I thought he hated me because I was different, because the weeping, the laughter, the silence, of my three wretched faces, frightened him - appalled him - I was wrong. It was not that, it was how I so perfectly mirrored my mothers face, shifting, metamorphosing itself from the dark recesses of my thought onto the mortal vessel of my body, every time I would turn them to her. There was not a mirror, nor a window, to caste a reflection of my curious condition, in that dank, sorry cabin – the pitiful tomb he had built for himself – and I. The laughter and the weeping, the prying of my fingers, and the wickedness of my father’s tongue was the only thing which let me know I was a monster. With nothing to confirm or deny its truth, like my God, I threw my faith at the darkness. But, I had never, ever seen, or imagined in my wildest dreams, now exposed with such clarity, such desolating honesty, the abhorrent aberration in the altering state of my affliction.
That day, by the stream, with my mother’s ghost watching me through the cold water, I had no idea where it would take me, how I would use it – but I would, in time. It did not start easy. I rolled back onto my bottom, numb. The squawk of frenzied birds snaring my attention, I looked upstream, with horror, the rotting carcass of a deer bobbed, caught between two rocks, its body starting to decompose, bloated, the puncture marks of ravenous birds riddling its exposed hind quarters. I spat the remnants of its watery captive from my mouth, that I had been lapping up like a thirsty cat, moments before. I had to get moving, I didn’t know where… but I had to, before I ended up like that forsaken deer.
I walked naively, following my nose most of the day, my short legs making hard work of the brush and thicket, sure that I passed the same crooked trees, bent toward me as if taunting, multiple times, lost and desperate, before finally vomiting up the contents of my stomach on my chin and knock knees, pathetically, as I hunched over, clutching my guts. I dropped down, writhing. I was sure this was the end for me. Albeit a short life, it was a miserable one. I said to myself, there, as I lay on my back, staring into the twilight of the day, there is no God, no good God, who would create a child like I, and damn him to not even but one day of joy.
There was a snuffling at my head, I tucked my face into my knees timidly, sobbed, forgetting the soft features I had inherited at daybreak.
“My God, are you ok? What’s a young girl doing out here?...”
Came a voice above me, through the shield I fashioned with my arms. ‘Young girl’? I puzzled at the word – but, I’m a boy. My face? My mother’s face – was it real? Do they see me – or her?
“Where’s your parents?”
I uncoiled like a beaten kitten, looked up with petrified eyes that begged mercy.
A man stood there, eyes widening
and narrowing to focus, hairy dark finger holding tightly the scruff of a canines loose neck, as the hound sniffed and huffed with agitated enthusiasm, big floppy ears falling over the side of its head like a clothe over the sides of a table.
“Are you ok? Oh, you’re… older than you first look…”
I glared at him, willingly, but there was no voice, nothing. He repeated his questioning. I tried so hard, I wanted to answer him, I screamed desperate pleas from the pit of my being, but I made no sounds, not even a grunt or moan, thus was the suffering of my affliction.
“Must be simple.”
The man said, possibly to his dog.
He took my hand in his, I followed gratefully, the hound too. A rust coloured horse stood restlessly, aged in the rain, tethered by rope attached to a tree, in front of a shoddy cart. He helped me onto the wagon, where I lay amongst the dead animals - rabbits, and a pheasant. The cart bumped on the uneven ground, the wheels squeaking on each rotation. I imagined there were mice living inside. The moon flickered behind the treeline as if the oil were running out in its lamp, till the trees gave way to open skies of stars and moon. Voices - cackles, hollering, hooting – there were people here. I sat up and peeked over the wooden side. There were definitely people here, wandering the streets, all sorts of strange shapes and sizes, some small like me, some big, wearing funny clothes. Houses here were odd too, built of brick and stone, with smoke spiralling in the air, from little shoots. Now, of course, much has changed in the world, and there is little, bar the lining of a man’s skin, which can surprise me, but back then, I could hardly believe my young eyes.
The cart trundled to a stop outside a modest grey stone building, with real glass windows and a door with a heavy handle. The man picked me out the wagon, led me inside, the dog hurried in, dropped into a straw cushion in the corner, as the door thud shut. He removed his earth encrusted boots, on one, a handle of a short blade poking from a self-stitched in sheathe. He placed them by the door, hung up a filth laden pig-hide overcoat beside. The man tore some bread, by his hairy ham fingers, darkened with the spoils of the hunt, dropped the stale morsel onto the table. I devoured it unthinkingly, as he worked up a small fire in the hearth. He poured some water into a stubby, crudely crafted pottery mug, gently placed it into my dainty fingers – took some more, poured and heated it in a metal tanker over the fire. When the tanker bubbled and steam wafted on the draft, about the room, making windows look like it had caught the fog of morning, he lifted it back out with blackened iron tongs, and tipped it into a modest bronze tub. He laid out a white linen tunic beside, as I watched excitedly, before brushing back his feathery silver eyebrows.
