Jaguar Self

by L. Jo Trostle

In the valley, I look down at my index finger. There is a deep crevasse on the tip, just below the edge of the nail. There is a tab of skin there, bloodied.
I ignore it for as long as I can, but the pain and color of it cannot be ignored. I know I should ignore it; it will heal if I give it time. But, when I’m alone, my mind is unoccupied and returns to the cut again and again. I can’t give it time; I must act.
I grasp the skin, yank it back. Breath escapes through my teeth, hiss, as the skin painfully, unevenly separates. My finger now looks like a pink, pulpy, partially peeled banana. Nothing has ever felt better.
I continue. I dig beneath the original cut with my fingernails until the skin is loosened. I pull back another portion of skin. I continue on with each section until I’ve entirely peeled my index finger. Below what was pink flesh is smooth skin with an iridescent golden sheen, flecked with darker black spots. A fierce-looking, curved, silvery talon protrudes from the tip.
I use my tongue to clean myself, to test the sharpness of the claw. I feel wilder, ready to sprint into the center of the sun, ready to do something vibrantly alive.
I breathe harder, panting, sticking my tongue out. The muscles bunch in my neck and shoulders- the skin feels tighter there, restricting. My pupils dilate, and I slash my way free – ripping my curved talons into the straight-jacket of human skin on my arms, my shoulders, and my back. I cross my hands beneath my armpits, then dig my claws into either side of my spine at the mid – back. I pull forward, tearing the skin away from my back, ribs, stomach, and chest.
I look into a mirror. I am now a svelte, sinuous creature – a beast of running, leaping, climbing, bounding.
I go outside. I hunch-curl-slink-gallop through spaces in the crowd. I ignore the calls of friends and coworkers. I lift my nose to the sky, opening my mouth to taste the air. I’ve reached the summit.

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