My friend’s baby was born with skin made of paper. They didn’t know how it happened; no one in the family had ever had skin that wasn’t made of skin before. The doctors said this baby will need to avoid fire and water, but should otherwise be okay. The baby was named Helen, after her grandmother, but her grandmother was afraid to pick her up. The baby’s skin was white white, so white you could see the veins running blue underneath, white like perfect snow, white like sugar, white like the white of the world after you stare at the sun too long. So white that it was hard not to make a mark on her if you were holding a pen.
I wrote three things on the baby before anyone caught me. I wrote advice to the baby in the crook between her thumb and forefinger, where she would be able to read it if she used a magnifying glass. I wrote a poem down her side, where the people she would love could run their fingers over it. I wrote my three worst secrets on the back of her neck, in between her fine hairs, where she couldn’t see them, but they would be there. I don’t need to repeat them now; they’re out there somewhere.
Her parents found the words after my second time babysitting, which was the fourth day she was alive.
”Why would you do this?” my friend asked, pointing at the baby’s side. “It won’t come off. This skin is paper.” She paused and cleared her throat. Her skin turned red, her eyes filled up. “I would never ever do this to your baby.”
My friend’s husband rubbed on the words to see if the ink would come up, but he just tore the baby’s skin. The baby cried out loud, a scream that ran up and down my spine. “Fuck,” the baby’s father said, and put a piece of tape over the tear.
”I just wanted to leave a mark, you know? Put something out there that I knew would last longer than I would.” I reached out to touch the baby’s arm but my friend jerked her away.
”Fuck you, she’s not yours to leave a mark on. That’s for us to do, not you.” My friend took the baby upstairs and her husband pushed me softly to the door. “I wrote on her, too, under her toes,” he whispered to me. “Someone comes along that special, you have to do something.”
We stood on the porch for a minute and blinked at the darkness together. The stars here are not very bright, and it’s hard to make out any constellations. You just have to be satisfied with the knowledge, my father once said to me, that you’re in the universe with everyone else, stars or no stars. We don’t need proof that we’re alive.
Copyright © 2006 Chandler Jenrette