Skin I'm In (extract)

I care about Jay. I like to think he cares about me. We carry it in us, this nebulous dream – that, with love and a whole lot of patience, we can upend our family’s tradition of indifference. 

A week ago, he made the perfect omelette. So damn fine I almost shed a tear: chives, cherry toms, Spanish onion and a melting cheddar orgasm right in the middle. I left him and Penny to it in the kitchen, but could hear them from my room. I say them; really, just Penny making ‘mmm’ sounds as Jay sat silent, their hands entwined. I watched for a bit, from behind the kitchen door. She left some on her plate. He pretended to clean it off, but slid it onto a saucer instead, and covered it quick with some Glad Wrap. 

They had a fight that day, but he kept the omelette. If it makes it to Grandpa’s funeral, that’s two weeks of Jay holding on to Penny: a lick of her lips and an accidental smile; the clatter of cutlery, and an inevitable retreat to the back patio couch. 

Today, his omelette’s on the kitchen counter, gone grey and sat on a pile of veggie scraps. I pretend I’m cleaning the fridge, reach in as far as I can get without touching the fan. 
‘You’re cleaning?’ 
‘It’s time,’ I say. ‘You know, ‘Manic Monday’ and that.’
‘You mean, like the song?’ 
‘Mm.’
‘I don’t get the reference.’
‘What do you want, Jay?’
‘You can’t throw away the omelette.’ 
‘It’s done,’ I say. ‘And about bloody time, too.’
‘You know what your problem is?’
 I raise my eyebrows. ‘You?’
 ‘You have no faith. Once in a while a man makes a perfect omelette. It doesn’t matter if it goes off. It’s still proof.’
‘Of what?’
‘A higher power.’ 
‘You’re an atheist.’
‘I don’t believe in God, Alex, but I do believe in wonder. This omelette’s a gift. You’ve read the Ten Commandments, yeah?’

‘What?’ 
‘Herod. He broke the tablets.’
‘Moses.’
‘Whatever. It was a long time ago.’
 Last month, Jay was released from four weeks at Bells Lake Psychiatric. Emily wouldn’t have him back so now he’s with me, our rent paid by Mother Dearest in fortnightly installments. I’ll look after him the next two years, excepting any meltdowns that would lead to assisted care. Mum trusts me. She knows I won’t take him back to Bells unless it’s absolutely necessary.

Jay runs his right thumb over his index and middle fingers, over and over, as if rolling a ball bearing.
‘Jay.’
‘Mm?’
‘You taking your meds?’
He doesn’t respond. 
‘Fuckwit, are you taking your meds?’ 
‘Most of the time.’ 
‘Why’s the omelette back in the fridge?’ 
Jay smiles. ‘God works in mysterious ways.’    

'Skin I'm In' appears in The Sleepers Almanac No. 8, available from Sleepers Publishing in print, via Kindle and as a part of The Sleepers App, available here

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