Amyn had described wearing a wrapper to Kayla in hundreds of ways, but the word that she remembered hearing most often was “electric.” An electric: bathing, blanketing, birthing, blowing. She’d half expected to utter some sort of tingling, orgasmic moan as Amyn zipped her into her new skin in the changing room, but instead there was numbness and chafing. Now in the twisting crowd of other ziplocked bodies, she was surprised that she could even feel her partner’s hands on her waist through the mess of fabric and rubber. Somehow, their clawed fingers managed to dig into her wrapper in a way that deceived her stubborn, confused senses. They’d opted for a consistently pulsing display of color and sharp edging that looked and felt like a creature dredged up from the ocean floor and tossed into a frying pan of melted crayon. Kayla hadn’t seen it on the menu at the entrance, which meant it was probably custom. She couldn’t decide whether she liked it or not, but she’d found herself drawn in like a hypnotized fish. Twenty minutes into grinding against their slippery exo-body, though, the spell had worn off and all she could think about was how expensive it probably was and if there was any kind of regulation for what people brought into this club. She wondered if they chafed, too.
Amyn hated past Amyn for eating that burrito. He knew that eating before getting wrapped upset his stomach and he did it anyways. He blamed his nerves. Amyn had been trying to get Kayla in a wrapper for months and she had finally relented on Monday. He had always been the type to take the opinions of friends too seriously. He still at night felt anxiety about the time John had fallen asleep during that cult movie Amyn’s father had loved. On Friday he began to worry that he had oversold the sensation of being wrapped. On Saturday morning after no sleep he went for a run. On Saturday afternoon he stared at his phone for forty minutes and debated cancelling. On Saturday evening he ate the burrito. Now, enveloped in his favorite second skin of neon purple fur, he vomited up cheap Mexican into a night club toilet.
Amyn was relieved that he somehow managed to avoid staining his wrapper. To be safe, he wetted his hands at the sink and rubbed them across his fur. Kayla had said his wrapper looked like a “bondage muppet” the first time she saw it. Amyn had tried bondage in college with an adventurous frat brother, but the wrapper was different and it wasn’t just the continuous drip of endorphins laced into its fabric.
The man in the frog wrapper with dangling jowls to Amyn’s right handed him a paper towel to dry his fur. He thanked him and the frogman ribbited. He sounded more natural than Amyn expected.
Almost an hour after Kayla had left behind her fluorescent partner she spotted Amyn grinding up against a giant frog. It was hard to see his face beneath the purple fur, but the way he swiveled and gyrated his hips against the oversized amphibian’s crotch seemed happy enough. She was glad that at least he was enjoying himself. The chafing and general feeling of claustrophobia had stopped, but she still hadn’t come close to chasing that euphoria that the rest of the wrapped around her seemed to feel.
She stepped over to the bar and ordered a blue Hawaiian and sipped it through a tiny straw. She was grateful that her wrapper at least provided a mouth. A fair amount only offered holes for breathing and seeing and some of the more extreme wrappers didn’t even have those. She tried her best to lose herself in the resurrected 90s techno pumping into her ears and the pineapple rum slipping down her throat, but she kept finding herself returning to her barstool.
Without thinking she found herself rubbing her hands across her arms. Her friends had told her that her hormones would make her skin softer, but she hadn’t noticed. Her wrapper felt like how she imagined a dolphin would. Somewhere between flesh and rubber. She knew that her fingertips were laced with some kind of sensor that translated touch to real skin to brain, but the act of feeling still surprised her. One night when Amyn had smoked with her at her apartment after work, he mused that some wrappers probably censor and rewire the touches they feel. She wondered if that was why Amyn had been so eager for her to wear one. She didn’t need someone else to change how she touched.
Amyn was okay when the frogman had reached out a webbed hand and guided him to the center of the dancefloor. He’d been fine when his suction cup fingers grabbed him by the waist and he gyrated against his ass. He’d even been on board for when the frogman spun him around and brought him face to face with his bulbous black eyes. When he had leaned in to kiss and opened up his artificial jaw to reveal a coiled rope-like tongue that moved and twisted on its own, Amyn decided that he’d had enough. He gave the frogman a soft pat on the shoulder to thank him and tried his best to dance away.
Amyn found Kayla sitting by herself at the bar slurping a blue drink through a twisty straw. He had hoped she would’ve tried dancing more, but part of him knew that when she had opted for a relatively tame lavender body suit and matching cowl that she was already overwhelmed. Kayla saw him coming and gave him a half wave.
“I feel like you should be sweating,” she said.
“What do you mean?”
“Your fur. I figured it would be drenched given how much you were rubbing up against that frog.” Kayla took a long sip and emptied her drink.
“I don’t think that wrappers have sweat glands,” Amyn said.
