Scratching Post | Jared Povanda
Updated: Mar 15, 2019
You started scratching your skin off in front of the payphone. You needed a quarter, just one more, the rest of your change glinted in the light of the moon, but you were short, short, and there was no one around to ask for help with your car smoking on the gravel behind. So, your skin. So, nails against the stomach—the place where your fat sat like a toad on a lily pad. You clawed the skin away, and the animal in you almost began to howl. It took a lot of control to keep the noise inside, bottled tight, unlike the quarters covered in your body’s detritus falling slick and loose to the dirt. Blood-stained but money nonetheless. You gathered the two new quarters, wiped them off on your Levi’s, and inserted them in the coin slot, praying the thing wasn’t busted.
The night was velvet. Purple. Blue. Soft enough to be abrasive. A type of torture, really, like a goat’s tongue on the bottom of salt-washed feet. You pulled at your collar. You fanned the sweat from your face. Swatted a mosquito. Lifted the phone and tried to ignore the rivulets of blood running down the denim.
“Mom,” you said, voice a shaky, shaky wobble. “I need help getting home.”
American money in your stomach. Canadian in your cheek. Rubles spilling from the side of your neck. You once found a gem between your thighs—a ruby fell on your lover’s tongue and almost choked him. All he wanted was to give you a bite there. To make you sore the next day, you know, an act of primitive, manly claiming. Instead, there was almost a trip to the emergency room. You couldn’t answer his questions. His shouting accusations. Even as he left you crying, nude and still-aroused on your disheveled bed, you wouldn’t call him back because calling him back, making him turn around, meant avoiding the truth again or coming clean. Explaining why you had to pick the skin out from under your fingernails every morning.
And then there was the nightmare that chased you jackal-quick every night. If he knew, if anyone knew, how long would it be before they tied you up and scratched so hard you screamed up gold?
“You’re not supposed to eat poultry on New Year’s Day,” your aunt told you all those months ago.
“Why?” The fat of the turkey skin was melting on your tongue. You cradled the phone to your ear, blonde strands floating all around your face.
“Bad luck,” she said. “You’ll be scratching for money all year.”
You said she was silly, a laugh on your breath, but the sound was wooden to your ears. Her voice had slipped something serious between the consonants. Something you couldn’t identify. You hung up and went back to your meal. Snow fell outside. The neighbors still had their Christmas lights strung and shining bright. You had work the next day. Normal, so normal. But that night, when you felt an itch shiver down your leg. When you went to scratch, you couldn’t help but wonder—head spinning, eyes the eyes of an owl, sad and winsome in equal measure—if you messed up.
You bought a home with your body. You bought a new car. You made sure your mother and father were taken care of, all bills paid off, and you even sent a few hundred dollars to the aunt who cursed you. You quit your job early on, too sore and hurting to keep selling real estate, but that was an easy decision. There was a lot of blood lost those first few months, but after June, you started to get used to it. What was blood, you thought, but liquid iron? What was blood but a type of ATM fee?
You did start to growl at the people in the supermarket who pushed their carts too close to yours, though—teeth bared and fanged. But what if they knew? What if their stray nails unzipped you like a purse?
On December 31, you almost dug a hole through yourself. You had to build up your savings, your hoard, storing sapphires (gems did indeed fall from your thighs) similar to a squirrel unsure if she’d ever eat anything else ever again. Or a dragon in a storybook, gold and charred femurs their only comfort on cold nights.
On New Year’s Day, your skin, as you suspected, wouldn’t yield anything more. You ran dry. But even after stuffing yourself, turkey grease running down your chin, chicken livers piled hot and steaming on your lap, nothing worked to bring the money back the day after the New Year or any other. Even talking to your aunt didn’t help.
“Scratching for money,” she said, laughing again. Cackling. “That’s just a myth, darling. A superstition. Don’t tell me you actually believed any of what I said. Did you?”
You had your savings, though, and several hundred new scars—skin waved off your hip in tatters—but none of those pounds of flesh mattered. You had the money for plastic surgery; for any surgery you’d ever need for the rest of your life. Your parents didn’t raise a fool. They raised you right, making sure you knew to invest in stocks. Making sure you lived below your means. Making sure, as you sat wild upon your wealth, teeth still too sharp, hair a nest for chirping things, that you knew your value.
Jared Povanda is a writer, freelance editor, and avid reader from upstate New York. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Riggwelter Press, CHEAP POP, briars lit, SOFT CARTEL, Sky Island Journal, and others. The winner of multiple literary awards, he also holds a B.A. from Ithaca College in Creative Writing.