Cover Story: Happy

For his entire life, he had had a periwinkle kind of skin. His mother told him the color had eaten it the night of a bad lightning storm, when he was barely a toddler. The storm shook and shook their small house, the rickety hinges on the doors clacking like there were skeletons walking down the hall. He had gotten so scared, hiding under the table in the corner, which his mother kept as a shrine to his father. He was small enough that he fit under the table, and that his mother couldn’t reach him. He shook so hard, like a demon or a thundercloud or a washing machine was possessing him.

What his mother wouldn’t talk about was the moment her son’s skin changed. She had been crouched over, watching her violently quaking son, so small and pale in a place where she couldn’t reach him. She wasn’t sure if he realized it, but he looked her dead in the eyes, which he as an energetic toddler had never done before. And just as she was about to call out, he began to speckle.

They looked like splotches of paint on his skin. They were an even purple, and the more he shook, the more they spread, like a herd of wild horses moving across the planes of his skin. She still had nightmares about after the storm had settled and he was calmly asleep in his little bed; she had watched the last bit of his skin disappear. She had nightmares that she would be locked in a glass chamber, inches from her son, her purple son, just to watch him be —

They did things to him. Even outside her nightmares, they did things to him. In elementary school, they would see how many people could sit on top of his chest before his eyes turned glassy with lack of oxygen. In the dark, black, disgusting abyss that is middle school, they gassed him with a purple mist of a paint. It didn’t make sense to anyone, even the people who started it, but they all got a big kick out of it. He breathed out little gusts of purple-dyed carbon dioxide for a week. The more he wheezed and puked and picked at his skin, the more delighted they became. Everyone united in hating him. It was a common cause for the public. He was a common enemy.

It continued like that for the rest of his life. Even the kindest-hearted people would keep a place in their conscience to be awful to him. The men that paraded through the dilapidated apartment that he shared with his mother would watch him steadily from the other side of the breakfast table, dark rings under their eyes and dark rings following the base of their throat, chewing deeply on the cereal that his mother had reserved for him. Their eyes always followed him, like he wasn’t good enough for averted gazes. They were always on edge, like a pausing animal of prey ready to spring in defense. After, he would hear them talking to his mother in low, angry tones, always using words that made his mother gasp. They would leave the apartment in a hurry, pulling a jacket over their shoulders, their tight jaws set in hard angles. His mother would emerge from her room with a red, teary, angry face. She would smile at him from across the room and ask him if he was ready for school.

In his seventeenth year, he began to wear bandages over his skin, wrapped over and over covering his skin. He would wear his glasses over the bandages covering his faces, their tinted surfaces showing the bare minimum of emotion. Like this, they all flocked to him. People found any excuse to touch him, and eventually find any excuse to ask him to take off the bandages. With a sign of disease the bandages created, he was the pitiable friend that everyone decided that they needed in their lives.

It’s like this. Imagine there’s a dead raccoon right outside your house. It’s always there. It’s always a dead raccoon. And it’s always disgusting. But one day, replaced by the place of the dead raccoon, is a dead kitten. The kitten is just as dead, and just as dirty and disgusting, but it would never receive the same treatment as the dead raccoon. The dead kitten is cleaned off, buried nicely, not thrown into a pile of garbage.

This is the best analogy I can muster for his situation, and I’m sorry for making you think of dead animals.

The bandages drew people to him, but it repelled him from them. They were despicable in his mind, all of them. They loved to pity him.

The only place they wouldn’t follow him was into the hills, after he had started crying.

“I need to be alone right now,” he would choke to them, feeling the bandages becoming wet under the false tears. “You’re good friends – I’m sure you understand. I just need to think about all the things in my life right now, I’m sorry.” They would always eat it up, and embrace him as gently as they could, and make him promise to call them when he was ready to.

There was a small cabin in the hills, far past any civilization to be seen, farther than his phone signal would reach. He would let the ace bandages fall in coils, and somehow always be disappointed that his skin had retained its purple coloring. The bandages would cover the floor of the one-room cabin, and he would imagine what would happen if he were to bring them here, what they would do or say, and how they would react when he peeled off his bandages.

It was raining. The lightning bursting the coming night sky with slashes of light made him remember nightmares he used to have about skeletons dancing in the halls outside his little room. (He had had the dreams past the point where his skin changed.) The rain was sporadic and unkempt like the hair he had buzzed to cover his scalp with the bandages. He hung the bandages to hang in the rain, draping like streamers from the branches of the trees that surrounded the cabin. It was just one roll, and it covered the trees like a canopy for as far as the eye could see.


Text and cover by Ella Luna, painting by Vincent van Gogh.