He took a seat on the stool next to her and ordered a gin and tonic. Kayla called him fancy and Amyn wasn’t sure if that was a compliment or not. A gin and tonic had been his dad’s drink. Its smell reminded him of trees and dirty rooms and knuckles rubbed against heads and the dog barking outside in a rainstorm. He changed his order to a whiskey sour.
Kayla wondered why Amyn didn’t get a twisty straw for his drink. Or maybe he had gotten one and just thrown it away? He held the drink to his mouth and slurped it down even though his lips barely poked out of his wrapper. Kayla resisted the urge to tell him about the green stream dripping down his chin and purple fur. A drop worked its way along his neck and through his matted chest before dissipating where the end of his rib cage should be.
“Does that make you happy?” Kayla asked. Amyn lowered the glass.
“I’ve had better drinks,” Amyn said.
“I meant the purple mess,” Kayla said, waving her hand. “What do you feel like?” She rubbed her hand against her arm again without meaning too, a new compulsion. She felt like she was in a fabric condom. Soft, safe, bizarre, but ready to be discarded. As much as she didn’t want to admit it, a part of her had been curious about the more exciting options. Her neighbor, Caroline, had said that slipping into one of the Jessica Rabbit-looking wrappers had banished her dysphoria better than any amount of pills. Kayla knew Amyn would have paid for whatever she picked out, but she still zipped herself into what she was sure some considered “baby’s first wrapper.”
“I don’t know,” Amyn said. “I guess I feel kinda static. Like you know when you smoked your first cigarette and you kind of felt that buzzing around your skin? That’s me but like all over, but I also feel like I’m a kid, or maybe a teen? Sixteen and awkward and horny and just ready for it all. How about you?”
“I feel like a dumb shit,” Kayla said.
Amyn didn’t bother to ask why Kayla felt the way she did. Figuring out her particular sadness tonight seemed beyond him. Suddenly the frogman wasn’t looking too bad. At least he had touched him. He swallowed the rest of his whiskey sour in a single gulp and threw five dollars on the counter.
“Sorry you had a crap night,” Amyn said. He went to leave, but Kayla grabbed him by the arm.
“Are you really just going to walk off like that? You pestered me about this for weeks and now you’re just going to sulk away after I don’t instantly fall in love with this weird ass hobby of yours? Abandon me to grind on some frog the instant we get in the door?”
Kayla kept talking. Amyn could see her lips moving and she tended to throw her arms about when she got emotional. None of it was registering, though. His ears had gone into defense, drowning Kayla out and dubbing her over with the pulsing club beat.
“I just wanted to get you to try something new. You’ve been so locked away in yourself recently and I thought maybe just getting to try this and be something else and have, I don’t know, an experience would be nice, but if you just want to sit around and be angry and be sad then that’s fine with me. I have better things to do tonight,” Amyn replied, hating every word as it came out but not really being able to stop it all the same.
“I don’t want to be something else. I really hoped you knew that. I thought I would do this new thing with you together, but you just wanted to watch me,” Kayla said.
Kayla left Amyn standing by the bar and returned to the changing rooms. She could see he wasn’t going to listen and she felt the sight of his face was going to make her sick if she stayed. She was done for the night. Maybe she’d call him tomorrow when they had let this shit night roll off their backs and into the trash.
The club tried its best to make the changing rooms not look like a locker room, but that’s what it was. Dressing it up in shifting, multicolor neon lighting and meditation music only did so much to bury Kayla’s memories of hiding herself in bathroom stalls while the boys in class called her out for what they saw as insecurity and bodily shame.
She felt like a lizard shedding its skin as she peeled away her wrapper and let her naked skin breathe unfiltered air for the first time in hours. Kayla stretched and freed her arms and legs and rolled her head about on her neck. She could hear her shoulder blades and joints crack and pop. She picked the wrapper off the floor where she dropped it. It seemed so plain and thin. She kept waiting for it to bite back at her fingertips.
There was another woman in the room covered in feathers, talons, and a long hooked beak. Kayla caught a glimpse of her bare bronze back before she slipped fully into the avian wrapper. The neon lighting switched from purple to green. Kayla couldn’t decide if she was a hawk or a parrot.
“Does it ever work for you? The endorphin drip in the lining?” Kayla asked.
“I just like being a bird,” the woman replied. She stepped out of the room and into the crowd. She stretched her arms high and let loose a curtain of feathers fall from her elbows. Someone cheered and the door closed.
Anna Baldi is an artist currently living and working in Seattle, Washington. She received her BFA from Carnegie Mellon University, with a focus in painting and sculpture. Her artistic practice explores human-animal relationships, reproductive labor, and how these topics fit into a world of rapidly evolving technology. Outside of art making, Anna has also worked as an educator in both Seattle and Pittsburgh.
Nic Anstett is an MFA candidate at the University of Oregon, Eugene and member of the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Workshop Class of 2018. She uses her work to explore queer themes and personal secrets in stories that bridge the line between literary and speculative fiction. Her previous work can be found in Cagibi.