This Face

3 Sep

When she was born, she arrived in an unblemished envelope. Her skin, unpuckered and unmarked by life, was smooth and comfortable. It covered all of her that needed to be covered with enough give for growth and movement. It was, as far as anything ever is, perfect.

With each day, each passing week, each time she moved and grew, she acquired a new trophy for her pains. While some faded, their memories remained. Other blemishes barely faded at all and left a permanent pattern on her body. A postcard from the past.  

She looks in the mirror and reads the postcards, examining each mark and remembering what it tells her about her life.

The vertical line set equidistant between her eyebrows is new.  A recent injury, invisible to the onlooker but drawn on her forehead, underlines the discomfort of restricted movement and a soreness that extended far beyond the specific spot where her skin has chosen to wear the memory. 

In her right eyebrow, a sparse area of hair reveals a scar she gained in childhood like a clearing in a forest shows the remains of a camp fire. The memory of the injury is one that has been planted in her mind but feels as real as anything else she can remember. When she was no more than 18 months old, a boy in her playgroup threw a wooden building block across the room. Its sharp corner connected with the thin skin covering her orbit and left a gash that bled and bled and bled. Faces do that when damaged. They bleed. The family mythology tells of a doctor for whom English was not a first language, whose panicked response upon hearing of the missile that caused the wound led to a battery of unnecessary tests to check for bleeding behind the eyes as well as the bleeding above it. Without context, a child hit with a building block is a much more serious prospect than one dented with a stray toy. Oh how they laughed.

She pulls her lips taut over her teeth to see a white line of scar tissue protrude from the lower one like an exclamation mark. She remembers this one, first hand rather than by proxy. Summer holidays. Caravan park. Jumping from the top of a set of steps used to access tourist pleasure cruise boats from the shore and landing in the sand. Laughter, freefall through the air, landing on her bottom. Her friend, calling her clumsy, said she should land on her feet and bend her knees. On her first attempt she forcefully introduced her canine tooth to her knee via her lip. Blood. Thick red drops of blood that fell from her mouth and landed in the sand, congealing into red-brown counters dotted up the beach as she ran back to her parents for comfort and first aid. By the following day, the blood counters were gone, washed away by the unrelenting tide. More than twenty years later, her lip still exclaimed her injury. 

Below her face, her neck supports  her head as it has from the day she was able to control its muscles and not rely on another’s hand to steady its weight. Creases encircle its pillar at intervals between her chin and her chest. There is no story to those individually, more the tale that a tree tells with its own rings. The tale of time passing, of lives lived and experiences earned.

A triangle of freckles extend from her clavicles, its point towards her sternum, painting a picture in pixels of summers upon summers that kissed the skin and coaxed the pigment to the surface. One day, that patch of flesh will crease and wrinkle more than any other part of her torso for its exposure to the elements. One day. Today, it it simply splotched with random dots like uncharted constellations.

She knows that when people look at her, they see something different. They see a woman, maybe pronounce her to be attractive or not, consider all her features and make a judgement about the person that resides behind the face. If they notice the crease between her brows, they won’t give a thought to the pain that put it there. They don’t see the building block or hear the laughter from a dozen re-tellings of a story she seems somehow to remember with all her senses but cannot not actually recall. Her freefall onto sand and the part of herself she left to be washed out to sea don’t make an impression. A stranger won’t count the rings on her neck or the freckles on her chest and imagine the summer suns that have blessed and burnt and blistered thin, pale skin into something tougher and more resilient. 

This face, like every other,  is a record of a life lived.


Peer review...

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