Amanti had read the section of the MailFolk Employee Code titled “Do Unto Others’ Packages As You Would Have Them Do Unto Yours” three times in the last two years. Twice for the yearly employee health checkups that determined whether employees were still morally qualified to represent MailFolk, and once to triple check whether it was a breach of official policy to investigate the contents of open packages.
On a bright Tuesday afternoon, she sat idling in her MailFolk delivery vehicle at the end of a driveway as she read it for the fourth time. She held her locs off her neck to escape the heat and flipped through the pages slowly. A package sat on the seat next to her, a pleasant block-lettered label naming Landry Kent as the intended recipient.
The problem was that 4 Ember Lane, the destination for this package and four others on four prior Tuesdays, had a notice of condemnation on its front door. The sign was white with red lettering, and announced the presence of invasive black mold.
“What to do with you?” Amanti mused at the package, consulting the Employee Code for answers. She knew the Code would never permit her to open packages belonging to Landry Kent, but it also told her to do everything in her power to deliver all mail to the correct address. It was a dilemma the likes of which she hadn’t encountered since beginning her tenure with MailFolk two years earlier.
Amanti turned off her vehicle and hefted the package in her hands. This one, unlike the other four, was a polyethylene shipping bag. It left her hands cool and slightly sticky, like the insides of disposable latex gloves, and was heavy for its size.
She carried it down the drive with both hands. 4 Ember Lane was a small one-story house with shingles falling loose from its roof. The lawn outside was balding, dandelions at the edges of the bare spots like long lazy eyelashes.
The porch had two steps and a simple rail. The other four packages sat undisturbed in their neat pile by the front door, where the black mold peeked out in fuzzy waves from cracks in the frame. A woven wicker rocking chair leaned against the house for support. The cushion was missing, so Amanti sat on the flat spindles and set the package in her lap.
“Please excuse our appearance while our packaging undergoes renovations,” she read aloud from the back. “Always yours, Suit.co.” She frowned. “Huh.”
If she opened the package, she might figure out how to find Landry Kent. He would hail her as his hero for delivering his important packages. MailFolk would finally grant her Mailer of the Month, a title not held by another Black employee since the company’s inception. She would go home feeling recognized for her invaluable contributions to the community.
And if she left this package here on top of the others, the winter rain would catch up to them. The porch roof would sag and then collapse, and the entire contents of Landry Kent’s gifts from Suit.co would be lost to the preventable ravages of time.
Amanti rubbed her forehead and sighed. The Code was clear. She couldn’t do anything.
As she stood up, the bag caught on a damaged section of the wicker chair and tore diagonally across the front. A length of something that looked like animal hide spilled out onto the porch. A sheet of paper and a strong smell of Egyptian musk followed it.
“Shit!” Amanti hissed. She looked around. The street was quiet.
She knelt down to stuff the thing back into the bag, but the paper drew her gaze. She leaned over it to read — since it had simply fallen in front of her eyes, it was sure to be okay.
Thank you for your continued subscription to Suit.co! In this package you’ll find Suit Five-Oh-Five, the fifth model in our highly lauded Dark series of human suits. Application works just like the other four, with a hook at the back of the neck for easy entry. Please reach out with any questions. Happy wearing!
Amanti paused. Human suits?
Her heart in her throat, she picked up the object and looked at it with different eyes. It was unlike any suit she had seen before, a shade of caramel just paler than her skin. It took her several seconds to realize that the soft part in one hand was a clump of hair. Abruptly, she understood she was holding a suit of skin.
Amanti jerked her hands to her chest and the suit slithered to the ground again. She suppressed a gag and stepped back quickly. It couldn’t be real skin, she told herself in horror. What would anybody want with that?
Amanti looked around again. Then she held her breath, set her jaw, and picked it up by the hair.
The feet fell to the ground and the suit inflated beneath her fingers. Up close, the pores were airbrushed into perfection and smoother than any natural human skin. It wasn’t real skin, but high-quality silicone cut as a Black man. There was no sense of relief in that discovery. He — it? — was taller than her and the shins dragged on the porch next to her own feet, a cartoonish inflation of an unnervingly realistic figure. Its uncanny stillness and the unnatural bend of its inflated legs against the porch screamed of its wrongness.
A chill ran down her spine. She stared at the stubble around the suit’s mouth and wondered if anything was behind the closed eyelids. She glanced at the torn bag, and then at the abandoned house before her. This was the beginning of the kind of horror story her grandma might tell, of the Black man who disappears only to turn up with his skin on someone else’s body.
She turned the suit to look at the hook on the back of the neck.
“Don’t do it,” Amanti told herself. But she knew she was too deep in it now.
Amanti undid the hook.
