THE SHINING FURROW
Her skin was changing. It seemed to be thinning out somehow. But she was too young for that: and fleetingly, playfully, she wondered to herself whether she was changing into one of the Lamias of old, a snake-woman about to shed her carapace.
No such luck. She was a human being, not a mythical creature. But a very peculiar human indeed. Her skin began to look stretched. One day she held her hand up to the light, and the sun streamed through it. Her flesh had become pellucid.
She could see the blood course through her veins, could see her arteries at their diligent labour. The effect spread through her arms and legs, and she could see the spider’s web of nerves and connective tissue. To be sure, she had always known that the body was a miracle; but it was an uncomfortable knowledge, when experienced so personally.
So far so good. She could wear long skirts and sleeves, she could pull on gloves, and the real biological display could be hidden for awhile. Then she noticed that people began to look at her askance. Her face, when she looked in the mirror, now told more than it should. There was a blue fretwork spreading over it, and gradually the muscles that make her smile and frown came into view. There might be some mystery still left, about how she actually felt: but the mechanism behind her features was now on full display. When she looked at her body, the secret organs now lurched into view: her stomach busy with its work, her womb fashioning and shedding eggs, her lungs gently expanding like bellows.
What could be done? She had to make a living somehow, and her previous employment as a seamstress was now closed to her. No-one wanted to purchase clothes stitched by someone who looked like a corpse. And yet she had never felt so alive, as proven by the coursing blood and the spurting gall. For a few weeks, she worked as an exhibit in a circus sideshow, but it was humiliating, as the onlookers made coarse remarks about her female parts, now shockingly exposed to public view. Her vagina, which she had thought of as a shining furrow, was now mocked by them as an empty sheath.
In the darkness, she visited one of the teaching hospitals. There was an embargo on using the bodies of the recently dead for student autopsies: but surely a living mechanism could teach them more? No Burke and Hare would be necessary then. And indeed one of the instructors decided to employ her. So twice a week she stood in front of a room of male students, and they took notes about her: the smooth connection between her joints, the tiny movable parts of her ear, her vestigial appendix.
She tired of being their creature. She gave in her notice, and asked the instructor if he had any other work for her, but he knew of none. On her way out of the city, she passed a village churchyard which contained a grave-watcher’s hut - a little shed where watchers might guard the recently dead and prevent them from being dug up for anatomy lessons. The door was ajar. In she went, and found a bed and some food left by the previous inhabitant. It would do.
People soon noticed her, of course. They were afraid of her, but reasoned that she was a very efficient deterrent to the grave-robbers. The villagers started to bring little gifts of food and clothing, in an attempt to placate her. She was, after all, keeping the dead safe: she had eaten their sins, perhaps.
The dead were quiet. She noticed that after a few weeks, as they started to decay underground, her own flesh changed too. It started to look smooth and buff. Little by little, it became less translucent. One day she realised that she could see neither bone nor sinew, and that her bodily envelope was sealed again. She now looked like an ordinary woman once more. And so she stole away.