Illustration by Anna Chamberlin

This piece received an honorable mention in the fiction category of the 2o24 Wallace Prize.

Here’s Lisa May, in late-night lamplight, crying on the edge of her bed. 

Not long ago, the boy was in her room. He stumbled through his speech: eight months of sun, they had a good run, but now, things just weren’t working out. He let this hang and ran his tongue along his teeth. Then he left. 

Lisa May is studying the way her toes can hide themselves in the shag carpet. She alternates between sob and screech. Her nails are restless and dig into various patches of the bedspread. She notices this and forces herself to be still for just two seconds. One Miss-iss-ip-pi Two, and now she’s back to fidgeting, fingers here, fingers there, combing through her hair until she finds it: a cold metal zipper at the back of her head. 

It’s a strange feeling—sitting, reaching back, pinching this zipper between thumb and forefinger—but Lisa May knew this was coming. 

The house is quiet. Across town, Lisa May’s parents clink glasses with gowned strangers.

The zipper warms between her fingers. 

Now: Lisa May stands and unzips herself. (This is tricky, because it’s hard to reach the center of your back.) She steps out of her skin and studies its puddled mass, lumped like dirty laundry on the floor. Her old self is a deflated cage of flesh and hair and sundress. It looks as though it’s been melted. What were once bony arms are now rumpled empty sleeves. Her face, looking up at her, sags like a cheap Halloween mask. 

She should be horrified, and she is horrified, but more than that, Lisa May is awe-struck. So that’s what her hair looked like, all this time? Her eyebrows always looked fine in the mirror and in photos, but here, now, seeing them on the floor…

She’s tempted to take a picture. (She decides not to.)

What should a girl do with her old skin, anyway? Keeping it under the bed is creepy. Hanging it in the closet beside her clothes is a no. And you can’t just put something like that in the trash! That would be disrespectful.

So Lisa May scoops up her skin and goes downstairs to bury it in the backyard. With a scuffed white shoe she drives a shovel-head into the ground. Dropping the skin into the hole makes no sound. 

Back inside, the deed done, she washes her hands and looks at her naked self in the mirror. She is red. She is bone and sinew. Last year, in her biology class, an anatomical model sat in the corner. It had eyeballs instead of eyes and there were tubes in all sorts of places. One day, some kid took the heart out of the model’s chest, held it up to the fluorescent light, and announced that henceforth, the model would be named Greg. Lisa May looks in her mirror and thinks of Greg. 

She isn’t in pain but feels like she should be, so she takes a painkiller. She puts on a t-shirt and underwear (she just realized she was unclothed) and climbs into bed, turns off her light. Sleep will fix this. 


In the morning, her mother fries bacon, her father attacks a crossword with a pencil, and when Lisa May comes down the stairs in sweatpants and a hoodie, with a face red and hollowed, eyes protruding, completely skinless, her parents quietly stop their activities and embrace their daughter. This three-person hug is maintained for some time. Lisa May’s mother cries, assures the okay-ness of things. Lisa May blinks big, wide blinks. 

“Was it the boy?” asks the father.

Lisa May nods.

“What’d you do with the skin?” 

“Buried it. In the backyard.”

Her father beams with pride. “A proper burial! Good for you. Did you give a eulogy?”

She cracks a smile. “No. No eulogy.”


Lisa May receives a talk about skin-shedding. Even though it’s taboo, skin-shedding is perfectly natural and healthy. It can happen at any point in life. It will probably happen multiple times in her life. Her father first shed his skin when he was eighteen, too. A girl dumped him. He tossed his skin in a lake, he can’t remember the name, but it was the lake down by Egret Park, and his skin floated and bobbed like a plastic grocery bag. Her mother’s first shedding came in third grade: her family moved across the country, she forgot a favorite teddy bear, and that was enough to make the zipper appear. 

“So, honey, there are two ways you can go,” Lisa May’s mother says. “You can wait a few days, maybe a week, until a new skin starts to develop. Or, if you’d like, your father and I are perfectly willing to take you to a shop. There’s a new one downtown, isn’t there, David? What’s it called? The Skin Shed?”