The suit peeled apart with a snicker. The skin at the base of the skull darted away from her fingers where they gripped the hair. It came to rest in two neat rolls just above the backs of the knees, exposing the inside of the skin from the thighs all the way up to the neck. The inside was startlingly pale, and the skin at the front had slackened. The shins stiffened to hold the suit together as it waited to receive its next occupant. Peering up inside the empty skull, Amanti found the space behind the eyelids empty, waiting for a pair of eyeballs to fill it.
The urge to put it on was powerful. Amanti looked at the face again and wondered what it felt like to be inside. Did the suit come with a personality? Was it really just a suit, an opportunity to dress up as someone else, or did it go deeper?
A mix of confusion and alarmed curiosity grew the longer she looked at it. She wondered if she could don it like a pair of overalls, tuck her locs beneath the crown of the head and roll the skin back up along her own. Perhaps it was just another way to present what was on the inside to the world.
A car engine growled from down the street and Amanti jumped. Her misgivings returned with a thump. She stuffed the man — the suit — into the torn shipping bag, and set it atop the boxes. She was stepping off the porch when a car pulled up in front of the house.
A tall white man stepped out and waved with too much enthusiasm. He made his way across the sunshine-studded ground.
“Landry Kent?” she asked as he got closer.
“That’s me,” he said. He shook her hand. He had blue eyes so pale they were nearly white.
“Your packages are here,” she said, stepping back. Her heels dug into the bottom step of the porch. She directed her gaze over Landry Kent’s left shoulder and covered her apprehension with a professional tone. “The shipping bag delivered today ripped, but the contents appear intact. My sincere apologies for the damage of the package itself.”
He stepped around her and looked at the stack.
“It happens,” he said. His chuckle came out choked, and he kept talking quickly. “I signed up for a trial of Suit.co’s recent Dark series and only noticed that I wasn’t getting them last week. I must’ve entered the wrong address. I grew up here but I’m over on 4 EXR Lane now.”
“Oh. That’s a nice neighborhood,” Amanti said. She used to deliver in that zone, before an EXR Lane resident confused her with another MailFolk employee and called to complain. She learned that that employee had been fired for package mishandling, and MailFolk had changed her zone rather than correct the misunderstanding. The memory still stung.
“Well, I’m glad I caught you,” Landry Kent said. “Thanks for the delivery. I know some people start taking the packages after a while.”
“Oh!” Taken aback, Amanti met Landry Kent’s pale gaze. He was examining her closely. “MailFolk employees never do that. The company is committed to total privacy.”
“Just wonderful.” Landry Kent beamed, and it didn’t reach his eyes. Amanti stepped back towards the grass. “Have you heard of Suit.co?”
Amanti shook her head.
“They’re just wonderful!” he said again, and this smile was genuine. The forced friendliness dropped away. “Their suits are the highest quality in the industry. I almost can’t tell when someone’s wearing one. I’ve tried every series but honestly the colored ones are simply the best. The attention I get while wearing them is amazing! You get that.”
He winked at her. Amanti set her teeth into a smile and backed away.
“I should get going. My shift is nearly over.”
“Oh, right. You know what, here. Suit.co always sends their best ones first, so —” Landry Kent pulled out the box at the bottom of the stack. Amanti took it automatically, and her arms burned with its awkward shape and strange weight. “Here. As a thank you for everything. Oh, there might be a bottle of Amoxicillin in there. The early models of every series always have some infection-related issues. But you should be fine.”
“I can’t accept this,” she said. She wondered what Black body was crumpled inside this cardboard box. She reminded herself the skins were not real, but the breeze from the road was cold on her neck.
“It’s on me. MailFolk doesn’t even need to know.” Landry Kent winked conspiratorially.
It wasn’t until she had started her delivery vehicle and was pulling away from 4 Ember Lane that it occurred to her that Landry Kent might not even be his real name.
Amanti got back to the house on the corner of Third and Bluff just after six. She put the box in the kitchen before going to kiss Keia in the living room.
“How was your day?” Keia asked. She had a book open on her lap.
“Uh — strange. Yours?”
“Long. I worked on the winter shoot today. The directors want it to be ‘fun’ and ‘innovative’ and the models hate it.”
Keia made exaggerated air quotes around the words. Amanti laughed. She slid her fingers into Keia’s afro and massaged her scalp. Her thumb traced the base of Keia’s neck and found the skin there smooth and unbroken. The relief was heavy, and she was ashamed of it.
“The shoot is going to end up the same as it’s been every other year,” Keia said. “Minimalist and moody. Ah… that feels good. What do you want for dinner?”
“From the place around the corner?”
“You know it.”
