Click for Part 2 in the left navigation bar. This story was originally written as a monologue but without the off-stage listener of this version. That version is in the posts for “Spared Parts” that are also available in the navigation bar.
I am acting like a docent giving you the history of a masterpiece. I ought to be charging you a fee. That precious object you are holding is my Cinderella’s slipper. If only Cindy would have danced with me, romanced the night away, turned a taxi into a pumpkin carriage. Instead of being like Cinderella and the prince it was more like Dodi Fayed and Lady Diana’s tunnel smash up, all blood and guts, glitter and gold…
—Don’t laugh. It’s not at all funny, really. The original is a horror story as well, the version they hid from kids. In the uncensored version, Cinderella’s sisters–the envious bitches–cut off their own toes and heels to fit their bloody trotters into the dainty, diaphanous slipper. Then the crows, attracted by the smell of blood, pluck out their impostor’s lying eyes.
But all that ugliness is wiped away when that marvelously wrought comb of jade and gold glides through your lovely hair, like a royal boat on the Tames or the Nile, or a dove gliding through the mists of a silken waterfall, drawn to the fragrant aura of your beauty, the light, the canopy, the cascade of stars and spray that I want to dwell in forever—.
Oh, shit. I just talk that way sometimes. I am a poet and I know it–you know the rest.
We’ve both have had a rough ride getting here, I bet. You know, put through the grater by friends and family. From middle school through high school, I was an easy target for ridicule and pity. I had a toad’s complexion but lacked an amphibian’s elegance in water–or anywhere else for that matter, except perhaps a doctor’s waiting room. My skin was a bloody mess, raw with flecks of pus, the caked canvas and pocked palate of every dermatologist in town. During visits I was a compliant guinea pig, but I managed to anonymously slash the leather chairs in one doctor’s office, poetic justice for the oozing mess he had left me with. Every day I had to force down a small bucket of foul potions and pills. I puked my guts out at least once a week in the school cafeteria, raising gasps of disgust from even the lady teachers.
Eventually, sunlight itself was forbidden because it activated something even more toxic in the medications. I became a night owl, a prowler of the dark streets and alleys, a nightstalker, a connoisseur of the architecture of shadows and bushes–the arch of spaces that reveal while they conceal—.
Reveal the princess, conceal the froggy prince.
I was seething with envy, anger, and bitterness—I exuded it like a toad exudes a numbing, delirious poison, or how a venus fly trap becomes a wet, succulent, pink landing pad, fatally fragrant to draw the mite laddies into its embrace, then the green eye shuts, shutters in pleasure, its lashes clasped tightly like tiny green crustacean claws—
No, I never did anything violent, it was all for the show.
Yes, my job is a little strange. At work, I feel a kind of nostalgia–maybe for a prenatal place where all the loves and fears we anticipate while awaiting our entrance into the world are still faceless and mute, like many of the patients are before they get our product. Shattered windshields, antipersonnel mines, industrial accidents, birth defects. Not much marketing required. It’s steady work. Faces, after all, are standard enough that facial prostheses fit the assembly line production model– even if each one eventually has to be customized by a clinical cosmetologist. Aestheticians they call themselves, and I buy that hook line and sinker. If the recession every hits the store I’ll buy up all the inventory myself— All right, it’s a prosthesis fabrication plant really, not a retail storefront, but to me it’s the store.
I know I talked about her last time too. Don’t be jealous. Not to rub it in, but if there had been no Cindy, there’d be no you listening to this. I wouldn’t spend my free nights, my duckets, my very vital forces this way.
It wasn’t a heart crushing blow of love at first sight like in the movies. She grew on me. She could have been a bundle of stereotypes about exotic foreign women, petite, cute but sexy, glasses, waist-length hair that looked like it was drawn by a computer graphics utility—so clean and shinny that it couldn’t be part of the natural world. You wanted to touch it to see if it were real or the latest offspring of the mating of Redmond with Hollywood. She had a few blemishes, a pimple on her right cheek and a tiny scar on her upper lip that looked like she’d been biting her nails and a sliver crescent of pearly nail had stuck there–a unique lunar beauty mark.
Once at work, I watched her comb her hair, bent from the waist, her hair dangling just above her open-toed black satin pumps, her whole being wafting jasmine and something dark, foreboding, and impeccably clean. I imagined her regaling each part of her body, caressing, perfecting–nestling the part, like a diamond in a silver fitting in the diadem known as Cindy—
No of course, Cindy isn’t her real name. You don’t need to know, do you.
