The words of my father whispered on the wind. An ugly son. Am I such a devil? Cold, stark pit of the night overtook the rattling tin of uninvited thoughts. I fell into slumber despite the thin layer of naked grasses piercing my back as rusted nails. The wind broke from whisper, my father’s words shouted me awake, bolt upright, from the belly of the howling gale. An ugly son.
I followed the heel of his worn leather boots, as obedient dog. He slithered through the forests labyrinth of fallen leaves and watchful trees. They cowered at the sharpened axe gripped threateningly by the handle, finger grooves personalised by years of labour. My father, the woodcutter.
My body shook uncontrollably, a petty rain fell like poisoned arrows, as the dim light of the moon painted sinister shadows on the forest floor. I dragged in handfuls of debris to break up the monotonous expanse of hard ground. Why did he leave me here? An ugly son. Ten years old, with no voice of my own, just the relic of a thousand faces. I could not ask him myself, just stare – stare with my mothers’ eyes. An ugly son. But, but… he loved her so, I know it, I watched as the tears carved a skeleton of chalky roots from the earth laid on his cheeks, as he cast the last shovel of dirt on her peasant grave, dug behind the log cabin, where I was birthed, and she died.
He sat me on the stump of a great tree, felled long ago, when he still smiled, when I kicked unknowingly in my mother’s womb, before he looked upon my wretched face. I closed my eyes, as I listened to twigs snap and leaves crumble beneath his feet, behind me, as he circled to my back. He could not even bring himself to look at me whilst he did it. Why didn’t he do it? I cannot be sure if he even planned on swinging the axe he carried, so menacingly, with him. I am not sure of anything anymore. I squeezed my eyelids tightly, with a fragilely put forward defiance, begged for it to be quick, I did not dare turn to look at him, lest he strike me across the face with the back of his unforgiving hand, or worse, look at me with that sickened stare. I made silent pleas to my God... to do it, end my pain, but nothing came. When I finally opened my eyes, he was gone.
The mornings warmth caressed my cheek with the kindness of an old friend and heraldry of a brave knight – the knight which slain the night - vanquished, for now. I pressed my tender palms onto the bed of moss and bark I had curled up on, and sculled myself to my feet. My head felt swollen and drowned by the sodden atmosphere of the forest floor. I sucked at the moss for a modest drop of sustenance, but it was unjustifiably cruel - and spat nothing but more craving, and a mouthful of creatures and dirt. I circled where I stood, but the trees might as well have been bars on a jailhouse cell.
I stumbled about hopelessly, tripping on the dead carcasses of fallen trees, scratching, and bruising my guiltless bare feet. I became so disorientated, I barely noticed the land between my toes fall away, before I tumbled, rolling head over heels, like a dropped log. Gratefully, I bundled in a heap at the bottom, more frustrated than hurt, but my annoyance subsided when I realised I had come upon a stream - babbling with the vigour of an energetic young stallion, galloping the confines of the pen - caught between the walls of a shallow ravine. I hurried to the waters edge dipped my entire face below, slurping like a wild beast. As I drew myself from a feverish quenching, I hovered, staring, six eyes blinking erratically, in the reflection. My face… my faces. An ugly son.
Why am I weeping? The face on my right side, weeping, always weeping. His sorrow can never be pacified. Its features contorted by years of needless agony, hanging like melted wax. His sobbing ever dampens the day. Though, even his tears cannot douse the infernal laughter of the face which hangs on my left, laughing, always laughing. His crippled lips stretched gaping from the twisted hilarity – his eyes wild like the frantic hind legs of a distressed hare, in sights of a falcon. Six autonomous eyes, three independent noses, two self-serving mouths - in between, an empty stretch of skin, membrane for the canvas of unspeaking words, the eyes above, restful, emotionless. My face. My faces. An ugly son.
I submerged myself below the water, gushing. Drowned out the weeping and laughter. Held my breath. I pictured her face - my father, he kept me locked up for so long, hidden away in that decrepit cabin, as the winters withered it away, I can barely picture another face, just his - just hers. I felt something morphing inside me, as if somebody had added hot water to a cold tub. I had experienced this in the past, usually before my father flew into one of his rages. I withdrew my head from the stream. Air penetrated obliging lungs. I snapped opened my eyes, peered startled at the reflection, heart striking with the force of my fathers axe on innocent timber. There she was, dancing in the ripples, the face of my mother.
Original story by © Darius the Mate
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