I do not blush. I do not blemish, nor rash, nor grow into a red, hot heat. I do not itch, I do not brown beneath the Sun. The skin on my face is utterly insensate, a useless hulk of distorted flesh. My macabre turban will remain with me until the winds unravel it from my sun-bleached skull. All pale with streaks of sinewy white, my face is the dream of Hollywood prostheses. The limits of human recovery pressed to its very edge. I am disfigured, and I have been so almost my entire life.
My disfigurement is not a patch of discoloured skin or a fashionable scar but a complete obliteration of my features. There is no symmetry, there are no redeeming qualities. If you were to lay eyes on me, you would cringe, shudder, and feel piteous feelings as you do your best to nonchalantly avoid my path lest I be some doddering fool made insensible by incest or insane by the trauma of some horrible accident. Then, when I am quite far away, you would remake me in your mind into a prop for a few hollow axioms or fodder for some tawdry religious allegory. At once, you cringe from my shadow and fawn over my spirit. When I sit myself in a bar, must I suffer you to drunkenly waver between gasping at the intensity of my disfigurement and admiring the hardiness of my character?
“Say, who’s that chap with the mangled face?”
“I don’t know, but he seems to be making the best of it, God bless.”
You may admire me at first, but as the night progresses and the novelty of my resolution wears away, you whisper to a friend, “It doesn’t seem possible. The head must be entirely gone beneath all that.” Then, finally, as the proper climax to my night, you say, not so hushed as you imagine, “I would’ve taken myself out, I think,” and the mystery of how I lived through my accident quickly becomes why I live despite my face.
I can hear you mumbling placations, second nature to your cloying sentiment. “Oh I’m sure you exaggerate. It’s not so bad. You are very handsome in your own way.” But I know you only wish to save yourself. It alleviates that hint of unease shadowing your spirit to believe that all circumstances will find their resolution. The reluctant campmate will be liberated, the bruised and battered woman will find justice and an easy abortion, and all monsters will find a doting wife who is not you, of course, never you. Fear not, I don’t blame you. Far from it, I welcome your gasps, your horror, but I despise the perfunctory optimism. If anything is drawn from this petty rambling, I hope it is that.
While I am disfigured, crude to look at, and nauseating to touch, you may be happy to know that I do not consider myself ugly. However, I do not say this to warm my own cold heart by way of an artificial flame that finds its fuel from positive thinking, salutary visualisation, and wide-eyed faith in the good of life, but in truth, the ugly cannot be so haphazardly lumped together with the disfigured. The ugly suffer from an inner sickliness that spreads from the mind to the body while the disfigured, our flesh torn, our features misaligned, we are nevertheless constructed well and suffer from only an accidental mottling of skin cells, limbs, or genetic code.It’s difficult, I expect, for some to understand the difference between an unfortunate variety of gene expression and the piling of DNA that elsewise is immaculate, but I, who have lived almost all his life as one in close proximity with the other, have a developed intuition attuned to the odd weakness of voice, the staleness of thought, the blanched and pathetic spirit that characterizes the ugly. Generations of an incestuous pall is quite different from a biological accident. They are quite hopelessly caught in their hereditary schema while our blueprint does not reflect our flawed manufacture. Our pieces may be missing, misplaced, but the ugly, in their paucity, are quite whole.
I do not say this from resentment. None of this is an attempt to right myself upward by toppling another. You would have me suffer the eternal presence of that mewlinggroup for the sake of sensibility, but sensibility means nothing to a man whose bare presence is innately vulgar. I cannot tolerate the ugly and their petty resentment of life and its unending toil because love, beauty, and meaning are either empty or unavailable. They make a show of taking pleasure in dark things, or worse, recede into the underground immured in vain and hopeless relief, their hollow hoard of distraction and defeat. The disfigured, meanwhile, retain their love of life and battle their way each and every day to occupy their desired place despite the empty prattle and worthless sniggering.
The shock I have upon the world is unending. There is always a new group of children that huddles and points then scatter when I stumble their way, a new housewife who hides her discomfort in that patronizing tone reserved for dotards and the mentally ill, or a shrieking elderly woman for which I exclusively stand at corners, windows, and in the dimly lit gloom at the heads of tombstones.
I am unlike any in face and very few in temperament. It seemed the world had fated me to be unrelentingly unique in appearance, and I’ve taken on my artful role with powerful purpose mouthing indecipherable messages to priests and declaring to doctors a mountainous ache in my head that had nothing irregular when I left the house. I exult in the tears of children and strive to make you all cringe and turn away while I, never yielding, stare with what seems a monstrous hunger.
