And now the thrilling conclusion to...
When it was at last all over, my brother's rumpled castoff husk reflected in the darkened TV screen.
I got the shirt off first, unbuttoning the cuffs and jerking the cotton from the arms when it snagged on a crack or a cuticle. Little bits of him flaked off like dust, scratching the tenderness out of my own hands. Next went the shoes and the socks, the pants and finally the underwear: every part of him yellow and gruesome, coiled like rotted rope. I bunched his clothes and carried them to the laundry chute, leaving his shoes neatly aligned by his bedroom door as if it were St. Nicholas' Day.
Maneuvering the husk into one of the foggy biomed bags the city provides for Tuesday pickups, I noticed the Sail Club bracelet still wound around his stiff wrist. I yanked fiercely -- tried my best to twist his rigored fingers -- but in the end it took the garden shears from the garage. Stabbing through the thin underside of the wrist with the wide lower jaw of the shears and working ruggedly through the his arm, ripping the skin rather than cleaving it.
Detached, Wade's arm was lighter than I'd expected, and despite the toughness of the outer layer, the inside was still damp and not as obscenely jaundiced. I ran a finger down the glossy inner arm, collecting some moisture off the insides like the dew that develops on refrigerated cling wrap. The hollow inside smelled a good deal like my gym locker, like a camp mattress. Holding his skin to the light showed the sinewy indentations of veins and muscles. I'd never before noticed the cross-hatched and wavy texture of all skin -- his and mine both. I'd though fingerprints were limited to the fingers. But no: we are everywhere covered by swirls and roadmap routes and ravines. There is no silk to skin at all.
I found I could fit my hand into his, and I wore his skin as a glove while I sealed the body bag and ran the vacuum, which rattled over his spot on the rug as if it were sucking up tacks. His fingers seemed to tingle over mine, they seemed both fragile and mean, fingers that must have scuttled quickly through snow, wanting to both retreat to a mitten and yet go on packing a better snowball. This was, wasn't it, his winter skin?
Lugging the bag downstairs and outside, I let his head waffle and thump against each step but the last. I waited there at the curb for the moment my father's wagon would turn up the drive, waited in the stamping cold and its slight scent of spring. Wade, I imagined, would be sitting up front in the passenger seat, and I would meet him with a wave as he sought out the bundled refuse of his former self.
last of three parts
last of three parts