“The Skin Shed, yeah. Very clever.”

The mother looks at Lisa May’s featureless red face. “It’s up to you, honey.”

“Mom, aren’t those, like, super expensive?”

“Helping you move on is worth any cost.”

“Some kids at school say those places are immoral. You reject the natural course of growth.”

Her dad grunts. “You take drugs when you’re sick, don’t you?”

“Think it over,” her mom says. “We’re happy to drive you there.”


One more look in the bathroom mirror and Lisa May makes her decision. The family car rolls downtown and stops between a pet supply store and WE BUY GOLD 4 LE$$, where a narrow, easily-missable shop displays a simple sign: The Skin Shed.

“Do you want us in there with you?” Lisa May’s dad asks, looking over his shoulder into the backseat.

“I think I’d rather be alone.”

“Alright. We’ll be just around the corner. Call us if you need anything.”

A bell dings when Lisa May enters. She approaches a front desk, behind which sits a woman with short gray hair. The woman could be very old or very young. It’s hard to tell. She gives Lisa May a smileless smile and speaks like winter: crisp and short and bitter. 

“How can I help you.”

“Hi, um, I’m looking to get fitted for a n-new skin?” Lisa May whispers from within her hoodie.

“No need to whisper, doll. Don’t be ashamed. Skin loss is the reason we’re in business. Just go through that door and back to the waiting room. Someone will be with you shortly.”

“Oh. Thanks. There’s no paperwork or anything?”

“Here at The Skin Shed, we don’t believe in wasting your time.”


The waiting room is more of a waiting hallway. Five folding chairs face posters on the opposite wall. One reads “Starting Over After A Divorce?” and shows three panels: woman with ruined mascara studying used tissue; woman without skin standing before bonfire; woman with new skin sitting on barstool and laughing a beautiful laugh.

Two chairs down from Lisa May, a skinless man in a sleeveless shirt picks at his fat, red arms and mumbles. “Hiding, hiding, everyone shed skin hiding, hiding from world like burn victims. Victims of so many house fires. House f-aye-errs! Hah!” He lifts his hands and pats different parts of his skull, patpatpat, the way one pats pockets when looking for lost keys. 

A lab-coated man appears at the end of the hall. “Mr. Curtis?” The skinless man stops his patting and turns. To the extent that he can emote, he looks pleasantly surprised. “You can follow me now, Mr. Curtis.” 

Twenty minutes later, the two men return. Mr. Curtis has skin. He’s an older gentleman with full cheeks and slicked silver hair. “Really, I can’t thank you enough,” he is saying to the man in the lab-coat. “If she could see me today—well, I’m sure she can see me from up there, and I can guarantee you she’s smiling.” Before he leaves, Mr. Curtis addresses Lisa May. “Young lady, it does get better. Just you know that.”

After walking the older man out of the shop, the professional introduces himself to Lisa May as Dr. Link. He invites her to follow him, and the two walk into a room with three mirrors and a stepstool.

“Now, Lisa May, I’ll have you step up here. I’m going to ask you just a few questions while I take your measurements.”

Dr. Link smells like a clean bathroom. He looks down his nose at a white measuring tape.

“Lisa May, when did you shed?”


“Your first time?”


Dr. Link smirks. “Congratulations.”

Lisa May doesn’t know whether to thank him.

“And what was the cause?”


“Surely there must have been some inciting incident.”

“There was a boy.”

“Ah, yes. Always a boy.” Dr. Link measures her arms, her legs, the circumference of her neck. 

“Doctor, can I ask what happened to that older gentleman? Mr. Curtis?”

“I’m afraid information about clients is strictly confidential.” Dr. Link comically looks over both his shoulders, then whispers, “Mrs. Curtis died last week.”


“They were married forty-one years. You can imagine what that would do to a person. How long the natural recovery time would take.”

Lisa May watches three bone-and-muscle selves be measured by three Dr. Links in the room’s mirrors. 

