Janalyn Guo
Skin Suit

My parents are membranes of light. They are more magnificent than the Aurora Borealis or a rare tube of color that appears in a meteor shower. They travel together, inseparable like the iridescent wings on a dragonfly.

There is a bright body-shaped hole the size of me that forms when they intersect, which lasts maybe two weeks out of the year. That is when I take my annual vacation from the factory. I travel northward, to my birthplace, and wait for them in a belly boat adrift on a glacial lake. It is really quiet here, and the water is so still, it is as if I am puttering through empty space. I can smell the bears in the periphery. It has been a long time since my last visit, and I’ve forgotten how dramatic my parents’ arrival is. When I see their overlapping membranes lower from the sky, the entire landscape brightens and flares. I enter through the shape of me.


I am a lump of matter. My parents pushed me out into the world through this same intersecting shape twenty-nine years ago. I was surprisingly solid and heavy and fell fast toward the earth. (It is hard to predict what two membranes of light might conceive).

Nearby, two women lived inside a log cabin surrounded by glaciers. Following the trail of my parents’ light when I was a newborn, I was led to the front doorstep of the cabin. My parents conveyed to the two women my story as best as they could: a light display over my body.

One of these women researched weather patterns and had been studying my parents her entire life, despite other scientists declaring her efforts to be beyond understanding. The other was an excellent hunter and taxidermist. The women referred to me as a bat baby, blind and fumbling in the day and calm at night. They doted on me. I did not know what I was, or I thought I was an extension of everything, having a malleable shape and dark lumpy appendages that could bend and fold and twist in all directions.

The researcher whose name was Janelle was able to calculate my parents’ annual arrival to the glacial lake and project the dates of their two weeks of overlap 100 years into the future based on a chaos of calculations and notes. And when the time came, she took me to the edge of the lake to wait for them until I could do it on my own. My parents always came like clockwork. They operate under a larger, stricter law, Janelle explained to me, her slouchy frame huddled over her weather reports and star charts.  

The taxidermist whose name was Ravenna attended taxidermy conventions and learned the best methods for remolding dead skin and brought home many awards. For every birthday, she gifted me a skin suit that molded me into a human shape so that I could resemble her. Each year, the suit was a little bigger and more precise in craftsmanship. When I looked into the mirror, I admired the beauty of the female form.


I have to leave the skin suit in the belly boat in order to fit into the opening created by my parents. From where I stand, I can see that the suit is very worn from work and travel, and I am filled with a sort of sadness. It looks like a dead body without me in it. The red color of the lips has faded away. I have not replaced the suit since I was twenty-five. That is the year Ravenna died.

When Ravenna died, I swiped all the animals she had on display on the shelves in her studio. I experimented with the form of ravens, bears, wolves, red foxes, and caribou and considered the possibility of living as something else. I roamed around the wilderness filling the inside of these dead animals until Janelle found me as a marmot in an alpine meadow, disoriented and hungry.

That year, I chose not to meet my parents and went on an expedition over the glaciers toward the ocean instead. I planned to push westward until I’d destroyed the skin suit or it fell apart in strips around me. But, it was surprisingly resilient, a testament to Ravenna’s hand. When I reached the ocean, I loved its boundlessness. I constructed a lean-to on a steep cliff overlooking the water and mended the skin suit the way I had been taught. On that trip, I learned that I could not help clinging tightly to the forms I love. For instance: hands. I love the shape of hands.


Inside the intersection of their membranes, my parents communicate with me through light displays. My fore parent’s speech is heavy with yellows and my hind parent’s with aquamarines. Together, they speak a botanical green. My fore parent’s yellow light pales and brightens in predictable arcs, but her brightest emanation – radiant as the sun – is rare. She is capable of harsh, ugly light, a yellow that sickens skin or uncovers all of your flaws, but it is also rare. My hind parent’s light can be unpredictable, calm one moment and tumultuous the next. Her most angry eminences are soft and edgeless, but her deep blue articulation of sadness can be pulsating and immense like the ocean itself. Though they are genderless, I refer to my parents as women because of Janelle and Ravenna.

I like watching my parents speak to each other in their majestic displays of communication that light up the earth. I cannot talk to them in their language, being made of opaque dark matter, and often wonder about what all is lost between us. My understanding of their eminences is limited as is their understanding of me.

They tell me about the wonders and places they’ve seen: the alignment of the planets and stars, the animal migrations and tree growths they observed in my absence, the state of the arctic deserts sitting on beds of permafrost, the polar ice caps. Their perspective is colossal. They don’t comprehend the sudden panic that sometimes grips me in the middle of the night and makes me sprint out of the factory grounds into an open field, unzip my body suit, and heave deep breaths of nothing. Where does that come from?

On my visit, I spend the pale moments examining the boundary where my parents intersect, the patterns made by the overlapping of their membranes. I walk in circles staring at the perimeter until I feel dizzy. When I was younger, I entered the bright body-shaped hole the size of me with things hidden in the folds of my lump and proceeded to decorate the boundary walls with framed pictures, paintings, and small pieces of nature. As I’ve grown older, I study the places where the walls are bare: a fragment of the intersecting pattern of the boundary that made me.


When it is time to leave, I consider the lake in its stillness. The light upon it changes as my parents separate and the opening closes. My belly boat looks like a donut resting on a blue table. Traditionally, this is when I lay my latest skin suit to rest. There would be another one waiting for me at home, wrapped in a red ribbon. But this time I have no replacements. My old skin suit hangs over the edge of the belly boat, a dead thing. I rest it on top of me for a long time, the way one would lay an outfit over ones body in front of a mirror, and then I spread it out flat over the water. I watch it slowly sink toward the bottom of the lake, letting go of the hands last. I look around me for a sign of what should happen next, a suitable form. A mountain, a green meadow covered in flowers, a pristine lake so calm it is like a body of light.


Janalyn Guo
Janalyn Guo lives and writes in Austin, Texas. She thanks O. for being her muse for this story. Her other writings have most recently appeared in Heavy Feather Review, The Collagist, and LIT. She is currently devoting all her free time to finishing up her first novel, Bat Baby.