Blood, Water, and the Body in Between

“Her hair was shining with bright drops of rain, the rain ran down her breasts, their outline clear through her wet muslin dress.” (85)

Winterson introduces Louise to the narrator as rain after a drought. Each subsequent encounter is further marked with the appearance of rain (54, 72), and the honeymoon period that follows the fulfilment of their affair is depicted as “The wettest June on record. We made love every day.” (20)

To the narrator, Louise is a tactile wetness that writes along the skin: the platonic lunch charged with sexual tension right before the start of their affair culminates in their first touch, incited by “viscous juices” dribbling down her chin, and the narrator rushing to steal the napkin for the opportunity to dab it away (37). Her “outline” is first revealed to them as the rain runs down her figure.

“Odd to think that the piece of you I know best is already dead. (123)

The dichotomy of “dermis” and “epidermis”—the living body and the dead cells of the surface of the skin is one that’s complicated by Louise’s cancer—because her body has turned on itself, the epidermis, while already dead, is the only part of her—because they lack “blood vessels or nerve endings,” untouched by her illness (123). The narrator, as a “creature who feeds at your hand,” who “rub(s) away” at the “dead you,” is at a constant struggle to dig skin-deep, yearning to feel life at their fingertips (124). Yet the core of Louise’s being hides death, while the dead epidermis appears more lively than her condition truly implies. This is mirrored in the plot and Louise and the narrator’s character development: Louise, who is asymptomatic, fails to show any sign of illness on the outside, while intimacy and authenticity reveals to the narrator that she no longer has very long to live.

The only part of Louise that is neither dead nor dying, then, is the thin layer of skin cells at the apex of the dermis which meets the epidermis, a layer that can’t feel the narrator, nor be felt by them, but which becomes visible to them in the glow of wet skin, because as water is absorbed by the pores of the skin it makes it reflective, and its reflectiveness the light bounces in and out of the surface of the skin. The water is what enables Louise to appear in the fullness of her life, and Louise, in turn, refers to the narrator themselves as this water: “You are a pool of clear water where the light plays.” (85)

Leave a Reply