It was her face that had attracted him, her profile picture on the dating app. But it was her fingers that really caught his attention. They were long, perfect for the piano her bio said she played, and tipped with pink-painted nails that were slightly sharp. Those nails and the expression in her green eyes promised a host of wicked delights.
He swiped right, sent a note, started the kind of textual flirting that passes for courtship in the twenty-first century. They met for drinks. He ordered a beer, and she had a pink cocktail that lingered on her lips when they kissed. She tickled his palm with her nails and the shivery feeling left him wanting – no, needing – more.
He was charming. She was willing. He left her bed at three the next morning with the feeling of her nails on his skin and an empty promise dripping from his tongue. “I’ll call you.”
Three days later he hasn’t called. It’s not that he didn’t have fun, but that he knows he could do better.
On the fourth day, she texts him, but he doesn’t answer.
She texts him a few more times, but he doesn’t respond. She’s too clingy, he decides, even if her nails were exquisite.
Two weeks after their date, he’s in the same bar with another woman, one who sips bourbon, and he sees her across the room. She’s with a group of friends, but their eyes lock. She mouths a single word that he can’t understand. Bitchy, maybe? Whatever. The bourbon-sipping blonde squeezes his thigh with her hand.
“Let’s get out of here,” she says.
He’s too glad to agree.
But he can feel the other woman’s eyes follow him out, and the memory of her fingernails raking his naked back is suddenly fresh in his mind. “Ohhh.”
“Hmm?” asks his date.
His right shoulder blade is itchy, and he reaches backwards to scratch it, but the spot moves just out of his reach.
By the time they reach his apartment, he’s squirming in his clothes.
“Are you okay?” she asks.
“I’m fine. I’m just… itchy.”
“Want me to scratch your back?”
With him shirtless in his living room, she tries to alleviate his itch, but it seems that with every stroke of her short nails the feeling only gets worse. “Is there something there?” he asks. “On my back? A bite? A rash?”
The itching is increasing. He can’t stop scratching long enough to kiss her again let alone get it up so they can do more. She leaves without promising to call.
He didn’t expect her to.
He tries rubbing his back against the rough stucco of the wall outside his bedroom, where the hallway forms a corner, then tries the door frame itself. But his skin demands more.
He tries a cold shower, uses his back scrubber with as much pressure as he can muster. But the water seems to spread the itch.
He swallows a couple of Benadryl and tries to sleep, but his skin is on fire, and he ends up wired and wooly, using object after object – a wire hanger, an old toothbrush, a vegetable brush, the closed blades of his kitchen shears – in vain attempts to alleviate the itching.
Morning finds him naked and shaking, trying to reach the spot between his rib and shoulder with the blade of a carving knife, passing the edge sideways across his burning skin while he waits on hold for the advice nurse his insurance provides.
“Try a moisturizing lotion,” she suggests, “or an ice massage.”
Neither suggestion considers the fact that he can’t reach the infernal itch.
He calls out sick, fills his tub with ice, lies in it until his skin is blue and thinks relief has finally come. But when he’s warm again the itching returns.
He flips channels on the television to distract himself, landing on an ad for power tools. A belt sander would be perfect, he thinks, except there’s no way to make it reach the spot.
He takes more Benadryl and chases it with a healthy swig of vodka.
* * * * *
He spends three days in a near-coma induced by alcohol and antihistamines. He’s given up on the carving knife and tried a hand saw. He’s sure the teeth are drawing blood because he can feel fluid oozing down his back, and it’s definitely not sweat.
He wonders if he could use an x-acto knife to excise the spot. He calls his buddy from work to ask for help. The friend arrives with gauze, alcohol, a couple of knives, and – oddly – a role of sage and a Bic lighter.
“What’s that for?” he asks.
“In case a demon caused the itching. We can smoke it out.”
“Will that work?”
“No idea. It can’t hurt.”
But the smoke just sets off the fire alarm.
“Just cut it…” he begs. “Please. Just slice it away.”
“Here?” his buddy asks pressing under his shoulder blade.
“More to the left. No – higher – no, down and to the right. No – FUCK!”
“Maybe,” his buddy said, “You should tell me exactly how this happened.”
And so, he explains about how he saw the girl he’d ghosted when he was out on a date with someone else, and she’d mouthed “bitchy” at him.
“Well, I thought it was at the time. Now I’m thinking she said itchy.”
“She cursed you.”
“You think?” His friend is silent. “Sorry,” he says.
“We’re cool,” his buddy answers. “I think…. I think maybe it’s not me you need to be apologizing to, anyway. I think you have to apologize to the woman who did this.”
“That or scratch yourself to death. Your back already looks a lot like hamburger.”
“Sorry I couldn’t help.”
* * * * *
It’s another two days of torment before he can make himself contact her. He hasn’t slept but he’s figured out how to attach sandpaper to a broom handle to scratch more. It comes back bloodier every time, but he doesn’t care. Anything to stop the itching for a few seconds.
He’s taking enough antihistamine and alcohol that while he doesn’t sleep, he does enter a sort of altered state where he can see her face and feel her fingernails on other parts of his body. It’s when the itching moves to his balls that he caves and texts her.
“I think maybe I owe you an apology,” texts.
Her response comes, several hours later, in the form of a question. “You think or you know? You promised to call,” she adds. “Keep your promise.”
He almost throws his phone across the room, but the itching is getting worse again. Scratching his crotch with one hand, he keys in her number with the other.
“This is Cat.” Was her voice always that smooth?
“Hello, Cat. This is Dave, from… from the other night. I’m sorry I didn’t call. It was really rude of me.”
“Yes, it was. I wasn’t expecting a lifetime commitment, but a call telling me you didn’t think we were a match would have been the adult thing to do.”
“I guess it was just easier to blow you off and move on.”
“Easier for you, you mean.” Her tone was calm when she had every right to be mean or petty. “Not so easy to be the one waiting for a call that never comes.”
“I never thought of it that way,” he admitted.
“No, you just rely on your charm and lack of conscience. That’s what the itching is by the way. It’s your conscience trying to get your attention. It doesn’t usually take this long though.”
“I guess I’m particularly obtuse.”
“I guess you are.”
“Can you… make it stop… please.”
She laughs into his ear. “Haven’t you realized? It already has.”
He goes quiet, forcing himself to feel… and she’s right… there’s no more itching. There can’t be. Because he’s scratched away every last nerve on his body.
His phone falls to the floor, and his body follows soon after.
Photo credit: adiruch