MAY 2009


Thin As Skin
By Ethel Rohan, Mar 09, 2009



Mother tells me to stop eating, that she doesn’t want me to end up like her.

Mother’s mother, demented and up in the nursing home, doesn’t know me anymore, but remembers enough to know I’ve put on weight.

Naked, I force myself to look in the mirror at my blubber. A sculptor would hack and chisel, bring out what’s buried.

I unpack and line up my old Russian nesting dolls painted in bright folk costumes, cooing over the baby, admiring the next two.

I’m bothered by the fourth, furious with the fifth. The fifth, more bowling pin than doll, I cannot stomach.


On our first date, he arrives in a white pick-up truck with a fake black cat strapped with ropes to the tailgate in that fur-standing, run-over, rigor mortis pose. I’m not sure what to make of that.

By the fifth date we have pet-names. He’s “Bojangles” and I’m his “squishy-lishy.” He says he never liked to feel a woman’s skeleton.

For months, I go to sleep beside him at night sated, but the cat niggles at me.

Five years into our marriage—long after I’d persuaded him to dump that unsettling cat—I can touch him and not feel close: “My co-workers know me better than you do.” He throws me that look. I’d ballooned beyond even his tastes.

A year later, on the brink of our divorce, the cat reappears on the truck’s tailgate: mangier, sadder.

A Chance Meeting

I meet her in the supermarket, aisle five, at the fridge. The eve of my forty-third Thanksgiving and the store houses more bodies than the general hospital across the street. There’s a frantic feel to the place, people shopping like we’re on the verge of a great famine. A lecher, fiftyish, his face lumpy as an oil painting, lingers over the cheeses, his eyes groping me. Makes me almost wish I had my weight back on. I’m contemplating running back to my car when she appears next to me. We’re about the same age and she’s not pretty so much as attractive, something about her large eyes and lips, the startling eyebrows that are almost joined over the bridge of her nose.

She looks from the packet of turkey slices in my hand to those remaining on the metal hook. “I’ll take one, please.”

Momentarily confused, I recover, and oblige.

Her smile widens, and she gestures at the turkey slices now in my basket. “And I thought I was the only one dining solo tomorrow?”

I laugh. “I’m not even planning on getting out of my pajamas.”

Her eyes widen, bright and clear. “Me neither.”

We continue talking and laughing. She’s one of those women you like instantly, don’t want to let go of.

“No family then?” she asks.

I avoid her eyes. “I’m divorced; the kids are going to their Dad tomorrow. His turn this year.”

She nods knowingly.

“You?” I ask.

She presses her full lips together, smacks them open. “Just me, no ties.”

Even as I ask, I know it’s crazy. “Do you want to come over to mine tomorrow? Have dinner together?”

She hesitates.

“It won’t be much, but I could roast a chicken—”

She grins, nods.


I’m chuckling at how excited I am about this woman, a stranger, coming over. I hadn’t realized how I didn’t have any of my own friends until after the divorce, our whole social circle revolving around him. The doorbell rings and it’s like someone fisting my heart. I rush to the bathroom, remembering to hide the weighing scales, the fifth Russian nesting doll still glued to its corner.

Her blond hair is up in a ponytail today, showing its darker underside. She’s drawn to Buster, Daniel’s bullfrog, housed in the corner of the living room. Daniel is the youngest and grossest of my two boys.

“I love frogs,” she says.

I laugh. “You do?”

She mentions a frog tattoo, on her lower back.

“Can I see?”

Again, there’s that moment of hesitation, but she pulls the back of her white shirt out of her jeans. The bullfrog is big with hefty legs, straddles her spine, and is colored a brilliant green with dark brown markings much like a tabby cat’s. I reach out, touching the tattoo. She flinches.

I pull my hand away. “Sorry.”

She turns, facing me. “Are you bi?”

I stiffen, a mix of fear and anger. “I’m not anything right now.”

She reaches for my hand. “Let’s be something together.”

I tremble, feeling choked. Our eyes lock. Even as I shake my head, backing away from her, I know I want her to kiss me, hold me, to salve my wounds.

Born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, Ethel Rohan now lives in San Francisco. She received her MFA in fiction from Mills College, CA. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in over twenty online and print journals including Cantaraville, SUB-LIT, Word Riot, Identity Theory, and mud luscious. She is a brazen chocoholic. Her blog is