I loved working knowing she was nearby. Sometimes I go into shipping, where lines of noses, ears, and lips, curves of chin or cheek are lined up for individual wrapping before a shipment is filled. Then I’d scoop them up into a box, ready to tell anyone that asked (no one ever did) that they’d been knocked out of order on the previous shift. Then I sort them again with my naked eye by color, gender, and size, before I packed the orders, although even I had to double check the cheek parts by using the serial numbers. The cheek parts are the most irregular. Sometimes the defects aren’t even noticeable by an untrained eye but they have to be found and the offending part cast out into the eternal fires. Very touchy-feely. I’d be there for hours and see nobody –or at least no whole body, just fingers, facial parts, maybe a whole hand–never a whole face–just fleshware.
What I enjoyed most was helping out in the lab. We would place large slices of the parts in round bottomed vessels, heat them beyond red to the edge of blue-white with Bunsen burners. The gases condense in a glass bulb that cradles the impurities. It always mesmerized me. I’d feel like, the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. You remember—
Yeah, that’s right Mickey fuck face Mouse.
Well, the prosthetics lab is all organic chemistry– but still its alchemy, human essences, ideal forms implicated in prolific imperfections, defects. I sometimes daydream about what the lab will look a decade from now. It’ll be easier to clone the parts from cells, like in Blade Runner, living works of art, immortal and yearning to be undetectable from flesh that bleeds and dies.
No, I don’t need you to do any of that—Just what you are already doing.
I am surprised that a lady of your experience would resort to stereotypes. In a porno flick I would be pulling out whips, or putting on your panties, or threatening you with elephantine sexware. What could be more stereotyped? Bore-ing! That’s what sex is in the animal kingdom you know, boring, stereotyped. Not quite mechanical really, but an interminable melodrama of juices and bruises and unseen climaxes, a soap opera screenplay written by an hack, but instead of soap, he’s selling genes, chromosomes, mitochondria, self-perpetuation, eternity. No way, baby, it’s got to be individualized, personal, some creativity, for god’s sake–it’s got to be me.
Cindy. I thought of her as my nose-chin girl. Even away from the plant, I would see her thumb, her right ear, her dimple, or that thin ruby crescent moon beauty mark on her lip appear over a TV commercial, or on a billboard. My hand brushed against Cindy’s pinkie and then we were pressed together by crowds, and in one wonderful microsecond I wasn’t sure if the flank I pressed against was Cindy’s or if it belonged to the redhead in front of me who was clinging on for balance with her hand almost interlaced with ours, mine and Cindy’s. She never suspected that the train where I accidentally on purpose ran into her took me ridiculously out of the way from my apartment.
The night I found that golden boat, the wandering diadem you are sweeping through your mane, I spent the evening in the International District, going into a half dozen shops, and peered into dozens of others, looking at particular objects of beauty, jewelry, glasswork, fine silks, a diary bound in red leather and delicately, ingenuously, embossed in gold with the figure of a dragon devouring its tail; an old woman holding an empty bowl, another an unfolding rose engulfing a globe.
Among the objects was the masterpiece you hold, sitting on a black velvet stand, the rising full moon behind me causing the gold thread down its spine to splay soft beams of reflected glory, to cascade –just like this my dear–over all the other pieces of jade work. The sight filled me with radiant warmth, a thrill kindled from the moment I stepped in front of that window. The guy who was locking up must have thought for a second that I was a stickup man. I like to think my thick lenses give me a serious scholarly look, but these cheeks look like they’ve been dragged over a gravel road—
No need to flatter me. Nobody else notices the symbolically innocent blue eyes, just the moon-craters on the jowls and the dirty blond, weather-beaten flag of a curl on my forehead.
That longing for Cindy drove me back to the desperate measures of my teenage years. For weeks I shadowed her at a distance. One day, I followed her into a grocery store. I thrilled to seeing her breath mist over as she reached over the open freezer bin to get a bag of vegetables—that warmth kindled all over again. I ducked around the corner so she would see me standing there transfixed and in what I hoped was an imperceptible shutter.
When I caught up with her in produce, she was talking to a black guy in a red baseball cap and matching coat and shoes, a hip-hop dandy. You know the type.
She held a pale jade green melon in her hands and pressed it tenderly at points as if to shape it, like a baby’s soft, unformed skull, before sniffing it and handing it to him. His fingers spread around it like a tarantula’s legs around a pure ostrich egg. Her intimacy with this man who was so unlike me was an insult that made my gorge rise. He seemed perfectly perplexed by the melon, gave it a tentative squeeze and a cautious sniff before he absent-mindedly nodded thanks to her, and dropped the honeydew on his cart rack with clanking brutality. She walked off, calmly enough, toward the dairy case and he bumped his cart against a table where he was obviously trying to determine about the differences among its five or six kinds of potato. I exhaled a deep breath in relief.
