by Jody Gerbig
When a person sits in water long enough, she starts to bloat. The thick skin of her hands and feet stretch and pull away from the muscle until she’s as wrinkled as an old woman. After my fiancé broke off our engagement and our friends split and scattered, I sat in my bathtub and watched the water drain until I heard the gurgling of the last drop like someone choking on her own phlegm. The air had begun to cool and my teeth had started to chatter, and still, I sat, my knees to my chin, my sits bone pressed hard against the unforgiving porcelain, staring into the canyons of my disfigured fingerprints.
Once, at my family’s lake house when I was just old enough to explore without my hand in my mother’s, a friend and I found a dead animal, floating face down in the water. We were strolling along the dock sidewalks, poking sticks at the lily pads and tossing helicopter pods into the lake, when my friend poked the thing enough to turn it over.
We’d thought it was a muskrat or beaver. Never a dog. Dogs don’t lie, collarless, drowned and abandoned. Entangled in algae. It had been a mutt, its gray and black mottled fur bobbing in a passing boat’s wake. Its body had bloated, its face almost unrecognizably dog so that we were forced to debate and discern its genus; forced to name the unnamable.
I stayed in that tub, naked and empty and still, longer than I should have. Until I felt like something else. Until I was unrecognizable. And I wondered, if it hadn’t been for all that fur and I could have seen the dog’s skin, would it have been as wrinkled as mine was? Would I have seen the darkness within the folds of a skin stretched to its limit?
Jody Gerbig teaches high-school English in Columbus, Ohio, where she lives with her husband, triplet toddlers, and dog. You can read her most recent work in Burrow Press, South 85, and Parent.co; she also has an essay coming out soon in VIDA.