Only once, I condescended to wear a mask when a busybody reporter had expressed his interest in flying out to me for a profile no doubt to shine some light on the innocent soul beneath the macabre flesh. It was through a friend of mind (old, doughty Gregory, now dead) that I was warned that someone was sniffing around my mysterious origin hoping to come in contact with me. I thought about this for a few days, unusually open to the idea until suddenly inspiration came in immense supply. I permitted Gregory to give not my address, but the location of anapartment in a very drab and ill-maintained part of town. This man, Chester, we saw from the window, arrived hesitant and often checking behind his back. I made sure there were no numbers on the door and allowed him to suffer through the unpleasantness of knocking on the wrong room not once but twice. Gregory’s wife answered my door in the guise of a horribly miserable crone (ah! wonderful woman) who only spat out answers and snapped with striking hostility at the poor, uncomfortable fool when he loitered at the door. She led him quite stiffly with a hint of unrequited anger to a room which was absent of any furniture and had only one window made opaque by its years of accumulated grime. There I sat unmoving across from an empty seat dressed in black robes and an ivory mask crafted into a garish and excitably vulgar facsimile of some frog-like demon. I was tickled by his slow canterand ever slower descent into his seat as if he were unsure if I was not some statue instead of a man.
Regaining my inner composure after what was surely a painful passing of seconds for this reporter, I welcomed him as he flinched then warned him before all else to never look upon my face nor place a hand on my exposed skin. “No doctor, no priest, no medicine man, or master quantum mechanist of the in-between could save you.”
He leaned back at this and stared at the floor taking an inner measure of the small space between us. “Is it a disease?”
“Yes, but a disease that crosses the boundary between this world and the next. My affliction is deeper than any surface corruption of tissue and commands a greater price than mere vanity. I am, sir, helplessly, indelibly, and absolutely damned.”
I regret that I had scared the poor fool so severely for it was only now that he remembered to begin recording. I had developed a great weight in my voice that vacillated between dark lows and a rising pitch expressing some mysterious feeling of anger and exacting retribution.
“You say you are ‘damned,’ why do you feel this way?” The word was uncomfortable on his lips, suggestive, I suspect, of a secular childhood.
“I do not feel. When one is certain of fate, it dampens the emotions and the senses and supplies a stolid serenity despite the miserable destination. Rather, I know it as surely as you know when you are hot or cold, as sure as you know you are right side up and not hung from your ankles, and worst of all, I have the confirmation from three dead priests who tried to heal me with nothing but their hands and died with the images of my fated agony flashing before their opened eyes.”
“Were you born damned?” It was a satisfying thing for me to see him sprawl in discomfort whether from newfound fear of God or for fear of religious insanity.
“If you mean, was I born physically deformed? the answer is no, but my soul from my earliest memory always ached for the quails of small, squealing creatures. Fires, fumes, and wounds were my favourite toys, and I never slept, driving my mother mad watching her sleep. Like all sinners, when the world seemed blunted and unable to stem the course of my ecstasy, I felt immortal, untouchable, and grotesquely powerful. That is until a man came in long, rough pants, leather boots, and a wide brimmed hat that shaded his face in the sun. I was at the river, in a spot where the water was deceitfully deep, urging some neighbourhood children to cross and find treasure buried by some famous deceased criminal.He arrived in a sudden crash on the pebbled shore. This mysterious man whom I had never seen called me by my name and stared deep into my defiant eyes. Then he named me evil, snatching my jaw in his gritty hand and cut me once beneath the eye with a jagged blade. The children screamed and ran, and the man left as suddenly as he came.
“At first, I felt only a resentful wound to my pride, but my literal wound, however, soon deepened. It refused to heal and grew wider until it became a grotesque, gaping hole in my cheek through which my teeth showed when I had the resilience to open my mouth. It was a great conundrum to doctors who could not slow its spread, assuming it to be some unknown bacterium or virus after accusing me of scratching it and cutting it deeper by my own sadistic self. They quarantined me, cut away my flesh, and applied intense burning beams that blackened my teeth and scorched my tongue. Just as they had given up hope throwing together an inchoate ploy to study me until my eventual demise, the wound suddenly hardened into a scabrous crust that flecked and itched until it became one very large and pale scar.