Amanti kissed Keia’s cheek and went into the kitchen. The box sat on the table. She drummed her fingers against the cardboard. The packaging was innocuous. She could throw it out intact and none would be the wiser.
“Why did he give me this?” she muttered to herself.
“What?” Keia called from the living room.
Amanti stared at the box before her, unease and morbid curiosity battling in her gut. Then she picked up a serrated knife and slit the tape.
The kitchen filled with the smell of shea butter. Amanti dumped the box’s contents onto the table and spread the suit out face-up. This one was a woman with natural hair, its skin darker than the male suit from earlier. The color in its creases reminded Amanti of her aunties’ elbows. She put a hand on the material and found it was also unnaturally smooth, and far colder than normal human skin. She shuddered.
“Ugh,” Keia said. She peered over Amanti’s shoulder and wrapped her arms around Amanti’s waist. Amanti pulled her fingers back from the suit hastily. “What’s that?”
“A human suit from Suit.co.”
Keia grimaced and sucked her teeth.
“That company is so shady. They try to poach our dark-skinned girls to model for their suits all the time. I hear they’re so expensive only rich white folks can afford them, not to mention they only market to rich white folks. Where’d you get it?”
“It was a gift.” Amanti hesitated. “I ran into a guy who had some interesting things to say about them.”
“Landry Kent,” Keia read off the box. She wrinkled her nose. “Sounds like an ass. I bet he gave you this so you wouldn’t say anything. I can’t imagine he wants this fetish to get out.”
She tugged affectionately on Amanti’s locs, and left the room with the empty box. Amanti inspected the suit. Lying flat, its features assumed a strange placidity. She took it by the shoulders and held it up. The head flopped backwards and the rest of the body filled out. Its curves drew her eyes, and then drew heat into her cheeks.
“Unrealistic,” Amanti muttered. The skin of its thighs didn’t even touch. But she still itched to reach for the hook at the nape of the neck. She wondered what it would feel like to look like the Black women she found so beautiful.
“You’re not actually going to try it on, are you?” Keia asked. She had come back into the kitchen while Amanti was absorbed, and stood by the fridge with her eyebrow raised.
“No,” Amanti said quickly. Too many thoughts ran heavy over each other in her head, desire clashing loudly with disgust. She dropped it back on the table, and it deflated beneath its own weight. “Of course not.”
She found a bag beneath the sink. The suit crumpled into a lonely heap at the bottom, and she put it all in the trash bin before she could change her mind.
“This is the last of this batch,” Keia said. Amanti took the offered glass of sorrel. “I’ll go by Duke’s tomorrow and see if they’ve got more.”
“Cheers,” Amanti said. “Thanks, love.”
Keia put her arm around Amanti’s waist. They drank leaning against the counters and watched the sky draining into darkness through the kitchen windows, and Amanti tried to distract herself from her thoughts about a man named Landry Kent.
Amanti had a short shift every Friday, and always went to the same cafe on Gardenia Street for a morning coffee after Keia left for work.
That Friday, she ordered her latte and asked the barista about her son who had entered first grade that year. Later, she sat in a window seat and watched a trickle of people come and go from the hair salon across the street. She recognized a regular who emerged with fresh grey twists. They waved at each other.
The cafe door opened. Conversation dimmed for a moment and restarted with a fresh vigor that made Amanti wonder who had caused such a stir. The newcomer was tall and nearly her complexion, with stubble around his chin that made Amanti itch. He had arresting blue eyes, so pale they were nearly white.
Something tickled at the back of her mind. The man spotted her and approached eagerly.
“It’s wonderful to see you again!” he said.
“Do I know you?” she asked. His smile was contagious, and she returned its warmth. She would be flattered if she were into men.
“We’ve met.” He waved dismissively. “This is a lovely cafe. My first time here. So many beautiful people.”
When he glanced around, several pairs of eyes turned away hurriedly. Amanti heard at least one person giggle. He looked back at her, and she could admit he was good looking.
“May I?” he asked, and took the seat next to her without waiting for a response. “How’re the deliveries treating you?”
“Your routes with MailFolk — is everything going smoothly? How’s Ember Lane?”
Amanti’s breath stuttered. The man grinned again.
“Landry Kent?” she asked. He laughed loudly, and the table next to them smiled at Amanti.
“I can’t believe I ran into you. What a coincidence!”
Amanti’s hands twitched with the urge to grip his neck. She took a sip to hide her revulsion. The coffee tasted sour going down.
“You’re in the only Black neighborhood in this city,” she said. “It’s not as much of a surprise as you might think.”
“I know.” He shrugged. “I wanted to come see how the other side lives. I’m glad I saw you! How do I look?”
