The Day I Lost My Face
Outside the Piggly Wiggly, I spotted my mother by the cart corral. It had been a long time since we’d seen each other, and when she called to me, she couldn’t remember my name. “Kate,” I reminded her, but maybe I went by Katie or Katya. Even I wasn’t certain. Even then, parts of myself had started to fall away. I was surprised to see my mother had already lost parts of herself: an arm , an ear, and a breast, all on her left side. Her nose had started to peel, and the tip of it hung loosely from her face, fluttering. I couldn’t help but stare. My mother said, “Go ahead.” She laughed as I took her nose between my thumb and forefinger and tugged. It felt like peeling a label from a sweaty bottle without leaving behind any residue. In other words, it felt immensely gratifying.
My mother’s nose drifted like feathery paper to the ground and turned to ash. There remained only a slash of nothing from her right temple to her left upper canine, and I recoiled.
“This is the way of things between mothers and daughters,” my mother assured me, but she looked at me as though I were a stranger promising violence. Careful not to step in the voids in the pavement or through the black portals hung aloft in space, she retreated into the disappearing lot. I never saw her again.
Years later, I ran into an ex-boyfriend at a house party in Winston-Salem. Most of the roof had been torn away, letting in the starlight. The pendulum of a grandfather clock swung in a blank upon the wall.
“Hey,” I said, cornering him by the fireplace, willing my heart to cease fluttering so cruelly, so visibly through the gap in my chest.
“Kathy?” he said squinting. “Kathleen?”
Once the polite type who would have pretended not to see that thumping, exposed muscle, he now reached for it and tore right through my center. My hip and groin fell to the floor and turned to ash. My remaining leg was attached by my slivered left side.
“I’m so sorry!” he said, surprised. “I couldn’t help it!”
Before I departed that night—tipsier than I ought to have been, as I hadn’t yet learned to rebalance—I kissed him lightly on the cheek.
“I forgive you,” I said. “Isn’t this how it goes between ex-lovers? Exactly this?”
I turned forty-five, and the bitterness of still filing my taxes, still ticking that box—single—had only just begun to fade. I couldn’t find a job because most office buildings had been entirely stripped away. I left North Carolina to range the countryside on a single leg, across farmland and prairie, where there were fewer people to tear apart the world. But I wasn’t the only one who’d headed west. There’d been many before me, an endless parade, the scrub kicked into clumps with darkness gaping between the footfalls. Even out here the sunset hung in tatters like wallpaper in an abandoned house. Flags snapped in the peevish wind. Pumpjacks rocked into the voided earth and unglimmered tailings snaked along unrivered canyons. I’d staggered across a thousand blanked miles when at last I met a bird undirectioned by the weakening pole. It chittered accusingly at me from above: Look at how it is. Look at how it always has been.
Still I wandered.
I wandered until I was ancient and hardscrabbled, and at first I thought I was dreaming the young girl, who danced in a field of blank.
“Karlee!” I called to her, but the name felt wrong in my mouth. Was it my name? I tried to raise my hand, but I didn’t have one. I tried to stumble her way, but I no longer had any legs. By this time, I was only an eye, an ear, a lip, a furrow of brow.
“Katrina!” I tried. The girl looked my way and ambled over. Unlike the other people I had seen in recent years she was whole, with full, ruddy cheeks and a sprinkle of freckles across the bridge of her nose. She was so new.
“Hi, Mom,” she said shyly. She waved me closer and so I tipped my brow, eager to gaze upon this odd girl, desperate for the shine of faded sunlight on her hair. She cupped both hands around my ear and whispered something into it. I couldn’t make sense of the words although I knew she told me something both strange and amazing about this world that had nearly gone blank, for in it she bore witness to things I could no longer see.
When she hushed, I looked into her eyes. I smiled with my half-lips and told her the way of things between mothers and daughters.
She took the edge of my face in her fingers—and pulled.