the faceless man and his broken wife
"Matty, please wake up."
No, I think, still in the void of my thoughts. Dead people don't wake up.
"Matty, the pastor and his wife are here. You should come talk to them."
"Mom." Shiloh enters my blank world with a calculated rumble and crash. If we were in my room, she'd lean against the doorframe with a half-smirk curling her upper lip, and mom would say something along the lines of "Don't look at me with that tone of voice, young lady," which is lame and clique but she doesn't know any better. Shi would smirk more. But we aren't in my room. We are in a blank space, where nothing but the sentences our thoughts put into order exist. This isn't the real world. This is safe.
"Don't look at me with that tone of voice, young lady."
I sigh against my will. So maybe some things still happen according to the real world in this fantasy of mine.
No. It isn't a fantasy. This is all there is. My fantasy is real, and the real is fantasy. Of course.
"Come on, Matty. I know you're awake. Sleeping people don't sigh in frustration like that." A steady force rocks me back and forth, and the illusion starts to crackle and shiver as I become aware of the blanket rubbing against my skin, the chilled draft from the cracked window, my mother's fingers splayed across my shoulder. But I can imagine that, can't I? I can imagine touch. I can imagine cold. I can imagine voices.
This isn't real.
But it is.
"Please, Matty." She never pleaded with me before like this. It was always a command, because she's my mother and that's a mother's responsibility--to direct her child. But now her voice changes: she softens, she begs, she grovels.
My skin crawls and itches like I need to shed like a snake. Worse than nails on a chalkboard.
It is shameful.
But it isn't real.
Shiloh speaks again. "Mom. They said they don't have to see him. Marcia sees him at the counseling center every week anyways; it's not like he's dropped off the edge of the planet."
Marcia. The woman who sits at the reception desk, with long blonde hair, blue eyes, a crisp cut smile, and a dimple centered on her chin. She always wears some reddish-purple color she says is mahogany but the rest of the world knows it's simply an atrocity to the eyes of others.
She isn't real either. She doesn't exist in this world. The counseling center...what was that? It doesn't exist either.
Not even I do.
Because I am dead, remember?
"Don't meddle, Shiloh Catherine. This is the polite thing to do."
"You sure? Politeness would be letting the poor guy sleep. Politeness would be not forcing him out of bed. Politeness would be keeping our 'beloved past and his wife' from seeing his pathetic mess."
Score one to Shiloh. I wince although everything she says is completely true. Some people are just blessed with no tact whatsoever. Shiloh has tact; she just chooses not to use it.
God bless her blackened little soul.
"Shiloh. Can't you just let me handle this, for once."
"I don't understand why, mom? Leave him alone!"
"But they have to see he's doing better!"
A silver crack waterfalls across my blank world. Something I never created.
Something I'm destroying.
"But he's not!"
"He should be!" Her voice breaks, and you can hear every time she's wept until her voice was raw in that strangled syllable. "He should be."
The blank world, my fantasy of reality, shatters into a millions fragments, and I open my eyes.
Mom, sitting on the edge of my bed, has rimmed eyes and black traces of her tears scattered down her skin. Shiloh leans against the doorframe with rimmed eyes skillfully hidden under heavy mascara and dark eyeliner, dressed from head to toe in black. Not in mourning, she says, but as a fashion statement. A fashion statement of death.
It hits me like a bullet to the head. A trigger clicks by my ear. Brain death occurs. I want back into my blank world, where I don't remember anything like this or have murmurs tickle the inside of my ear, like a seductive murderer. Please, I cry silently. My eyes can't close from how much I remember. It's cutting off all functional thought. Inside, I claw at my consciousness and cry "Please. Let me back in. I promise to forget."
This couldn't be real.
Mom helps me sit up in bed. "Thank goodness. Can you tidy up a little? Not much, just a different t-shirt?"
I look down at myself and see a chibi-like Darth Vader stare back at me. "Come to the Dark Side," he tells me asthmatically, "we have cookies."
I shake my head to clear the remnants of the fake world from the crevices of my mind. That isn't real. This isn't real. The blanket wrapped around my feet like shackles isn't real. My mother, my sister aren't real.
Nothing is real.
Mom watches me with worry as I sit blankly. One hand sneaks up toward mine, but every time she's close enough to touch my skin, it skitters back.
She's afraid of me.
I nod lifelessly.
I'll do what you want. Just leave me alone.