She left, I followed—.
Yes, I know they call it stalking on CSI. Eventually she stopped to pet a grey cat sitting on the porch of a two-storied yellow row house. A willow grew close to the side of the house and a burst of hydrangeas stretched adoringly toward the back windows. I knew that in the dark that would be the best seat in the theater. I tracked back around the corner, sat on a bench by the bus stop and propped my feet on a newspaper vending machine to roll myself a cigarette, another forbidden fruit from my high school days.
I visited her often, without her knowing. If it was still daylight, I’d sit there on the bench and watch that ole boy shooting hooky again—. Oh, the boy is the part of me that peeps out from the mirror to see if it is safe to come out and play, to show one more bit, any tiny fragment, of a face—. Yes, it is a funny way of thinking of it; like the tinniest Russian doll glued inside myriad layers of its own likeness. The more I would sit there, the more about him kept coming out. When I’d think of her, the moment I saw her bent over coming her hair, totally oblivious to my presence, I’d just feel better.
Oh, lots of shit. As you might imagine, my parents weren’t the understanding type. My father beat anything that moved, including the dog. I remember him treating Mom’s poodle like it was being interrogated at Abu Garaib, holding the animal like a linty rag and slapping it front and back hand, like in an old flick about the foreign legion, the slap of dishonor. Sometimes after Mom left he’d disappear for what I now know were long treks in search of sex and a brawl or two at some bar before coming home, turning on the electricity and brewing himself a pot of coffee that smelled like heaven descending in the kitchen, spreading warmth from the electric stove and the resplendent canopy of light from the ceiling’s bare bulb. The sound of the percolator really catches your attention after hours of sitting in the dark with nothing moving on its own power except the other kids and my wind-up alarm clock.
Sometimes, before the first cup kicked-in, he would collapse on the kitchenette table, folded over like a discarded accordion, or a fallen angel. In about 15 minutes, you could almost taste the bitter smoke from the charring aluminum percolator. I would sneak by him, turn off the burner, and steal a few sips of bitter brew from his dirty coffee mug—. No I’d have never dared to think of pouring a cup for myself.
Oh, ha, ha, the electricity being off. Easy to explain, hard to understand. You see my father and the power thing were really weird. I mean, literally, he had a power thing. Before he’d leave, whatever time of day and whether we were still pleading against it or not, he’d open the padlocked electrical switch box and pull the main lever down with a flip and everything would come to a stop — a strange silence would descend over everything, only a few clicks and gurgles from the Frigidaire in its final death throws. The lock snaps, and he’d be out the door.
This somehow strangely energized us, as though our metabolisms were trying to compensate for the total dampening of ambient energy. Jenny and Carey and me would be there running around the house and yard until dark like frightened farm fowl, doing something or the other that we had decided would be fun. Next day, after daybreak, we’d pull our clothing on and comb out our hair, and wash as well as was tolerable with cold water in a cold house. We’d make our way to school where was always light and heat. We never missed school unless one of us had a black eye, or some other bruise that showed and might draw attention.
At the end of the school day, we head back toward home like we were in a funeral march, knowing we’d be feeding ourselves out of a dark, almost vacant refrigerator with the smell of moldy rubber wafting from the door flung full open so that the light from the candle we’d bring from the kitchenette table would reach fully into its eerie recesses, like a hunter cleaning a kill by candlelight. We worshiped that candle, almost literally.
There was never any discussion about the candles that he always tossed out to us before he’d leave, the same way he’d dump some dried dog chow in a bowl to overflowing for whatever miserable canine he hadn’t kicked into cripplehood yet. The smarter ones had more self-preservation instinct than of loyalty. Like Mom, the smart ones ran off. Mom had left in July, but we treated it like autumn. We carved a Jack o’ Lantern out of a small half-ripe watermelon that we’d eaten the bitter flesh out of. Pretty creative in a creepy way. A little stub of candle caused the snagged teeth we had carved to gnaw on the gray laminate kitchen table and dark walls–enough light to show the green and white linings of the incisions in the melon– like exsanguinated fat and flesh– under the thick green and white skin. Years later, after watching the film Castaway on cable television, I cried like a baby for the rest of the night, remembering this little homage to Mom.
Continued in Part 2