“That foolish confederacy of practitioners deemed me healed, playfully pushing and pinching my scar with their bare fingertips. They sent me home where things returned to normal, or rather, I made my first attempt at normalcy, finding that my urge to do wrong came with a severe, debilitating nervousness. I lived as well as I could, eschewing my past passions until my scar suddenly grew large, covering half of my face in a matter of days. Our previous doctors missing, we patronized a new one, who immediately removed it surgically only for it to return quicker and thicker. They feared the raised flesh would blind me or suffocate me, putting me on all sorts of pills and embedding me with all types of tubes and cannulas. Nothing slowed the growth, and I quickly became as I am today: a mottled mass of flesh heaped upon flesh. Doctors, I learned, were succumbing to madness after treating me, and my own mother who so diligently cared for me found herself made sentimental before tragically kissing my poor, destroyed flesh.
“I was suddenly alone and a ward of the state, provided water, food, and a caretaker on the stipulation that I never leave the house nor ever invite anyone inside.”
The reporter now seemed to leak with waxen panic on his very large and shiny forehead. He tried to maintain his composure but stuttered and uselessly twisted in his seat. “Is it a great danger for me to be here?”
“Oh, yes, but the content of your letter spoke to a higher purpose of good will and betterment for the human race. I had seen what you did for others. How you have reached into the darkest crevices and poured the luminance of good will and humanity. It had seemed to me that you knew such risks were possible when I saw your pictures in hospital rooms and sick beds with those poor souls waving from the corner.”
“Of course,” he said several times, and just as he struggled to deliver some incoherent platitude, my mask flew off with uncanny force, striking his cringing body then giving him a glimpse of my ruined visage before I turned away and commanded him with a deep and desolate boom to leave. This I accomplished with a few days of practice and some magician’s thread.
While I titter at this oft-revisited memory, I was very disappointed to discover that my intricately planned performance was replaced by some doggerel full of noisome cliches and appeals to petty emotion as well as an exhortation to readers to be unhesitant to approach me. There was not a single description of my disfigurement. In fact, the fool had the audacity to call me “handsome and obviously very thoughtful in his own way.” He described a tepid fondness for television, bad music, and whatever common tripe he felt would provide readers with their own modernity artfully reflected back at them. I considered suing for libel but found it would be very expensive with no returns, save my stubborn pride (I have money but no steady income). My small revenge, instead, has been to regularly send him letters thanking him for the much more attractive profile but remonstrating him for increasing the likelihood that someone may make a mortal mistake in ever touching me. “Speaking of which, do tell me if you notice any headaches, itchiness of the skin, or an inability to find restful sleep despite a deepening lethargy within the next few years. Drink plenty of coffee and do not exert yourself too heavily and stay inside on sunny days, as sweat seems to be particularly contagious.”To these letters, I never received a response, which is not as offensive as how he brutalized the story of my face, calling it “the result of an untreated dog bite.” A great affront to my canine accomplices, who rarely hesitate to approach me and lick my face while wagging their tails, their plainly uncomfortable owners standing near but not too close.
Now, I can feel you, reader, bristling at the mere mention of my accident, morbidly curious. What force could obliterate the features and rend a horrible massacre across the plains of my face, leaving my visage a smote and rotting carapace among the smoke-plumed ruin?
In my hometown, on a cool, blue Autumn day, my first grade class had made a trip to a factory which was the sole, vital source to our little, impoverished town. We walked in line, side by side, I with the teacher, for we had an odd class of twenty-nine. Our chatter and our hops made way across great courts of concrete, and we watched conveyers pulling its long, black tongue into the endless coves of its many mouths. Tired women grinned and waved while haggard men made awkward smiles. We saw their cafeteria, their breakroom, and delved into the walkways which interlaced its darkened bowels. It was there that we came across a great roaring engine. A veritable Lord Dynamo which deafened our ears and turned our teacher’s vociferous lecture into a muted mouthing. She quickly surrendered to the mammoth roarand rapidly moved along, not realizing I remained behind, entrapped in the unreal agitations of this whirling machine. It ran so intensely so as to occlude the surrounding world by the dominance of its thrum. I was drawn from the cold air into its warm and heavy atmosphere that burnt against me like the whips of an inferno. Its face was a collection of rolling belts, and its great, big clockwork gears churned out a steady grind with its blackened, muck-stained teeth. My childhood self was mesmerised and hopeless against the vacuum made by its absolute power, its unearthly weight, and I strayed ever so close to its mechanisms where I could smell the fumes of burnt rubber and hot steel. My face was caught between the wheels, which tore away my flesh, crushed the front of my skull, but amazingly left my brain untouched. Two children said I was pushed forward by a large, bearded man but no evidence of his existence was ever found. They rescued my motionless body by tearing the rest of me from my face, which had looped through the machine like a thread from a skein. Quietly surrounding me in mourning, several children maintained I wasn’t dead. Their cheers were the only sound among the moribund mood when an ambulance arrived and confirmed I did indeed live.
