by Matthew Smart

We didn’t realize it until the first coat was dry, but the paint we picked out for the nursery was exactly the color of skin. You’d splattered a bit onto your swollen stomach, and at first I thought you’d ripped your shirt. But no, it was the paint, a window, a second skin. I stripped naked and stood against the freshly painted wall.   

“Can you see me?” I asked.

“Let’s do the ceiling,” you responded.

We kept painting. Out into the hall, down the stairs. We didn’t stop. The floors, the woodwork, the windows. We kept going until every room was the color of skin. And then everything we owned, starting with the stepladders, then our clothes. The new bassinet and changing table, the toys and mobiles. The couch and TV, the stove and spice rack. We painted everything that exact, perfect color. The shade of us. Eventually the entire interior of the house was the color of skin, a perfect cocoon.

“Something’s missing,” you said.

It was true. It was too uniform, too monochromatic. “We need wrinkles.  Freckles.” I said.

“Moles. Fingerprints.” You said.

We started again. As you spread the paint, thicker this time, I followed behind, adding detail. Poking pores into the wet paint with my finger, scratching fine laughlines into the corners of the rooms. I tore apart brooms and brushes, and made random patches of hair with their bristles.  At times we mixed a little pink into the paint, or added a little gravel for texture. It still wasn’t enough. We stood within our cocoon, but no matter how much detail we added, it didn’t feel real.

“It’s just a layer. No depth,” you said. 

We went out and got more paint.  Reds as rich as blood, gallons of tendon gray, cans of liver mauve and bile ocher. We painted the exterior of the house all the colors we knew existed within us. You shaded the siding like sinew and muscle; the latticework became chalky white bone. I traced fluid veins and arteries lightly across it all in iron-red and icy blue, the two structures twining around each other, branching into smaller lines until linked together with purple capillaries no thicker than a brushstroke. 

Finally, we finished. “It’s time,” you said, calling me from the front door, a dark red muscle, the passageway into a perfect, four-chambered heart, the screen flapping lightly in the gathering breeze.

Matthew Smart lives in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan with his wife and four children, where he works as an information technology analyst. In his free time, he writes poetry, fiction, and computer code. His writing has recently appeared in Smokelong Quarterly and