JIMMY ASTON is a young man living in Dunedin who really should know better.


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Zebra Forearms


ZEBRA FOREARMS, eczema in the elbowpits, leopard biceps. He’d had tattoo artists and God work together in composing his arms, each as loud and needle-ripped as a punk rock record. With every painful flex, animals would leap and itchiness creep. That little patch of red between forearm and bicep? It was a patch of desert thirsting for more ink. None of them would touch it; he begged for just a little eyeball in each socket, but their needles dared not enter that red leather territory.
His chest, though. It was starting to prove something. It had been bare of anything but moles and hairs now shaven, before he went to the parlour and requested the head of an elephant, dead, his huntsman letting him have a trunk to the crotch and tusks twist round his nipples. It had been bare of all but that head there, until the eczema spread, just like deserts everywhere spread everwherer, taking the healthy fleshsoil and injecting growths of acid-adulterated disorder. The elephant’s left eye, once speckled white: now pink and dissolving; a scrap on the same side’s ear now a scabrous lesion.
Spreading, spreading.
His back, always a floraless forest, savannah and hinterland full of animals staring, loping, daring; now some of them too held ruptured bellies, ink distorted by outbursts of scaly skin gone sticky in the sun.
His feet, the talons and trotters and toenails there, had tetanus shots of tinea all of a sudden; each of them was itching for athleticism to end. The calves on his calves had pustules in their nostrils. This couldn’t be eczema.
His thighs, once home to only proud bats, now spiteful at the infestation of those red parasites; rubble-stacks of skin ruthlessly rubbing it in.
Anywhere where sweat stained was now stained by more.
His giraffe neck, face throne: yellow and brown now overthrown.
His head, he’d left alone, but the creeping menace hadn’t: the cherry spores of his own flesh were under his eyebrows and all over his brain, hair abandoning scalp to the chitinous red peril.
He lay on a street corner, naked and erupting. Alone. Artists bearing needles left their ink-stained bed sheets and gathered round in witness, so as to later spread the image on the flesh of other customers. A man waiting to die, leaking stories on the sidewalk.
He looked up at them, shouted for help, but they stared back coolly as if he was speaking nonsense. “Listen!” he yelled. “Listen, please! I need someone to take me to the nearest zebra crossing!”
No response. Just eyeballs, receptive to the story unfolding in front of them.
He continued. “How else will the chickens get to the other side?”
No response. Just ears, the hair within tingling as information filtered in.
He tried to lift himself, buckled, continued. He dragged himself along the pavement as the artists followed. The fish he kept inside his fingernails, herrings with the same disease as the rest of his menagerie, stared out in dismay as the tanks they were kept in slowly cracked. He kept going until almost within reach of a zebra crossing before he collapsed, the crunch of his limbs suggesting finality. The artists waited.
“I need a hand! You all have hands, don’t you?”
The artists paused, considered, looked at one another for confirmation of the answer. Yes, they seemed to decide. At last, it was time to take action. They grabbed at him, reached in to get a good grip of his ribcage and the holes in his face that were either already there or easily added, and pulled, each getting a bit of the bare white bone that lay underneath.
As they fled in disparate directions, each intending to build their own art upon the girders of his body, a forearm landed on the crossing. The stampede was slow and crazed at first, lemming and buffalo alike careening down into the gutter, but an order soon set in and the animals made their way across the road, zebras setting pace at the lead.
All that lay behind them was a hunk of something red, black ink leaking down into the edge of the road.