He spun on his chair. He wore a thin scarf that hid the back of his neck. Amanti wouldn’t have known had she passed him on the street.
She remembered holding this suit up on the sunlit porch, and her stomach turned. She stared at Landry Kent as he tilted his head, admiring the profile of his reflection in the window. When he turned to scan the room, Amanti watched him exchange a nod of recognition with an older Black woman. Then Amanti’s disgusted hesitation had stretched too long. Landry Kent looked back at Amanti.
He shrugged and stood up.
“I’m going to check out the place across the street. You people do amazing things with hair.”
“Wait,” Amanti said, looking across the room to the older Black woman who sat stiffly upright by the counter, layered in high-collared coats. “How do you know her?”
“We have a lot in common,” he said, adjusting his scarf.
“This is wrong,” she said.
“What’s wrong with changing the way you look to get closer to who you feel you are? Isn’t that what you do every time you step into that shop?”
He gestured to the salon across the street. Amanti shook her head slowly. Cold fury had blossomed rotten in place of a coherent retort. His grin chilled her bones.
“See you around,” he said, and left the cafe. Several people turned to watch him go. One winked at Amanti.
She was still shaking her head.
She stood up, trashed her coffee, and left. In the window of the hair salon, she saw Landry Kent laughing with one of the women. She wanted to stalk inside and unhook the suit, watch the expressions change as his white skin was revealed.
Then she turned and looked back into the cafe. The older Black woman was now sitting with her arms crossed, watching the other patrons with an intensity Amanti was more used to seeing from anthropologists than Black elders.
Amanti’s brain tripped back to the moment of recognition she had witnessed between Landry Kent and this woman. In an instant, a single question blotted out the fury. It whispered:Does it? Does it go deeper?
She ran with her heart beating in her ears back down Gardenia Street, and back into the house on the corner of Third and Bluff. She strode to the garbage can and pulled out the bag from the night before, now stained with congealed egg yolk. She dumped the suit out and found it intact, its face as peaceful as though it were merely asleep.
“Do it,” she whispered to herself.
She shed her clothes in a puddle on the kitchen floor. Unfastening the hook, she stepped, naked, into the depths of the empty calves. Her heart beat liquid in her throat, and she had the distinct sensation of falling.
She drew the front of the suit up to her hips. The skin rolled silently up along the backs of her legs, knitting itself together with seams that were invisible from the outside.
Amanti pulled the torso up along her torso and thrust her arms into the waiting tunnels of the suit’s arms. Finally, the suit’s fingers loose around her own, she closed her eyes and pressed the inside of the face against her own. The skin rolled up along her neck and enveloped her head completely. She struggled to breathe, feeling as though she had been swallowed inside a cool, dark womb.
She wondered abruptly if she would lose herself in the transformation, and whether it would be worth it.
Then the skin shrank, tightening the suit until it lay flat and tight against Amanti’s body, and she opened her eyes to find her fingers slimmer, her breasts smaller, and a light cloud of natural hair where her locs usually lay.
She walked naked to the bedroom mirror, and put a hand on the frame to steady herself under the dizzying sensation of a risky hunch paying off. While the figure staring back at her was completely foreign, she could somehow see the faint outline of her own body within the suit — her locs jumbled around her skull and her curves impossibly still where they should be.
She pulled a dress from the back of Keia’s closet and jogged out of the house on the corner of Third and Bluff, back down Gardenia Street, and back into the cafe. The bell rang impetuously with her entrance. She saw the Black woman who knew Landry Kent still sitting by the register looking around.
And now, wearing one of their suits, Amanti could see the outline of the true body that sat inspecting the cafe before her: A young white woman with a shock of blonde hair sat hidden beneath this suit of a Black elder. The curiosity in her eyes suddenly made perfect sense.
“Hey — close the door, wouldn’t you?”
Amanti turned to find a young Black man retrieving papers that had blown across the cafe floor in a gust of wind from outside. Except he wasn’t a young Black man. An older white man kneeled on the cafe floor, and as he looked up to meet her eyes, she watched panicked recognition flash across his face.
Amanti stared back blindly. She saw herself reaching to the back of his neck, the suit peeling away from his face, the Black face flopping inanimately forward. She heard the gasps and the murmurs of the cafe crowd. She smelled the too-strong scent of talcum powder and woodsy body spray filling the air to choking once released from their suits.
Then she blinked, and looked up to find Landry Kent stepping back into the cafe with a self-satisfied grin. His eyes landed first on the man still crouched on the floor. Then, following the man’s frozen gaze, he met Amanti’s stare.
She turned to face him fully.
Understanding bloomed in both his faces.
A grin flowered sharp and cold on Amanti’s lips. She walked towards Landry Kent.