“Alright, now for the fun part,” Dr. Link says. “Hold out your hand.”

Lisa May does as instructed and feels a pinch on her pointer finger. “What was that?”

Dr. Link holds up a white device the size of a lighter. “Finger prick. Blood sample. We extrapolate from your DNA to compose your new skin. Do you have any photos you would want considered for the design?”

“Can I scroll through my phone?”

“Please. Take your time.”

After some scrolling and squinting, Lisa May turns her phone to Dr. Link. “This is when I was happiest, I think.”

On the phone screen: Lisa May has her arms around friends. It’s a group photo from prom. Everyone smiles. Lisa May’s sequined dress catches every fragment of the scattered dance-hall light.

“A beautiful choice,” Dr. Link says. “We can work with this. Send it to the number taped above the mirror. I’ll be back in less than half an hour.”

Dr. Link disappears, and Lisa May sits on the stepstool, sends the photo, and stares at her alien reflection long enough to drown out any suspicion. 


“Have you ever been scuba diving?” Dr. Link asks when he returns. He carries a clothes-hanger cloaked with a black trash bag. 

Lisa May stands. “No, I haven’t.”

“Well, putting one of these on is exactly like putting on a wetsuit. You step in, pull it up over your foot and ankle, then your other foot and ankle, then your knees, and keep going from there. It can be frustrating. And remember, there’s a zipper. The zipper will dissolve after a couple days. It’s there to help you get dressed.” Dr. Link pulls off the trash bag, tosses the hanger to the floor, and sets a circular tan-white-blue thing on the stepstool. It looks like an abstract rug. 

Lisa May steps onto the circular mat. Her toes wriggle until they find their homes. Her feet become fleshy-white once again. She rolls her new skin up her calves, her thighs. Her eyeballs scan left, right, up, down, and she flails her red, bony arms like some prehistoric beast. She finds the armholes. She feels complete.

Dr. Link helps bring the zipper to the back of Lisa May’s head and looks with her into the mirrors. “Well, what do we think?” 


Lisa May laughs as she comes through the front door of her house. She does a little dance, enjoys making her new skin move. 

“They really did an incredible job,” her dad is saying. 

“I’m so proud of you,” says her mom. 

After the three eat dinner, Lisa May is presented with a cake. “Did you get this while I was being fitted in the shop? You did, didn’t you!” 

Her mom lights a candle and smiles. Her dad jokes that he feels they should sing. The icing reads: New Skin, New Me, Finally Free!


Upstairs, Lisa May showers and prepares for bed. For the first time, she can scrutinize her new features in the familiar bathroom light. Nothing is out of place. Her eyebrows have kept their parenthetical shapes. Her hair is the color of wheat, as always. She has kept her favorite mole on her left cheek. If that boy could see her now, he’d know what a mistake he’d made. Her skin looks healthier than ever, and her nose looks— 

An itch. Probably nothing. Itches are natural with new skins, she thinks.

Her nose is slender and straight until it curls up just at the tip. Her eyes are still gray-blue. Her lips move—

It’s the zipper. The zipper itches. There’s a space the size of a thumbnail on the back of her skull and it beckons for her awareness. She fiddles with the zipper and looks at herself and now she’s crying and wiping her eyes on forearms that are new to her, that she was given, no, not given, purchased, she purchased new forearms and a new face and new hair and all this newness but those same sad eyes, broken and alive, and now she rips the zipper down her back but it’s cheap and it snags on freshly-made skin and she screams from the pain and scrapes herself away and runs down the stairs with her face and neck deflated and shredded into strands, strands that hang in scraps from her collar and make plushy noises as she runs and enters that hot humid garage and she’s getting light-headed and she grasps the shovel her hand grabs the handle a hand with a foreign back she does not know the backs of her own hands the freckles and scars should be there but aren’t and the garage door opens (opens, opens) to darkness and she wipes at lidless eyes and hobbles outside and once she finds that old skin she can rinse it and wear it again. 

Now she is stabbing the ground, now here, now there, stabbing and stabbing and where, where, where did she bury her body?