by Michelle Richmond

He had not been born with the scales. Indeed, the origin of his condition was as enigmatic to the mother who bore him as it was to the scientists who studied him, for nowhere in his mother’s family album or in the scientists’ vast store of case histories was there another human being so gloriously esquamulose.

He was three years old when the scales began to appear—on his upper legs, at first. Tiny, half-moon shaped bits, hard and thin, the rounded edges paper-sharp. One pediatrician diagnosed it as an allergic rash, another as a severe case of keritosis peritonitis, another as an indeterminable childhood abnormality that would surely right itself with age. But when the scales began to thicken and to stretch up his body—to his groin, his stomach, his arms, shoulders, neck, and eventually, his face, the doctors stopped trying to make a diagnosis. It was like nothing they had seen, it was miraculous, it was horrific.

One thing you should understand: the scales did not cover his skin, they were his skin. Unlike hair or fingernails, there was nothing extraneous about them. To rid him of the scales would have been to rid him of his very surface.

The doctors took pictures, they referred him to specialists, they did all of the things one does when an exceptional case is dropped, like a gift of manna, into one’s hands. But they offered no answers, only a long series of lotions and pills and dermatological treatments of the abrasive and purative variety, all of which yielded nothing—nothing but a sobbing, put-upon boy.

“No one has ever loved me before,” he said, by which he meant no one had ever fucked him—and to him, the two were one and the same.

All of these things he told me on our first night together. Our first! How could he hold it back, this dark history, when my skin bore the savage marks of his scales, when his flesh literally dug into mine?

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