Celeste hunches over the bin. Plick. Plick plick. Peeler against sweet potato taps out the percussive diatribe ever playing around her.
Dice the potato. Quarter inch cubes.
Plick, flick and drop. Plick, plick, plick.
It’s not a cube. It’s rounded on one side.
Who cares? Focus.
Drop off diapers at daycare.
Exfoliate, you hideous hag.
The baby just went down for the night. By the time I finish prepping dinner and by the time we eat that’ll be around 8:30 PM. That gives me two good hours before my eyes fail me and my spirit sags and I fall asleep with my laptop glowing with unfinished business. If I prep the daycare bag while the potatoes roast, I’ll knock 10 minutes off tomorrow morning’s routine. Will I have time for a run? A shower, even?
Peeling, peeling, feeling overwhelmed, Celeste flicks the strands of skin into the trash. She bends down to save the strays from the floor and to save her floor from the mess. Folding nearly in half, her hips and spine creak and crackle in answer to the effort. Middle age a decade away but the spirit of the thing, the ungodly fatigue and ennui and mild depressive existentialism already threatens to suffocate her mental acuity and earthly body.
The sound of a distant jubilant crowd roars from the living room. Nolan must have come home at some point.
She peers around to make out the streaks of bright tawny gold on his wavy-haired head as he sits immersed and immobile. The once collegiate all-star now merely an observer. She sniffs with the nostalgia of it all.
The smell of burnt wood stings her nostrils.
Statuesque Celeste, and every part of her including the Scandinavian composure from her father and her mother’s Middle Eastern dramatics and sense of duty, rushes over to the stove top to salvage the singed spoon. Light beechwood now blackened at the tip a bit, curlicues of steaming smoke rising up and up from it. She turns on the vent; the air whirs nearly loud enough to drown out the self-commands.
Get back to the task at hand, you lazy bitch.
Another svelte sweet potato, its long misshapen body once hidden beneath the bananas. Now the root vegetable falls victim to Celeste’s burning attention. The effort of dinner. The weight of sustenance. The weight of it all deforming her back and scarring her brain cage.
She peels, she feels her fingers losing their sense of reality. Her right hand slips and the stinging fuels her. Faster and faster she strips the potato of its skin, noticing the deep orange darkening beneath her eyes.
Drip slip drip, plip flip drip.
Scarlet dots line the sheer plastic garbage bag. Celeste stands mesmerized by the flayed skin softly plopping into the bin. Hardly noticing the filmy strips of beige mingling with rough rusty orange in midair.
Sneaking a peek over her shoulder towards the couch she sees him once more. Him in his post-work comatose state. Staring straight into the screen as some asinine sports announcer commends an average player for their average performance. He hadn’t noticed her peeling, or the twitch in the corner of her mouth as she stifles the yelling in her mind to trap it from bursting forth into being.
Turning back to the task in her hands, she starts to see it. Gingham of skin and flesh interwoven prettier than any picnic cloth. Her therapist’s words finally making sense, letting your insides out to examine what’s going on deep within. There is no pain, only the itching curiosity to feed the prickling need. On and on. She peels.
Plick plick. Flicking the sticky bits clinging to her fingers like a used adhesive. Useless now in its unattached form. The back of her hand exposed. She doesn’t have time to examine her handiwork too hard. Too many tasks queue, bouncing around her consciousness.
Plick and plick and flick into the bin.
Blood rises slowly to the surface, the epidermis long gone. The hand isn’t enough. Up and up she goes. But first ensuring the raw vegetables lay naked in their soaking bowl in the once pristine sink now flecked with the earth’s dirt and tiny scrapings of sweet potato skins.
The sink needs to be rinsed. Yet again.
Her forearm emerges.
Huh, the muscles are smaller than I realized. Will you look at that? It’s such a pretty deep pink. A crimson-esque, touch of fuschia, the strands of skin and muscle intermingling beautifully. An abstract painting. Dammit, when was the last time I appreciated a piece of art?
“That’s nearly a homerun, but he’ll have to hustle. Can he go all the way?”
What else can I peel?
She yearns for an excuse. Another sweet potato? An errant rutabaga? Carrots anywhere to be found?
There’s a whole woman to unearth and strip of the tough flesh that holds all her secrets and worries.
The gross desires and daily anxiety inside of me must be unleashed.
Celeste strips off the rest of the skin, brandishing her peeler. Better than journaling, more effective than role playing. Exposure therapy, reinvented.
“What time will dinner be ready, CeCe?” Nolan calls from the couch without the slightest twist of his neck. His eyes glazed over, addicted to the passive nature of his favorite pastime.
Body stinging with a vibrating readiness, Celeste lays down. Every last inch of her is exposed. She’s ready to be seen for who she truly is.
“I could use your help in here,” she says as calmly as possible, never letting her voice waver with the excitement and the dizzying sense of control cutting through the beginnings of a loss of consciousness.
Maybe he’ll know me now. Maybe he’ll want to know me. Maybe I’ll stop regretting the day we met. Maybe we’ll fall back into love, into daily sex, into something more than this, maybe, maybe, maybe we can get it back. Maybe he can finally see me.
Casting his eyes behind his shoulders every few paces as he makes his way to the kitchen, Celeste prepares for a reaction. The potential drama percolates in front of her imagination. She finally has found a way to make him care.
Droplets of blood find each other and pool at the base of her wrist, at her ankle joint, where jaw meets neck. The little points of connection create a perfect, Celeste-shaped blood outline. Her insides have finally been let out.
Nolan saunters into the kitchen. He spots it. Beelining for the bottle opener on the counter, he takes two confident strides across the room and over her body. He heads straight back to his favorite spot in the corner of their oversized sectional couch. Melding into the framboise-colored fabric he calls out to Celeste.
“Where’d you go?”