“Wash yourself down.”
I began to remove the burlap garments, first my shirt, over my head, then, dropping my lower half, I turned away to hide my body, and the feminine vail, which had gained me sanctuary. He sat into a homemade wooden chair. I lifted one leg over, then the other, and slipped down the inside of the wall, into the warm water. Sploshing, bathing blithely, for the first time in weeks, I ran my fingers through my hair, dark as slate, thickened by dirt, which dangled in matted strands, at my shoulders. The grime let go of my skin and scalp, whirling in the current of my puissance, gathering and sitting on the surface of the water like a vegetable broth. The man’s shadow sulked around the room. I heard his footsteps on the stone floor before I felt his forceful fingers on my head. He began to brush out the clumps of hair with his busy probing hands. I sat there, unmoving, body frozen with a crippling consternation. He took his time, getting out all the knots.
“Now, we won’t tell anyone about this, will we?” I felt his hot, putrid breath on my neck, close.
I tried, to say no, no I wont tell… no, no please don’t do this, I don’t want to - something, anything, but there was no voice. He placed his hand on the barren space at my chest. The dog whined behind, panting, and growling beneath the heavy handle of the door. The mans grip relaxed, laid-off, for a moment.
“Go and lie down!” He hammered at the hound, which sunk down, and whimpered, but resigned to stay.
I hesitated, a moment passed, every second felt monumental, as stars falling to earth, around me, with clout. I did not move, I could not.
A star landed in my lap. A sudden burst of preservation overrode passivity. I leapt from the tub, water followed me into the air with an explosive spray, as gunpower in a barrel. I caught hold of the linen tunic and took it up in my arms, holding it to my body.
The man recoiled in shock, almost tumbling back, but too soon for respite, composed himself, and instead started to make steps toward me. He jolted to an abrasive holt, stared me up and down with savagery in his eyes.
“A boy? What sort of witchcraft is this? Face of a women, body of a child boy. First, you are a simpleton, now you’re a trickster. You take me for a fool, witch?”
The over alert canine prowled back and forth the room behind him, back arched anxiously, barking into the panic. The man withdrew, snapping shut the latch above the heavy door handle, to damn me, took up a sluggish iron poker from the hearth, and in throwing himself across the room with unwieldy anger, struck the wall behind my head. I dived across the room, discarding the tunic for the short blade prized from his boot. The hound lunged at me, snapping with frenzied determination. I kicked at it, with the defenceless soles of my feet, its teeth snatched my fleshy calves and thighs. The man’s burly steps, made light work of the room, as he lumbered with raised bar. I pointed the knife outward, clasped tight at my chest. Closed my eyes, pictured my true face, my malformed faces, laughing at my misfortune, crying at the tragic shame.
A shriek. Opening my eyes, the dog cowered, tracking back with snarling fright. A clunk, as the weighty poker hit the stone floor. The man staggered back, eyes threatening to drop from their sockets.
The weeping, the laughter, it misted the room with an immobilising fear. I hurtled out of the brace position I had shrunk into and thrust frenetically with the short blade. The man, had frantically dropped to an knee, with unstretched hand toward the iron poker, bringing him conveniently inline with the blade.
It pierced the neck with an impulsive spray of warm blood. I gauged at him twice more, severing small pulpy snacks for the hound. He fell away to his back, as I continued to make lunges. A gory foam filled his mouth, as he gargled on his last forgotten words.
I stood up, kicked a chunk to the whining hound, which took it up in its mouth and scarpered back to the corner. The room was fuzzy, flashes and specks of white. Adrenaline coursed my system with an overwhelming pulse. I wilted to my knees, crawled to the hearth, contemplated climbing inside it’s cleansing inferno. I took up the mantle with my hands, used it to clamber up and pull down a tarnished mirror, which rested next to an old book of lies, and a silver snuff box, above the hearth. I sat at the mirror, naked but for the blood of my captive, my image flickered with the flame. I watched, watched as the weeping, the incessant weeping, and the laughing, the perpetual laughing, hummed a joyless anaesthetising tune. I wish all three faces would weep, so I could be free of it.
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 took the blade, and with it sliced a jagged crescent into the barren breadth of skin. A shrill shriek was let free in the room, and for the first time, I had a voice.
Original story by © Darius the Mate
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