I was, of course, in dire straits, worsened by a comical circumstance in which the EMTs made two trips back to the factory, nearly fatally delaying my surgery. They arrived first for my skin but returned, believing it was too churned and irreversibly tainted by oil. The doctor sent them out again where the factory men told them they had disposed of the skin, and again, these two idiots driven on by a greater fool returned only to be sent back to fish my riven face from the trash. Many “successful” surgeries later, the doctor assured my mother that the grafts’ heinous look would soften with time and only a doting wife would notice the seams around my face. This doctor was discovered later to be in that class of licensed frauds who received the right education, but for whatever reason, this transplanted knowledge was later rejected by the host, enabling him to torture unsuspecting patients and their families with strange and painful methods of treatment. Like a dishonored priest, he was part of an itinerant bunch who are only forced to face their sins when their victims reach adulthood and speak as a unified voice.
Age worsened my condition, contrary to the assurances of that Harry Buffoon, M.D. What started as a curious child deformity manifested into adult monstrosity. My flesh grew at terribly unnatural angles. Some places became taut and seemed they could break at any moment, while others became tumorous, heavy, and sagging. As I’ve said, the skin is dead and unfeeling (much like my tired heart), but I would be a liar if I did not mention the very painful dream from which I awake, with the feeling of needles and of biting insects ceaselessly digging into my face. These strange spasms are the only moment my face has any real feeling, and I confess that I have a bit of dread each night, for they are very unpredictable and would scare my bedmateto complete tears.
What does a disfigured man make of beauty? Does he scorn it for its mockery, or in its absence, does it dominate the heap of his desires? In this one area, my answer delves a bit into the ordinary and unsurprising, but before all else, I must be honest. When disfigured, one becomes sensitive to the finer qualities of beauty. An average man may see lithe limbs, long hair, and a well-ordered face, and his dull flame will quicken to lambent lust, but the disfigured sees some qualities of their being that emanate beauty in a brilliant torrent of flame (I call this “the soul” for convenience and not because I believe in such a thing). I must concede that some people disclose this purified beauty in small, idiosyncratic ways, which those blinded by great swathes of prettiness will never catch, ways that reveal the most bare and unpolluted qualities of her soul: wide eyes and a nibbled pen, a smile accompanying some imprecise joy that her beau does not quite understand, the sun brightening a flushed face that flinches from its intense shine.
I’ve never resorted to other means. I’ve never paid, begged, or tolerated those of that female sex who would have me as a trophy of their Christianity and compassion, and as a consequence, only on two occasions has my standard of beauty been met. For the first occasion, my parents and I had traveled to a lake and encamped near where the water met the trees and the dirt was filled with a lively moisture that stank with the vapors of life. I must confess that one who has been artificially malformed comes to feel at odds with the seeming order and balance that exists in the natural world. Nevertheless, I still enjoy nature much in the way a city tourist may enjoy a quaint, peasant village untouched by time or industry. I ascended the hills, scrambling up the dark-brown mulch, frightening the squirrels and birds along my way, then ducked low where the branches of several large pines interlocked, creating a dark, dank hovel furnished with a rock which was sat atop by a thin, dark-haired girl scratching pictures in the dirt.
I was still meek then, but grew impatient with gasps and shocked stares. I consciously resolved to stand there undaunted as she cast her look upon me. She turned from the ground with one long leg propped beneath her chin and the other, browned, extended out. She was older (about sixteen), with hair that hung lightly over her wide but very tired and vacant eyes. She spoke to me with a voice far beyond her age that rilled, cool and confident, coached no doubt by eager, old men.
Her name was Anikkah, and she spoke to me as though I were her equal. She listened as though the enormity of my intellect was tantamount to the extent of my scarring. To my answers, she nodded and stared down with deep attention until finally, she asked to feel my face. Unlike children of my age, she did not snap back her hands and cringe amusedly at its alien texture but groped softly with fascination and a delicate spring of joy in her eye. When she had finished, her eyes met mine with no hint of indecision, with no revulsion, but with that womanly audacity that dared me to drink my glorious fill.
Anikkah glided from my life as fey and ethereal as she had entered it. I never found her again in that forest, but a lode now existed in this world where I knew that life, even a life such as mine, could be made better, if not great, by coming across a few brilliant souls.
But have I loved? Indeed, most could draw such a moment from any inebriated teen, but to capture the whole of another’s heart is quite a different thing. There was such a woman, and she was neither blind nor dumb, neither desperate nor needy. She neither abused nor used me but loved me as only she could.
