Darkness slow and deep, quiet, still, unmoving, unbreathing in a dark, sugary sleep: no pain, no joy, no sight, no sound, no taste, I remain floating, distant. I shall not wake up. I shall stay in this cotton-wool world, its soft-sleepy music lifting me up through the roof, through the banisters, the rooms up above, through the entire weight of the building, its steeple. I shall keep rising, like a froth of cloud.
I want to see my face, my not-face, my face he’s snatched from me. I want to know how much damage a cup of liquid can do, a Venti-sized, green-and-white plastic cup of liquid, all that burning afterward, the hot needles of burning in each pore of my cheek, my forehead, my throat, breasts, stomach. I thrash and snatch at the bandages, so they tie my hands, for my own good, they tell me, and put me upon this cloud. I’ll stay here in this cotton-wool cloud, see them when I can open my eyes better. The important thing is, they say, you still have eyes, we can save your eyes. Now, sleep.
I shall not face it, I have no face to face it with. He’ll come and finish me, I want to tell them, no use these tubes and covers and kindly voices. He has erased me, I don’t exist.
* * *
Two months since I lost my face.
You’re doing well, they say, you’ll go home next week. And don’t worry about him, he’s in jail, you’re far out of his reach.
I have seen it. I’ve seen the black mask. I’ve seen one eye glued shut, and the other, unblinking pupil. I have seen my teeth, no lips, two gaping holes instead of my nose. The head, peeling strips of skin. All the golden hair, gone. Nothing a wig and some make-up can’t fix, they say, you’ll see. I throw things at them. I throw words. Bad words. I want to throw the bed at them, the room.
Shush, honey, they say, hush, we’ll bring you back your face. Promise. They pat my face with creams and oils, with words and smiles, with soft looks, with the love of my parents. They bring me my dog, who knows me. Licks my face. Tickles me. Makes me laugh. Laugh. Laughter.
* * *
Look! How beautiful you look, Frieda, darling, they say, holding a mirror. Two years gone, but I have a face.
I look as they bid, and I see their hands, their laughter, their love, their tears, their sleepless nights, their hands holding mine, their starched white uniforms, their lab coats, the stethoscopes, the bedpans, the tubes, the jars of ointment. Two years.
I have eyes, I have a nose, I have lips, I have cheek, chin, throat. I have hair. Not my hair, but still, hair. The main thing is, they have given me a face.
No hiding now. I smile, and they smile with me. You’re beautiful, they tell me, and I say, yes, thank you, so are you.
Damyanti’s short fiction appears or is forthcoming at Griffith Review, The First Line, Ducts.org by New York Writer’s Workshop, and other journals in USA, UK, Singapore, and India. She’s featured in print anthologies by Twelve Winters Press, USA, and by major publishers in Malaysia and Singapore. Her one wish is to have a body double to do the chores, leaving her free to read and write fiction. She’s now wrestling with her first novel.