Jo Gatford

Flash Fiction: ‘Second Skin’ by Jo Gatford

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Highly Commended in the TSS Flash Fiction 400 Competition

My mother is coming over and I have to clean my bathroom. There are a thousand-thousand flecks of skin on the floor. Enough to make a second person. Enough to cover myself anew. It cakes beneath my nails, slaked off in sleep. It peels in the cold, dried by central heating and chalky water. It becomes hysterical when faced with dust mites and cat fur and pollen and stress.

A human snowstorm; always a new layer ready to fall.

I wonder if she’ll notice. My mother. The skin. If she’ll judge the specks floating in the sunlight, knowing they were once attached to me.

She took me to doctors who gave me creams and ointments and prick tests. You’re allergic to cement dust, they said, as if that was an answer. Try hydrocortisone, they said, as if that was a novel idea. But not too much – it thins the skin. They praise my veins at the blood bank, now. So easy to find. I think I am running out of layers.

I try not to scratch in public. A bathroom is a private place, my mother said, in the same tone she might tell my brother he’d go blind. A place for itches that can never be satisfied.

In private, I dig with my fingernails, drawing up tracks of clear fluid, then blood. I rub my eyes until the vessels burst and the purple rings get so deep a teacher once asked who punched me in the face.

The last doctor I saw didn’t prescribe me anything. He suggested investing in make-up techniques, instead.

My mother nodded politely. Later, she suggested a homeopath. I nodded politely, went to my room and cried, hands clawed around my knees, wondering if I should learn how to pray.

Later, years later, she told me that same doctor killed himself – he was depressed, she said, poor man, you’d never know. No, you wouldn’t, I thought, even though you saw it every day. She told me he was dead and I said ‘good’ under my breath and so I do not deserve to ask God for anything.

I don’t clean the bathroom. I sweep the skin into a pile, gather it in my fist, hold it out the window, and let the wind take it.

I put on my make-up.

And I answer the door to my mother.


Jo Gatford is a writer who procrastinates about writing by writing about writing. Her novel White Lies won the Luke Bitmead Bursary and was published by Legend Press in 2014. Her short fiction has been published all over the shop, including Aesthetica, The Fiction Desk, Litro, Open Pen, PANK, SmokeLong Quarterly, Sundog, and most recently won the Bath Flash Fiction Award. She is co-founder of Writers’ HQ, which offers online writing courses, workshops and retreats for ‘badass writers with no time or money’. Find out more at and

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