She and I met in the dark. I enjoyed the absolute dark for reasons unrelated to my face. The muted groan of the world, the dreamlike quality of waking life as one strolls with only one’s footsteps to accompany them, and the mind that grows alight with new energy quite different from any artistic state fueled by the sun. It was in the dark I found her nearly luminescent in her paleness, sitting fearless as I strolled by. Save for the time, our first meeting was mundane to all else save us two lovers. It was all so nauseatingly straightforward. I did not rise from a great heap of leaves in an attempt to startle her; nor did I grow enamored of her and strive to dedicate all my waking hours for her forgiveness and eventual submission; nor did she struggle towards me, obviously shaken by some grotesque vision in the dark. “I can only imagine the horror if you came to me for protection,” I did not say. I did not shock the group of hooting and hollering men who followed her hunched and solitary walking through the night, nor did she fall in love with a man, wreathed in dark, who tried as long as he could to prevent her seeing him while she loved his ever-retreating shadow. No, it was simple, mundane to all but us who felt the enormity of it settle heavily on our hearts.
Greta, whom I saw in golden wreaths of lacy sunlight, was a very small woman and thin. Her lips often spread into a horizontal line as she listened. Her hair was red, her eyes were green and brilliant, and her skin was always flawless, no matter how much had wasted away. She had pale, pink fingers and purplish nailbeds, a sweet thinking silence that was broken by an eager offering of morsels to my very curious appetite, and a small, frail body which I thoughtlessly crushed despite my rather average size. She pouted quietly when I was a brute and glared through pink, puffed eyes when she cried.
In some ways, Greta was naïve. She could not believe that old women would jog uselessly away from me or that the very religious whispered prayers when I hunkered down in the pews. Discovery for her, however, was a joyous thing, and she would laugh with realisation that a thing so odd could be so conclusively true.
You see, my impoverished heart had foolishly stockaded itself before growing slothful in its assured security, which was then knocked insensate and mewling when its battlements were breached. My lonely lifetime of bitter pride became a glorious decade of love, avowal, and thrilling monotony. She was tickled by my stories and was astounded at Chester’s profile. She hid her laughs beneath her palm as I bandied about with my regular course of characters, but otherwise, our pain, our happiness needs no explanation, for it is quite indecipherable from yours. This is, after all, the thoughts of a disfigured man and not the reflections of mundane love.
It was all a matter of course until her inquisitive soul wandered into some ugly quagmire, and she was irrevocably afflicted by some strange malady that an unsurprisingly incompetent train of doctors were unable to heal. We came to that eventual moment where she and I were forced to prepare for her untimely end.
She always remained beautiful though there was less of her and less of her smiles but plenty of awkward pangs in her head, her belly, and my heart. I denied her nothing. When the sun became a harsh belligerent on the sensitive surface of her skin, I, unprotesting, sat with her in the shade. When she was worn by the mere act of waking and could not move from our bed, I remained with her inside, hidden away, and when all sounds became an irritant, I barked away any and all strangers that wandered close. Love, in its awful and revealing power, has a perverse habit of establishing us in our rightful roles. What use, after all, is this flimsy pride if it keeps a man from the woman he loves? Let me be a hermit, a leper, a coward, and her with me always humming in the dark.
And when we came to that sad, eventual end of starched hospital sheets and awful hours where she often slept and I sat alone, she apologised to me. She apologised! She was guilt-ridden (that strong woman) to have caught me up in what would only be a sad and difficult end. My crude face accompanied her to the very end—like a demon loving her sapped and sapping vitality—and she apologised to me. There is not and never will be a woman like her again.
I’m on the cusp of my senior years now, where I expect to become a hobbling mass of flesh haunting the world from the shadows. I will die wretched in dark loneliness, but until then, I will live as I have always lived. You will all love and age and give life before dying, and I will be here, in the shadows, with dark, sunken eyes. You will see me crooked and bent (I expect to live a very long life), and you will feel haunted by me as though I had traded my face to live eternally in spite of all of you.
It is a joy that appeals to only me, and it is a small consolation for the loss of Greta. I know there are some of you who wish you could untie the knots of your gut when I come near and some who wish you could replace my many lost friends, but I am sorry to say I want your panicked grin and not your calm, conciliatory smile. I hate none of you, though my words are sharp and often bitter, and life without Greta would be pointless without you all. I must warn you, however, that my grim, mocking tone and my strange, boding habits will be here as long as I. Don’t beg me to rid them, they are all I have left from my life before, and I will take them to my grave. Until then, diligently check dark corners, and when I seem nowhere near, be unafraid but always on guard for me to jump from the dark and laugh as you scamper away.
Samson writes stories with little consideration of how it affects others. Please comment below, find out more about the author, or consider donating a sum to this magazine as thanks for this experience.