Shedding Velvet by Sydney S. Kim

Shedding Velvet

A voice woke up Samantha: I have two gray hairs. It was coming from the bathroom.

Laura was standing in front of the mirror, frowning at her reflection. Samantha got out of bed and joined her in the bathroom, bleary-eyed and slow. She blinked away the sleep until the two blobs staring back at her in the oval mirror sharpened into proper faces. “Where?” Laura’s fingers threaded through black hair and fished out two silvery strands on either side of her center part. They were symmetrical.

“Cool.” She didn’t know what else to say. It was too early to be treading ground this dangerous.

“It’s not cool. I’m getting old.”

Even so, the mirror didn’t lie: they both wore their age well. That is to say, they looked young. In the ten years they’d been together, she and Laura more or less looked the same (aside from the every-few-years haircut that occurred whenever the urge for change seized them). Samantha sometimes thought that if they looked more like their age, they would act the part, maybe settle comfortably into the calm sort of demeanor that would earn them descriptors like ‘distinguished’ and ‘graceful.’

Laura continued to preen in the mirror. “I’ll have to start dyeing my hair soon.” “No, you should—” Laura yanked out one of the offending hairs from her scalp. It fell to the floor, lost in the gleam of white honeycomb tile. She barely had time to mourn before the second was plucked and discarded just as unceremoniously as the first.

They were two hours late by the time they got on the road. Their trip to the mountains with their friend Joe had almost been cancelled, and all because of a ruined nonstick pan. Laura had warned her not to use the abrasive side of the sponge on teflon. She just hadn’t remembered. Or maybe she had and there was just something satisfying about scrubbing away burnt bits of food with a rough green square. At the height of the argument, Laura had declared, I want to break something, I want to smash plates. These little dramatic threats of physical violence were rare, but the only thing she ever broke were her promises to act on them.

They continued to bicker on the drive. Joe was sprawled in the backseat, drowsy from dramamine. Samantha suspected he didn’t really have motion sickness, just needed some way to escape their overlapping voices in the crowded, hot car.

As it grew darker, the sniping and the prodding tapered off. The road up the mountain was all curves, winding around the peak in wide, nauseating circles as they climbed higher and higher. Samantha couldn’t wait until they reached the top. She loved the way the altitude went straight to your head and your chest. How the thin air made you more aware of your own breath. Maybe she would smoke a cigarette. Maybe it would make her pass out. She thought about how when she was young, before she’d met Laura, she used to nick herself on her arm with a pair of scissors. Chasing tiny red thrills. She still had some scars left over from that time. They tingled under the heavy fabric of her sweater. With every turn of the steering wheel the scars whispered through the wool: I’ve lived, I’ve lived, I’ve lived.

Laura’s voice drew her back to the present. “Make a left up ahead.” It was pitch dark. Samantha switched on the high-beam and accelerated. Flurries of snow zoomed into the windshield, caught bright in the car’s headlights. For a moment, it felt like they were flying through icy static.

A deer jumped into the road. Samantha slammed on the brakes. The deer jumped back, stumbling slightly. But it was still standing. Spikes of shock trickled cold and slow into a sense of relief. Her chest ached from where the seatbelt had snapped taut against her breastbone. Next to her, Laura’s breath was coming out in short gasps. Joe sat upright.

The deer slowly approached the car on nimble, slinking legs. Under the harsh glare of the headlights, its eyes were yellow and alien. It came up to the driver’s side of the door and Samantha watched, transfixed, as it lowered its head, revealing magnificent antlers that bore five full prongs on each side. Joe had once told her about the way bucks shed the velvet from their antlers — they rub, tear, and bite away at the softness until bloody tatters give way to hard bone.

The deer rammed into her door, its antlers punching hard at the window. Once, then twice, before it melted back into the dark. Little spidery stars marked where bone made contact with glass. Samantha brushed her fingers against them, adrenaline pumping through her blood so fast she could hear her heart beating in her ears.

When they arrived at the cabin, Laura pushed Samantha down onto the newly made bed. The comforter cushioned her whiplash-aching neck and the sheets were soft and heavy, with red and black squares. Buffalo plaid, classic cabin decor. She wasn’t really in the mood, but something had come over Laura, so she arched her back and allowed her pants to be removed.

Laura’s face emerged from between her thighs. Samantha wound her fingers through thick, black hair as the hot, familiar feeling spread through her. She tugged gingerly, then hard — until the sensation careened into savagery. She looked down at her hands grasping either side of Laura’s head. She watched: silky locks parted to reveal bone sprouting from scalp in long, sharp prongs. Black became white. White turned translucent. Before her: two beautiful glass antlers, and herself, gored upon them.

Grabbing hold of the antlers, Samantha tightened her hands into fists. Knuckles went white and the antlers cracked and shattered under her grip. Splintered into shards. Pierced hot and cruel. Somewhere inside this explosion of glass, Samantha lost herself, breaking and breaking without end.

 

Shedding Velvet

 

Sydney S. Kim is a queer writer and artist based in Los Angeles. She received her MFA from the Pacific Northwest College of Art and BA from Dartmouth College. Her literary work has been published or is forthcoming in WildnessAmerican Literary Review, and Sinister Wisdom. Her visual work can be found in Eights, &Review, Publication Studio, and Social Malpractice. Her middle name is Sujin.

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