Once I found a black snake’s molted skin in my backyard. I never saw the snake, but there was additional evidence. A few months earlier, I had mowed over a dead rat. The rat’s carcass was infested with maggots feeding on the innards, crawling joyfully through the eye sockets.
I’ve heard that some lobsters will shed their shell and grow a new one several times in their long life. Why do some creatures molt, but not us? Molt comes from the Latin root, mature, to change. Yet it’s one letter away from “melt” and the adjective “molten” means something liquefied by heat.
I grew up a mile from the Armco Steel Mill, where my uncle worked. To make steel, you throw coal, limestone, and iron ore into a blast furnace. Then cook those ingredients at 2500 degrees until they melt into a thick tawny liquid, which pours out of the blast furnace into rivulets that resemble pig troughs. When the liquid cools and hardens, it becomes cast iron. Add some nickel and a few other alloys and presto, you just made steel.
The other day, Oprah interviewed a woman, Connie, who had just undergone a face transplant. The woman’s husband had shot her in the face from close range, just a few feet away, obliterating her nose and cheekbones and jaw. Her face had imploded. They replaced it with a face taken from a woman with similar bone structure who had died just a few hours earlier. The surgery took twenty-two hours. On the Oprah show, Connie’s new transplanted face looked like a thick, square wad of Play-Doh had been slapped onto the front of her skull. It was shaped like a trapezoid, with her jowls extending out wider than her forehead. She must take a dozen pills every day for the rest of her life so the new face doesn’t reject her. Imagine being so ugly that your own face rejects you.
Why can’t we humans shed our skin and grow a new layer? Last night my girlfriend gave me the first pedicure I’ve ever had. She shaved the dead skin off my toes and the bottom of my foot with an old razor. The layers were so thick that I never even felt anything. The dead skin came off my foot like the shavings from a pencil being sharpened. Then she washed and scrubbed my feet, and put lotion on them. Now my feet feel shiny and new, and I feel younger. I wonder if that’s how snakes feel when they molt.
Tom Bennitt received a John and Renee Grisham fellowship and is an MFA candidate in Fiction at The University of Mississippi. Born and raised in western Pennsylvania, he graduated from Bowdoin College and the Penn State School of Law. Tom’s short stories have been published in Twisted Tongue, River Walk Journal, and Bewildering Stories. He is a recipient of a 2007 Culver Short Fiction Prize, judged by Lewis Nordan.