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Estimated reading time — 5 minutes

It’s December. The time of year when reality seems to buckle and split, a single braided rope fraying into parallel manic and depressive strands. Holiday cheer everywhere, LED lights and joyous inflatable Santas in the front yards, all framed by the unendingly grey sky, sun setting at 4 PM, cold and miserable. Cars skid on the invisible black ice and end up in snowbanks or flying into a mailbox decorated with paper snowflakes. People dress up in layers and go running in the snow, exerting themselves to their limits so their bodies won’t succumb to the deadly numb of cold. Misery, depression, and stress pile up inside homes as their inhabitants try to find the right Christmas present. The one that’ll make someone happy.

It was easier when there was still snow. You remember just last year that awful blizzard, the one that broke all the young trees into pieces and covered everything with uncaring, endless white until all the contours of the world broke down. You remember looking out your window and seeing an alien landscape of smooth sparkling white where your neighborhood used to be. You remember the agonizing months going by, the snow melting just enough in the day to refreeze into a hard sheet of ice at night. You remember, by March, wishing that it would never snow again.

This year is worse.

This year there isn’t snow. It’s not quite cold enough to snow. It’s still cold, but a nasty in-between cold, not a proper cold. It’s the climate change, you read a few headlines about it but knowing about it doesn’t really compare to the moment you step outside in a T-shirt and windbreaker and start sweating. Something’s wrong about that, but you only realize what when you get home from school at 4, looking at the way twilight paints the trees black.

It’s December. You’re sweating, and it’s December.

You miss the snow. The neighbor’s magnolia tree is budding, taking the Earth’s cue that it’s spring already, and you find yourself feeling sorry for a plant. If somehow it does freeze this year, the buds will get shocked and fall off, and come spring you won’t get to see the magnificent blooms that coat everything in a layer of giant pink petals.

Now, seeing the magnolia’s buds just make you sad.

There’s other problems from the warm December, too. There’s still bugs. You wake up Monday morning itching your arm, and after a coffee you have the presence of mind to look down. A red bug bite sits in the crook of your elbow, inflamed skin screaming for you to scratch it.

A bug bite. In December. You curse all mosquitos, their ancestors, their descendants, and God for good measure. You scratch until it stops itching and starts hurting. Then you put on a long sleeve shirt and try to forget about it as you go to school.


You’ve never been good at self restraint. You’re not surprised that it’s still red and puffy by dinnertime. But you’re working on being more responsible, so you put calamine lotion on it. It tingles. The pink liquid cakes on, and it’s right in the bend of the elbow so you can tell that you’ll be shedding dried pieces of pink crap every time you move in your sleep, but the itching stops and that’s all you really wanted.

You wake up Tuesday morning sweating. The heater had barely been running all month, leaving the house uncomfortably chilly, but it finally kicked on last night and when you wake up your mouth is cotton, your sheets a heat-trapping prison. It’s so awful that you take a cold shower before going to school. The rest of the day is surprisingly good, though. The shower reset your mood and you’re feeling better. You even forget about the stupid bug bite on your arm. You wonder if it’s going to get cold enough to go ice skating. You hope so.

Wednesday morning you’re too hot again, and the dry heat has irritated your skin. Your bug bite had faded from a swollen red lump, but the mosquitos continue their vengeance and there’s a coin-sized red rash in the crook of your elbow. It itches. The dry air is making your whole body itch, too, your skin protesting the lack of moisture in your room. You wonder if you should get a humidifier.

That whole day you can’t stop scratching. Not just your stupid bug bite, but your arms, shoulders, calves. The feeling is driving you insane, and people give you weird looks.

On the way home you go to the 99 cent store and get the cheapest bottle of lotion money can buy. There’s a nice pink flower on the front, and you don’t have any allergies so you’ll probably be fine. You cover your entire body in the greasy stuff before going to bed. Only as you hit the pillow do you remember that you still don’t have a humidifier.

Thursday the rash is still there. Something’s wrong, though. It covers more of the inside of your elbow than it did yesterday. You gently close your arm to check, watching the skin fold. No. Yes. It definitely is larger. You must have scratched it too much yesterday. It’s still itching today, and you rub some of the cheap lotion into it before getting dressed. It helps. Not enough, but some.

Maybe you’re finally getting the eczema that’s been passed down your bloodline. It was one of those genetic things you had been hoping to avoid, like lactose intolerance. But you can’t spend any more time thinking about it. Thinking about it just makes you need to scratch more. And you haven’t done any of your Christmas shopping yet.

After school you stop by the Barnes and Nobles. You mean to get something nice for your brother, but instead you end up buying a hot chocolate from the Starbucks inside. It’s still two weeks away, and the crush of people inside buying gifts is a little overwhelming.


The itchiest part of your body is now your shoulders. The skin prickles, catching even against the soft fabric of your t-shirt. You scratch and scratch, hoping to ease the pressure for longer than thirty seconds, but even when you scratch too hard and feel pain it doesn’t relieve the need to scratch.

You can’t do any homework that night. The itching is driving you to distraction. You look at yourself in the mirror before you step in the shower and your breath catches in your throat. Thick red lines on your shoulders, furrows from your own fingernails. The rash on your arm is red and large from all the scratching, and the same coin-sized rash you found in your elbow is now right under your ribcage. You frown, scratching it absently. You don’t remember getting bitten there. Did you?

Sleep that night is hard. You dream of something soft under your mouth. It tastes sweet, and you extend your tongue again and again to lap at it. It’s a nice dream but it’s still too hot in your bedroom and you keep half-waking up, sweaty and itchy, rolling and scratching until you can sleep again and return to the pleasant escape of the dream.

You wake up.

Your skin is tingling.

You’ve just got a lot of dead skin. That’s the problem. You’ve got to get rid of it. Once you can scratch off all the dead skin, you won’t feel itchy anymore. And it seems to work. You scratch until you’re red. You scratch through the skin, down to the clear fluid underneath, and it’s exhilarating. You breathe deeply for the first time all day when your nails come away wet. The relief is unlike anything else you’ve felt before. And then you fall into a frenzy. You’re scratching everywhere you can reach, tearing it all off. Your skin gives beneath your bruised, bloody fingernails. You keep scratching, and scratching, and scratching,

And scratching


And scratching.

Your hands are wet. Your fingernails hurt. But you’re so close. Strengthening your grip you scrape away the last thing that itches — your dry scalp.

It comes down, and down, and down, away from you.

You inhale deeply through your abdomen. Your eyes blink, one-two-three-four, one-two-three-four. Eventually you adjust to the harsh white light.

There’s soft pieces of something lying around you. You can taste iron in the air. You move your lower sets of legs around to rearrange yourself, to step out of the pile.

You reach out your tongue down to the hard white ground, tasting one of the soft pieces.

It is sweet.

Credit: Falspar

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