Iodine | K Chiucarello
Updated: Mar 27, 2020
It had all started with a slight bleeding out.
I was slicing bread one evening while listening to a frenzied Leonard Cohen. I had made the bread myself, earlier in the week. I felt polished after a day of work. I still smelled of the perfume I had rolled onto my wrists in the morning. It felt absolutely insufferable.
I was devouring a frenzied L Cohen tune. My left hand was pressed against the arched amber of the crust while my right hand was rowing back and forth with a serrated knife. As the weight of my body leaned into this other body defined by flour and air, I unexpectedly became very invested in a certain loop of the horns. I felt the progression in a key of F scale up. Momentarily I closed my eyes when my left hand pressed down, crunching the loaf. My right hand, blade included, spilled over my left index finger.
Suddenly, I was at attention.
I looked down at the teeth as they one by one glided over my finger, halting at the cream bone now shining through. A deluge of red began as the knife dropped to my feet. I stared apt into my cut flesh and while my opposite hand went to press the divide, so to stop the bleed, a curiosity struck me. I reversed in my plan to apply pressure and instead peeled back my wound. It was exactly as I thought it was. It was exactly as I thought I could feel. Sandwiched between my skin and the bone lay dormant a meaty layer that now only I could see after my major slit to the joint. I cinched the wound between my two fingers and with ferocity twisted the top layer of my skin, lifting it off to orchestrate a grand reveal.
And there we were:
a mossy camouflaged green sheath of scales,
That’s interesting, I said to no one in particular.
A summer ago, I was on the brink of extinction.
Nothing to be concerned about really, but I had found myself with a sweetheart that liked to throw things at me. Sometimes they enjoyed leaving bruises. Other times they left welts. Often I had no idea whether I would make it out of a particular argument dead or alive. It was survival of the fittest.
Slowly I learned to dig holes for myself. I would plunge and plunge and wrap myself up in mud, waiting for my sweetheart to pass. Eventually they left me be. Eventually I created enough holes for myself to live in and bubbled enough of a hole to fit the others I loved in there with me. I relied on myself and on myself only to get out of this premiere hole by digging an offshoot of smaller, more petite holes; a map back to myself if you will.
That I had indeed made it out, to some now, they consider me an ecological success story.
After I had cut myself I needed a drink. I went down to my local watering hole and took seat. Meredith was working and she poured me a whiskey neat without saying a word. ‘Look at this’, I said. I showed her my finger delicately wrapped in gauze. The gauze was already pooled with a stain of blood soaking through it. ‘I found this below’, I continued, as I pushed the textile back to reveal a layer of vibrant, some may say ‘young’, scales beneath.
I was seeping out.
When the summer finished, I began to feel things in my body that were not there previously. I began to spend my time alone. I traveled, worked, ate supper alone. If someone touched me, I recoiled. I had had enough hands on me for one lifetime. Every morning I would stare at my mirror and think, this body: it’s not mine.
“This happens,” she said.
“I’ve never seen this before in my life.”
“It happens,” Meredith replied. “It happens after some violence.”
I felt ill-advised.
“Listen,” Meredith said. She grabbed my palm. “This shape-shifting, it happens after a tragedy. My friend the other day was showing blankets of blonde on her chest and after a long Google we stumbled on a support group. I can link you.”
She went back to washing her pints.
After pausing to consider this, I inquired,
“What kind of shape-shifting?”
“Shape-shifting that takes you out of your body, after you have used it up, after things have settled, when you want nothing to do with it at all anymore.”
I tucked into bed that evening and swaddled the blankets tight around me. I began dreaming in progression, selves in a dressing room, mice in the wall. Suddenly I awoke bleary-eyed to a shattering of glass on the floor. The moonlight blistered through my curtains.
Bedside was a pile of my skin, slouched into a mountaintop, every beauty mark accounted for. My body felt heavied with a weight that was foreign to me. When I swung my legs up and over, onto the floor, a thick curved tail instead whipped its way around to me. My top register followed behind my bottom. I lifted onto all fours, opening and shutting my jaw so that I could hear a snap in the wild. I presented myself in the mirror. Aligning, I took a breath in, and exhaled a railway of teeth so wide that no one world could possibly contain them.
Exactly, I grinned.
I finagled the lock undone and waddled out of my apartment mid-daylight. Of all the passerby, no one understood how to act around me. I heard a bellow come from my belly. That feels accurate, I thought back to myself. I continued down the avenue, past the deli that seemed only to serve cops, past the glass condo erected on the corner, finally stopping at the bar I had met Meredith at last night. I thought, this place is absolutely insufferable.
I slapped my feet across the wooden planks as an announcement to my arrival, the bar door closing and echoing, a chorus behind me. The bartender counting cash became alarmed at once. Squat in my emerald green, I let out a slight rumble followed by a wail I did not know I contained. Perhaps I needed to be leashed. The bartender scrambled to find me a pencil and paper. Maybe he had seen this coming, others before me.
I took the pencil between my claws and scribbled a goodbye note to Meredith, thanking her for the link.
I lost the thing I thought was mine.
Overnight I had lost my body, a thing I had failed at.
I whistled for the nearest taxi and wrote into the notepad I had stolen from the bar. Take me direct to JFK. demanded quite legible looped cursive. I boarded a plane, and once landed I hailed another near taxi. The smell of penetrated oil hit my face. I rode out breezes with the windows down and when the taxi pulled over I flipped a tip to the driver. I paraded myself to the marsh and let the water breathe over my toes while disintegrating downward to let the cool of the wetlands wash over my entire being, my snout submerged in a stagnant cloud of muck.
I floated there,
the sun shining on me,
and felt a nudge on my side.
At night the other gators and I danced out and loose in two/four time, tambourines keeping our beat. We shared songs of loss over glasses of sherry and cigarettes. The hum was always so low that no one could ever tell us how to behave or could ever pinpoint our whereabouts. I memorized the word ‘bottleneck’. We cried tears night after night, rolling months, weeks, decades of violence within us to form a cool dough that finally stuck to our palms like glue. We created an alliance nominally called AA, Alligators Anonymous, and sometimes even had the audacity to make a joke.
I made a home with the others who understood the gravity of the situation. When alone, I wrote postcards back to the body that was once mine. I pictured myself on a daybed molded into a fetal position, waiting for a hand to strike or waiting for a plummet to the throat. I thought of my sweetheart trapped in their own body waiting to free, a jail of tendered flesh and ribbon. Because this body was my own, one which I had sliced into discovery, I swam and soaked in the pleasure of being at the top of the food chain. I had nothing to declare, perpetually smelt of flood
and I thought yes
there are many ways
a man can serve his time.
K Chiucarello is a non-binary queer writer and editor living in Brooklyn, NY. They currently oversee submissions for Susie Magazine and were last published in Trampset and Slaughterhouse. They have work forthcoming in XRAY Lit and Nightbird. They can probably recite 93% of Leonard Cohen's catalog on-demand. Twitter quips on gender and writing can be found @_kc_kc_kc_.