Issue 35, Final Fringe

The Loneliness Diet

by Paul Griner Issue 25 02.21.2011

Lonely and overweight in a new city, they decided to go on the loneliness diet, the instructions for which were simple: wash your skin before eating.

Alcohol swabs to clean it, liquid Novocain to numb it. She worked in a dentist’s office and furnished the Novocain; he in a hospital and supplied the scalpel.

Small, unobtrusive areas only: the inside of the upper arm, ditto for the upper thigh, the lower back, the top of one foot. Not deep, the epidermis only, not the dermis, lest it never grow back. Each cut their own skin and fed the other, then dressed the other’s wounds. They slept.

Did they dream? They must have, they always had, but in the morning they couldn’t recall. In the morning they were ravenous, but they didn’t eat before work, or at lunch, or even at dinner. Then, when night fell, the other arm, the other leg, the other foot, a bit higher on the back. Eventually their spines were ladders of skin and scabs.

They never wore white in case they bled. Skin regenerates slowly. There were days they didn’t eat. They lost weight rapidly, they walked more—despite their bound and bloody feet, they became fit. People invited them into their homes. You look nice, they said. You’re always together. They pressed food on them but they demurred. They touched them, these people, their hands, their shoulders, their arms. As long as they didn’t touch their backs, they were all right.

The body’s largest organ. They knew its rhythms, they watched it heal. They could make love only with him standing behind her, so his hips didn’t abrade her thighs. Every night and often in the mornings and sometimes in the afternoons, the soft arm of an upholstered chair supported her stomach. At night, after visiting their new friends, they would undress and climb into bed naked, where he would lie with his head in her lap, tonguing the newly formed skin, learning its salty smoothness. He liked that these new, shiny patches had yet to suffer the abuse of daily living. And she would stroke his hair, and they would sleep, and dream their dreams. Not one featured a barking dog.

Paul Griner

Paul Griner

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Paul Griner is the author of the novel The German Woman, recently published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and also of Collectors (a novel) and Follow Me (stories) both from Random House. His stories have appeared in Playboy, Tin House, Ploughshares, Zoetrope, Prairie Schooner, Bomb, The Daily Telegraph (India), Narrative, New York Tyrant, and online in Juked, Tuesday Shorts, The Southeast Review, Dogzplot, elimae, and Pindeldyboz, and his work has been translated into half a dozen languages. He’s the Director of Creative Writing at the University of Louisville.