Sara Findlay


When I got home from work, my wife’s skin was hanging on the banister of the stairs. I carefully put my bag down, never taking my eyes from it. It hung there, in accusing shimmering folds. I was reminded of the first time I had seen it, draped over a rock, innocent and enticing, firelight flickering across the mottled skin. I could imagine the way it would feel under my fingertips, smooth and soft one way, rough and harsh the other.


A movement at the top of the stairs made me look up. Catriona stood at the top. That was the name I had given her. It means “pure”. She was naked. Her eyes were cold fear. My gaze travelled down her body, pink and defiant. She had aged but well, the sagging at her breasts and stomach showing as a gentle tug of time whereas my belly had expanded and refused to retreat as if time was something growing inside me.


I pulled my eyes back to hers and pushed back the urge that was rising, that same urge that had overcome me when I had first seen her, naked and dancing with her sisters on the beach. It was the joy in her face that had ensnared me as much as the fire lighting her shadows, dancing with her.


“You found it.”


 I was surprised to hear my voice. What a pointless statement, just something to say, to take my mind from the buzzing that threatened to overwhelm me and plunge me into thoughts and feelings and actions that I barely recognised and would barely remember.


She smiled a little. The fear was gone and a little warmth entered her gaze as she descended the stairs. She was graceful now, but she had struggled for the first few months, spending all her time on dry land. Her legs would kick uselessly in bed as she dreamt of the sea. I had had to sleep in the spare room sometimes otherwise I would get up in the morning groggy and bruised.


“The children found it.”


Her voice was still music to me, deeper with age but that only lent it a sensual baritone, layering it like a deadly current in a seemingly gentle stream. She was before me now, her dark liquid eyes looking into mine. The light had dulled over the years but there was still intense fire dancing in the back. I was reminded of the dance that first night and had to keep my head steady.


“They wondered what it was.” Her fingers stroked my arms, barely a touch but it sent shockwaves through my body. I ached for her. “I was surprised when they brought it to me. I never thought I would see it again.” Her eyes dropped, there was a catch in her throat. “You hid it so well.”


“Not that well.” My voice was rough with desire. I didn’t care how the kids had how found her skin, they were children, of course they were poking around in places they shouldn’t be. I would need to put it somewhere else, hide it deeper, farther. But I was puzzled because she was still here.


“Why haven’t you put it on?” I asked.


She looked into my eyes again. “I couldn’t…the children…you.”


It was everything I’d wanted to hear. After all these years. I pulled her into me.


I wake on the couch naked. My head aches. The house is silent except for the buzzing of kitchen appliances and the occasional click of the heating system. I never thought to ask where the children were, but I know she would have sent them to a neighbour. And now she is gone.


I stand and my whole body is aching. I barely remember what happened, the same way I can never fully remember any of the times I have pulled or pushed her into love. A red curtain descends and there is only flesh and desire and wet panting groping need. She never made a sound. I remember that.


I stagger to the hallway and see the skin is gone. I knew it would be, but I had a desperate deep hope that she would choose me.


A thought hits me and I can barely breathe as I run up the stairs and push open the kids’ bedroom door. It is empty, toys and clothes strewn across the floor like detritus left from a retreating tide. But of course, they don’t need to take anything.


My heart is beating a fast drumbeat, thudding a tune that sickens me. I drive to the coast as fast I can. She wouldn’t, no she couldn’t, not my children. But they’re her children too and I know that’s how I managed to keep her for so long. The first time she looked into her daughter’s eyes and stroked the tiny soft cheek, I knew all thoughts of her skin and sisters and the sea had gone for the first time in her life.


I never noticed the time when I left the empty house, but I realise it is dark, with the dawn starting to crack open the sky. I drive into the red horizon and when I finally reach the beach, the light is reddening the sand, turning the sea into a pool of lapping blood. I stumble across the dunes and fall to my knees when I see three small heads on the water’s surface. Just far enough to see that one is larger than the other two but too far to reach.


A sob escapes me. Before me, in a heap on the sand, lie two small human skins. I reach out a quivering hand, but I can’t bring myself to touch them.


I look back to my wife and children in the sea. There are other heads now around them, bobbing conversationally. Then one by one, they all disappear beneath the waves.




Sarah Findlay was born in Scotland and is currently living in London, UK, working for a charity. She is fascinated by fairy tales, particularly the role women have in them. She is constantly creating creepy tales in her mind and is trying to capture them all before they evaporate. She has recently completed Faber Academy’s ‘Kickstart Your Novel’ course and is now working on said novel in between frantic bouts of short story writing.