Ben, I’m afraid I won’t see you at the café again. I’m not well. My face is metastasizing. It’s been metastasizing for weeks now and I’m mad, pissed, frustrated, exhausted, and you know that when I tell you things I’m not being metaphorical, I mean this shit is really happening.
I blame a girl named Dorothy. Though we never introduced ourselves I have no choice but to blame her for the simple reason of synchronicity. This was two months ago. I was on the train. It was packed with commuters. She was cute, with small but thick lips, dark hair pulled back into a bun, a mismatch of colored clothing with green frames on her glasses. She was reading an old hardcover – you know the ones whose pages make your fingertips feel dry and rough. We were holding onto the same metal pole to keep from falling over. I had to put my eyes on something and she was pleasant to look at so I put them on her. When the train cleared out at the downtown stop she sat down and I tried to figure out her age and nationality.
Then she looked at me. She looked directly at me and she did not look away like most people do. After a second I turned away but I know that somewhere in that look of hers, somewhere in those seconds, she did something to my face. She took it, maybe like a photo steals your soul, or maybe she gave me something I don’t want like a curse or a flea, I can’t say, I don’t know.
But I can say this: my face is changing.
It is metastasizing. By the time I saw her again at the coffee stand and the barista called out her name, “Dorothy,” my face was already different, my skin already loose and warm. Before noon the skin had dissolved from the scalp to the bottom of my chin, leaving only muscle and tendon and cartilage. By night it had regrown into something woody. I woke up and my face was a thick wooden mask with black horns and a red nose and false wooden eyes and even slits beneath for my real ones and my ears were twice the size though the back of my head still had its brown shaved hair. Do you think this is payback for something, maybe the broken friendships, maybe that abortion, maybe my disrespect for emotions as currency between people? What is it do you think?
I stayed home to monitor my face. I called in sick, which everyone understood. Sometimes my face’s rate of change seems to be speeding up and moving through phases minute by minute and other times it seems to take almost a day to shift, but maybe it has stayed constant and it is only my assumptions of the borders between the phases that is mistaken. What do you call a face and not just an expression, not just an unformed proto-face, not just the sloughing off of a face past its prime? How many unique faces do we even have in the world? If you know, tell me, please.
I’m attending a support group tomorrow. Also, please don’t tell Tricia. Please, if you haven’t said anything, don’t. It may not mean anything to you but please, please.
Ben, I haven’t heard back from you or seen you in the neighborhood and man, I hope your face isn’t metastasizing too. That’s a bad joke, I’m sorry. I can tell by touch that mine is reptilian today. There are no more mirrors in my house anymore. I smashed them. I know it’s bad luck but whoever made that superstitious rule didn’t have a metastasizing face. I needed to pay rent, so I went back to work, but when I woke up to go my skin had taken over my face, covering or reclaiming all holes and contours until it looked like an amputated stump for a limb that was never there, a tail maybe.
Still, I went.
My coworkers, trying to be kind, talked as if my head was still there, but work suffered since half the time they were talking to my side or my back, and after receiving no response at all from me they’d get frustrated and leave me alone without telling me whatever it was they needed to tell me for me to do my job right. The following week they asked me to work from home. Before I left, they held a luncheon for me, but I wasn’t hungry. They made me a card but I didn’t want to read it, so I just stuck it to the fridge. Human Resources asked if I wanted to change my benefits and I tried to cry, thinking of the lonely “1” on the dependents/claimants form but instead the tears only pooled and swelled and made a bump on my face.
It’s okay though. I’m not alone. Today was a great day in my support group. After telling my whole story of these terrible months I sat back down and the squeak of my metal chair seemed to puncture all the tension in the room. You should have seen everyone. Melina the moderator in her moderator’s zip-up jacket with the moderator’s name tag – she almost choked on her cheese Danish seeing Sally all mouse-faced and meek look up from her white shoes for once and bring her two little hands together in a clap. Dan, eyeless and smooth, put his hands together too. Pfeiffer with the vagina where her mouth used to be and a vagina in each of her eyes followed suit. Then Roderick, who now just looked like a giant shovel, and Mika the little Japanese girl whose face is her father’s face (so she tells us), they started clapping too, and so it went down the line from left to left as if passing a potato or a secret or a little telephone message until it came back to me and even I started clapping for my own story. It was very emotional. Sally called me handsome and pert as I sneezed into a Kleenex and some sort of whitish-gray fluid came out of some hole in my face. We all just stared at it, unsure of what it was, maybe snot or lymph or semen, who could say? I felt good. I really felt good. The color of the fluid did nothing to take that away. “Thank you,” I said, “thank you.” The sound of all those appendages slapping together, well, it was better than anything Tricia ever gave to me.
I never would’ve been able to say that before. You’re happy for me, aren’t you, Ben?
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Scott Lambridis’ debut novel, The Many Raymond Days, about a scientist who discovers the end of time, received the 2012 Dana Award and is represented by Richard Florest of Robert Weisbach Creative Management. Scott’s stories have appeared in Amazon’s Day One, Slice, Memorious, Cafe Irreal, Painted Bride, and other journals. Lambridis recently completed his MFA from San Francisco State where he received the Miriam Ylvisaker Fellowship and three literary awards. Before that, Scott earned a degree in neurobiology, and co-founded Omnibucket.com, through which he co-hosts the Action Fiction! performance series.