The Skin Game
By LEON GELLERT
fy\ HE man with the bandaged
j neck and wrists who was
-*- sitting a short distance from me on the ferry slid along thc seat towards me, rolling a cigar-
ette as he did so.
"Eczema?" lie said, motioning to o small patch of sticking plaster on thc hack of my hand.
"No," I said, "just a blt of skin knocked off."
"Well, you don't want to scratcli it," he said, giving the paper an almighty lick that was universal ir its application. He pinched oil thc rough ends of tobacco and committed his grisly handiwork to the flames ol a cigarette-lighter.
"I got into a heap of bother just on account of scratching something like what you got there," he said, puffing frantically behind thc con- flagration. "Years and years of bother I got into. And it cost me hundreds and hundreds of pounds, it did. Way back in 1336." the man with the ban- dages went on, "I- got bit on the arm, see. Might a been a bee. Might a been a blowfly. Might a been any- thing, see? Anyway, it all swolc up about the size of a negs;. And throb! Throbbed, like a diesel, it did. Then in a few days it got better-see. Left a little scar like what you might have on your hand now. Then silly-like I [ got scratching it. Just something to do. I suppose. And before I knew where I was half of my arm was covered in rash. Didn't .worry me much at the time. sse. Thought I'd fix lt with a drop of iodine and forget about it. But NO, SIR.",
I ' @> "
rPHE man with the bandages leaned
towards me confidentially: "D'you know anything at all about the yuman skin?" he asked in low, significant tones that heralded a deluge of medical scholarship. "You don't. Well.' I'll tell you., Just have a look at my face." I had noticed that, from a distance, the object in question appeared to have a permanent blush as , though . its owner were condemned for evermore to listen,, to an Indelicate-narrative or as though he were unceasingly reining in a-team of wild horses. Now that it . had bean thrust forward for close . inspection.. I- . viewed it less leniently.
"D'you. notice anything about it?" asked the bandaged one.
"Well.'.'¡I said, "I can see that it has had its ups and downs, but other-
''Otherwise-nothing," he said. "Can't you see that I've only got one skin? That's what makes me so allergic. Everybody else has got two skins-two layers, see. I only got one layer. 'One-skin Joe' the boys used to call me. Well, as I was saying, I (rot this here rash on thc arm. I treated it myself at first, see, not wanting to go to the expense of half a smacker for a quack: but since then I've spent hundreds on it. and nearly every doctor in Sydney has had a go nt me. And talk about itch! I used to go nearly crazy. I used to scratch till I was tired-and in my slesp, too. And every doctor I went to used to say he couldn't do anything for me as long as r scratched myself. And the more doctors'I went to the more thc rash seemed to spread. And the more it itched, see. I used to go to bcd at nirrht wearing boxing gloves, so as I couldn't scratch. I'd just lie there cn my back and cry with the irrita-
"TT was worst in hot weather. Some-
times in the winter it would die down, and the doctors would do a bit of a starve, but. during the first warm days of Spring up it would flare again,
and I would be on the old Macquarie.
"Then the war broke out, see. Well, I tried to enlist, but they knocked me back like as though I was a leper. So I fell slap bingo into the hands of the Reffo quacks. I figured out that these foreigners ought to know a bit more about skin troubles than our blokes out here because they come
from the places where all the plagues
"Well, thc first one I went to give mc a peiscription for a special yellow ointment. Every morning I had to stand without any clothes on in the middle of the floor and smother my- self with thc ointment, see. After that I had to roll about ten yards of ban- dage round myself from head to foot. The missus, being a bit of a sport, would lend a hand winding. At the finish I'd look like one of them Miche-
lin tyre ads., but the missus would be that giddy from walking round and round me that after a few weeks we turned that cure in. and I was look- ing round for another doctor,
"AND all the time the rash was
spreading, see. And all the time I was trying doctor after doctor, see. All Reffos. Someone would tell me there was a good one un at the Cross. Up I'd go and get caught for another two guineas. Then someone else would tell me about one who'd cure you in two days in Newtown. Most of the perscriptions were carbolic and cam- phor, and you had to fight, like a tijrer to get a doctor's receipt for your in- come tax. And every now and again I'd have another crack at getting in the Army.
"I remember when Japan come into the war both of my legs was down wiih it. so to speak. They talk about the mosquitoes in New Guinea and the Kokoda. Trail. I reckon I hiked hundreds of miles just to pay fees to skin quacks. ' 'Itch Ike' my missus used to call me. 'Why don't you turn it in," she'd say, 'and let things take their course?' But, I dunno, I'd see a ray of hope and I'd get off after it.
"Well, I went on spending my money right up to the time of the esg famine, see. You remember the egg famine last year, when you couldn't pet a negg for love nor money? Well, me and the missus done without eggs for about three munee. And we was always used to a bit of egg and bacon for breakfast, sec.
"Well, as I was saying-me and the missus done without cges for three munee. Then, one morning at break fást, I said, a bit gloomy-like, 'Look, old girl,' I says. 'Couldn't you man- age to .dig up a negg or two from nowhere?' And she says to mo a bit snappy-like. 'You go and scratch for your eggs!*, she says. And then she gives me a funny look. 'And talking about scratching,' she says. T aint noticed you been scratching yourself lately.'
""JJKEN we sat there and figured it
'out-and selp-mc-bob. she was right. EGGS! Egtrs was like a poison to me. I saw the whole case as clear as a whistle. I get bitten by a bee or some- thing-, see. I scratch it, sec. And on account of I'm not like ordinary people and I've only got one skin, this wog they call eczema gets fastened on to me. see. And this here eczema lives on the cg<rs I eat, see.
"Well, I've never ate a negg from that day to this. And that's how I got completely cured, see. And that's how I got into the Army."
"But," I said, "you are not in uni *form."
"No." he said. "They tossed nie out last week on account of this." And he indicated the bandages' at his neck and wrists.
"So lt broke out again," I said with a wealth of sympathy.
"Good Lor, no." he said, "this is something quite different. Very, very rare, see. Very hard to get. No ordinary person can get it. Only about one .in five hundred thous- and. They call lt 'dermatitis chrome ? dermatitis.' Some people catVt.w.ear. khaki clothes or jungle green clothes unless they get it. I had hardly been in the Anny six weeks before I had it. Only one skin, sec. They say you never get rid of it. The itch nearly drives you crazy."
He lifted .up'the end of a bandage on one of his wrists and examined the
exposed'àrca'as a connoisseur inspects a niece of rare jade. He dropped his finished cigarette on the deck, stamped . It out, and rose to his feet "Well, so
lpn.?, mate." he said.
"Good-bye." I said, absent-mindedly scratching thc back of my hand.