dogs—the sky empty of jet streams. The sound wasn’t working, the world was mute.
The beginning feels like a hundred years ago, like I—like we have all—been living like this from the time we can remember. The unknown is what scared us most, despite all the terribility (yes, I made up a word or two, but I’ve had time on my hands), despite death and fear and learning to live in a world unfamiliar, we wanted to know how and when it would end. When would normal life return? Why didn’t anyone know, we were living in the future, not the past for Christ’s sake. Someone should have known, should have been able to tell us. We were told ‘normal’ may never return. In the beginning I didn’t think about what was missing, I thought about what had been added. Rules. And fear, but in the beginning my only fear was that I might be breaking the rules. All day, all night news was added, with only ever one story to cover. We were a world obsessed. Sound on there, and like a mosquito buzzing around your ears that you can’t kill, it distracted us from noticing what was being taken from us. From what we were shedding.
Next, we shed affection, but only out of necessity. Absolutely no more touching. Instead, we stood two or three metres away from our loved ones, outside—if we were lucky. The ones who suffered the most could only see their loved ones through a screen. The ones who suffered the most died like that, and the rest of us reminded ourselves of how lucky we were. During the on again, off again times when we were told we could see each other, we’d call ahead and say, ‘are we going to hug each other, is it okay to hug each other, is it safe to hug each other?’ About a year in, articles appeared noting that people were shedding relationships—bad ones—and this was perhaps a good thing, so don’t feel bad about that, that’s something you could feel good about. But you can’t live in a world where you only see people you love and adore and want to hold. The world we lived in was full of people who were annoying—sometimes horrible—and that made us better people. That made us compromise, made us understand that the world and a lot of its citizens needed our attention, made us want to make the world a better place and that’s what we’re meant to do. Imperfection serves a noble purpose.
What we didn’t know when we shed affection, was that it wouldn’t come back. When you’re only allowed to love a few people, to show affection to a few blood relatives, you lose the ability to love the world. You become afraid of the world, afraid of being near anyone, let alone show affection to them.
Moderation was next and I ordered boxes of wine for the once weekly delivery we were allowed, drinking heavily every night. My brother’s dealer happily took me on as a customer—he’d always had a thing for me—and he’d sneak out sometime in the night and I’d wake to find a package at my door in the morning. At some point—I don’t remember when exactly—I started smoking again, because why not, the world looked likely to end. I’d wait until dark and sit on the rooftop with my back pressed against the cold, concrete wall with a drink and a cigarette, hoping the world couldn’t judge me if it couldn’t see me. I binged on American reality TV shows for hours, night after night. I liked watching people obsessed with petty, inconsequential issues, people who were as happy as me ignoring our real obsession. I watched the same ones over and over again, because I liked knowing how they ended. When sleep decided I didn’t deserve her, even with all the alcohol and drugs, I spent hours in bed listening to true crime podcasts. I especially liked the stories about century-old crimes that were unsolvable, finding hope in horror survived.
No one could focus anymore and everyone talked about it, articles were written about it, brain fog they called it, and it wasn’t just the afflicted, it was everyone. The world had one focus, and with it, we shed our ability to focus and concentrate on anything else. We shed our ability to remember, and that wasn’t just the brain fog at work, we shed time. The world dispensed with time completely. The world, the news cycle, our bodies, schedules…time wasn’t a consideration anymore. Clocks continued ticking, but time ceased existing.
I shed my voice and every ounce of creativity I ever had and now I see they were one and the same. I shed my voice not only because I didn’t use it anymore, but because I had nothing to say. Like an old wooden staircase, my voice is full of whispers and creaks when I do speak, and not just because of the cigarettes and the dry vocal cords—it’s the lack of thoughts to put into words.
Sound, affection, moderation, focus, time, a voice.
When my skin started changing, I gained some clarity. Funny how a physical change can trigger a mental change, but it did. My skin had been unchanged, hadn’t aged a day and I put that down to the lack of exposure to the elements, having spent years mostly inside. If anything, I felt myself looking younger as months and years passed. Vanity can survive just about anything and looking in the mirror made me happy and proud like my youthful appearance marked some kind of personal achievement. Then one morning I woke to see a completely different face in the mirror, a face shedding thin bits of skin giving way to red patches. My sliver of happiness and vanity disappeared with the skin that flaked off, bit by bit, day by day. And surprisingly, my acquired addictions started to fall away too.
It’s still not horribly noticeable, most of the changes happening from the neck down so far, and makeup covering up what’s happening from the neck up when needed, which isn’t often. When the flaking stops, the skin becomes hardened, scaley and slightly raised, looking like the kind of pebbles my Nana used to decorate her garden, back when people owned their own homes. She used it so weeds wouldn’t grow, back when people thought something coming out of the ground naturally might be a bad thing. I have patches on my torso and legs that resemble small gravel pits, and its spreading, slowly, like the patches of gravel are reaching out to each other.
When I look at the gargoyles, I see souls captured but still alive, and I wonder if that’s what I have to look forward to.
The clarity gained is this—I shed the things that made me human, so it makes sense that my body is turning to stone now. I’ve always known that if something is happening to me, it’s happening to others, and the world shed the things that made it human, so I imagine I’m not the only one turning to stone inside and out. It may only be happening to the people who have humanity inside them, it may not happen to those reptilian politicians who are soulless creatures to begin with, or to their angry followers who have lost all hope and sense, but then they will be the ones left with a world destroyed and empty. They will be left with each other.
Sound, affection, moderation, focus, time, a voice, skin, humanity.
It started with sound and ended with skin, and I’m not afraid anymore because now I know it will end when there’s nothing left to shed.
Lisa Foley started writing when she was at home with small children and has been published in various print and online publications including Canadian Storyteller, Pottersfield Portfolio, Front & Centre, The Loose Canon, and The Danforth Review. In 2016, she self-published a collection of her stories called Secrets Untold – Stories of Love, Longing & Movin’ On.