First published in Carnival Magazine (Issue 1, January 2012) as ‘Icon, Koan. But Not Really’ //
The eyes came off smoothly, unpeeled like dreams, then the nose which was a bit more of a chore cracked off with crumbs, then the mouth, no bother, and the eyebrows, and lastly the ears, with ease. These last cephalic components, detached by hand, came off with minimum discomfort and one might even say: aplomb. His hands had also gone for the hair, but decided at the crucial moment to leave that dog where it lay. Now he laid out his features on the desk before him, his desk which was a kitchen table, his kitchen table which was a workbench as, it should also be noted, his kitchen was a shed, as was the rest of his home.
He left the flop of hair on mostly because he thought it amusing; the tufts plopped on his conical head as if from some halfway abandoned sketch that had come as a result of one of these ‘How To Draw’ books sold by the number in high street art shops. Remembering this advice, he took a pencil from the workbench and scored his head with one vertical line down the centre and another horizontal one across the eyes, or at least where they had, at one time, been, holding it steady and with care, in case he forgot the correct proportions of a correct Face when it came to reassembly. Otherwise people would really laugh in his disproportionate Face, or think him unduly quizzical, even curious; it could be the difference between laughter and none, just teethy grins; between a noose for the neck or a string for the ankles; between life and this life; between gifted future and no present.
At this stage, air floated between the seconds, he was having quite a bit of fun, regardless of that armchair feeling of fraudulence running from his spine. He stood up and straightened the column, walked the two steps available inside the shed, and performed a little pirouette at each end for the benefit of his faceless audience, the occasion being the closest he had come to perfection, he thought.
He stood on it awhile and enjoyed, for there are few faceless men in this century.
Eventually, he resumed his task. He felt his way back to the bench and leant the front portion of his Head toward it feigning to look, while his eyes, which could actually see, eyed him with uncertain ridicule, just as his brain realised, being as it was that it could not be removed, he should have brought with him a mirror for inspection. Now the pencil marks were most likely an inconvenience.
The features were laid out, all piled up on top of one another, astounded by possibility. His fingertips jabbed and shuffled them around, lifting each one to feel for its purpose, and its place. This, all without the aid of a simple reflection, proved unsuccessful: an eye went on where it shouldn’t be, the chin; then the nose on his cheek with the two eyebrows below (not thick enough to convincingly moustache); the last eye going slap on his forehead (he hadn’t thought it through, getting in more of a fluster as his troubles cranked up); but the ears, which he had a certain instinct for, were only slightly high of the mark, going deep into his hair by the temples, poking out like an overgrown farm on a hill.
He looked at himself, somehow.
“Pretty pretty”, said his mouth, laid on the bench.
His divorced eyes narrowed. Squeezing the lips, he picked up the pinky flab and positioned it a little crooked on an area usually reserved for noses, before slapping himself on the chops.
Next he was on his way back up the garden along the sane paving, knocking his shoes on the patio then his knuckles on the conservatory glass.
Inside the glass was a room: He tilted his head upward, aiming the lower portion of his skull forward, for a peak in with the eye of his chin. His wife was laid there looking up at the top sheet, formed of black-sky ice, winking left to right to readjust the visual of a mouthless blacksuited whiteshirted man who, on his button-holed belly, observed blankly the ongoing charade, his hands and legs spread across the glass roof like a spider pariah.
“I’m done.” The shed-dweller’s mouth went, bones knuckling glass with anticipatory relish.
“You’re done? Let me have a look at you.” The wife.
Her face jiggled like a ratty vintage centrefold when she leaned over the sofa and looked into him; he was rattling, vibrating, with necklace-straining eagerness, the prospect of validation becoming too much for him.
It was over quickly.
Soon but later, he was going back down the garden path with her “No” in his hair-invaded ears, his locomotive mind running out of steam, but legs still functional.
Brain also still functional,
he went back to work.
He discarded the ear, the one which rang of rejection, tossed it flippantly into the bin, then readjusted the remaining one down, sideburn territory, and forward, borderline cheek. He slid his remaining features into a straight line that ran along the horizontal pencil mark. From left to right: ear, eye, mouth, nose, eye, eyebrow, eyebrow. He danced a pirouette and curtsied to the blind roaring crowd.
He tried again.
His wife looked tired of the game.
Her “No, sir” was voiceless this time. It was only a shake of the head and a return to staring at the mouthless, now earless, blacksuited, whiteshirted man, with a mounting intangible fear in her expression that she couldn’t help but portray.
This time, back in the wooden box, he savaged it all. Holding the bin up he smeared his face downward into it. (Yes, there was a moment when all of the bits, at split second intervals, had formed all of the so-far conceived faces of this world, before collecting into a laughable concentrate centred on his chin). The now useless, now unwanted, suddenly unsavoury bits slid off and bounced about, salty flesh against metal waste, as angrily exposited as his featureless face would allow, the bin left soppy with tears in its caboose.
His Mouth: “murmur”
His Ears: silent.
His Nose: (dripping)
His Eyes: (nothing)
He pulled out the mouth and tried to hold its lips tight, though the mumbling kept on repeating. He dropped it back in where it slapped the nose and bounced off the bed of eyebrows and poked the eye where it stuck in, upright.
Standing on his feet like the mouth he had plunged in his disowned eye, he launched the little container out the door and onto the rectangle black-green (read: Garden).
Slouched, slunched, shoulders contacting the knees, head conversing with the toes. Silence.
OUTSIDE: THE BLACKSUIT WHITESHIRT PICKED THE FEATURES FROM THE BIN AND REPLACED THEM WITH HIS OWN.
OUTSIDE: a man had been re-made.
Inside, a man stayed where he was, looking like a portrait of a woolly angel (read: Derelict).
The crowd that had been roaring, had been applauding, had been supportive of his clean faced venture, were standing this time not in ovation, but what his brain now thought was embarrassed escape.
They left and left him there. His shorts falling to his ankles.