Marcia the counseling center reception lady and her faceless husband the pastor sit awkwardly on our lumpy couch when mom ushers me out. Of course, he doesn't actually have no face. He just has no name. Or maybe he does. I never remember; it doesn't matter to me anyway. But he has no face because he has no name, because what is a person without a name? A painting that moves. A statue that breathes.
A farce. A paradox.
I pull down the only t-shirt mom had deemed acceptable and nod without emotion in their direction. Marcia waves, like she's happy to see me and wants me to wave just as enthusiastically back, while her husband gives me a gentle smile that I suppose he means to be soothing and kind.
Seeing his blurred out face again is like ripping duct tape off a stab wound.
I settle into the recliner on the far side of the room, as far away from the smiling couple as possible, and mom sits in the other. She smiles back at them, but her face is frozen with fakeness and they know it. I envy Shiloh, who's lurking in the hallway, contemplating whether tis nobler to run or to rescue me. I envy dad, who probably doesn't even know our house has been invaded by religious space aliens.
I wish I was dead. Because people don't come to talk to dead people. They don't dig down into the grave, crack open the coffin, and inspect the person for signs of life. Of course they don't. Because they're dead.
All my problems would be solved if I were dead. I'm sure of it.
But I'm not.
I'm sure I look a sight. I haven't shaved in three days. I haven't showered in a week. Even to me, my hair smells funny, and it probably looks even worse. I'm so tired my arms feel like trailing limp on the floor, and I lean against the seat like it's the only thing that can hold me up. Marcia's eyes twitch between mom and I with worry, but she masks it all with a bright smile.
The man without a face says something to me, but all I can hear are mumbled out words. A statue can't talk. A painting can't have a voice. So why would I hear him speak?
Marcia turns to mom. "Is he still not responding?"
Wrong thing to say at the wrong time. Mom's lip wobbles, but Marcia doesn't catch it because she stills it almost instantly. "Not quite yet," she says cheerfully, "but Diana says she think he'll start speaking up soon." Mom didn't understand Diana's view on the word soon. Soon was a relative word. It changed every moment. One day, soon meant by lunchtime. The next, it meant within the next year or so. Soon was not a fixed date.
Mom said it like it was.
Marcia takes Mom's hand and squeezes it like a boa constrictor in love. "Oh, Ann. We're praying for you, dear. And for Matthew. I know he has it hard."
People think that not talking means not meaning. On the contrary, the less you talk the more you hear. It's a common fact of nature. That's why dead people hear everything. They never talk.
I want to hear everything. Maybe now that I'm awake, I won't miss anything like I did before. The unspoken pleas. The worries below flesh level. The heart that stops beating too early.
So that's why I'm dead.
Because dead people don't talk.
The faceless man now has a voice because he talks to my mother instead of me. He doesn't touch her or shake her hand or get anywhere near her, but the look in his eyes envelops her and I in a spiritually metaphorical hug.
Gasping for air, I look up at the ceiling and wriggle out of his imaginary grasp.
"We just want to know that we're here for you all," he says softly. He does everything softly; it's pathetic. "The first Christmas without a loved one is always the hardest; we know." He glances significantly and sadly at his wife.
Do they? Does he? Marcia has a face. She has a voice. She has a name. She's imperfect, because she's lost someone she should've kept. She's so broken up inside and I can only see it because all her shatter pieces line up with mine, although her's are painted gold to distract other eyes. That man has nothing. He has no face. He has no voice. He has no name. He's a painting, a portrait, a masterpiece. He's perfect. Whole on the inside.
He can hardly know anything about this.
Sometimes I wish I could see his face. I want to know what a perfect person looks like. I want to know whether he really is perfect, or if his masterpiece is really just a perfect illusion. Because if it is, I want to learn. I want to see how he does something so terrifyingly amazing. I want to be as fake as he is.
But at the same time, I never want to become a faceless person like him. I want to be real, I want to be genuine, I want to be broken. I don't want to be like Marcia, gilding over all the jagged edges. I want to embrace the fractures.
But to do that and not be destroyed by the pain, I have to be dead.
The faceless man and his broken wife are leaving. He walks over to my chair, his "repent or thou shalt be doomed" face softened in compassion, and my throat tightens like I might throw up across his neatly ironed suit. "See you soon, Matthew," he says, clapping a hand on my shoulder. I wondered if he meant soon like Diane did: relative, or defined? "Have a merry Christmas."
Oh yeah. That was number one on my to-do list.
Dead people don't have Christmas.
They're just dead.