She couldn’t help smiling.
As she walked out of what she thought to be her first date of many with a man she had just recently met while picking out gerbera flowers at the corner store where she usually only buys a bottle of water after her longer runs on Saturday mornings. He had seen her. She had seen him seeing her, and she smiled to herself knowing that she had put a little extra effort into her face-putting-on that day and she felt a little more confident with herself in her Maybelline armor, her Ulta shield, her L’Occitane cloak.
It just so happened he felt a little more confident as well after a morning work-out as he perused Men’s Health magazines, as he overheard women on the bus talking about the chiseled abs of the new action star in the new billion dollar movie that had a five dollar plot composed of twenty-wrecked cars. He had done extra abs, put extra weight on his bench press, and only ate egg whites and grapefruit for breakfast so he was pretty sure the body under the ten dollar Target graphic T-shirt was as good as it was going to get that June.
So, he said ‘hey’, and she said ‘hi’, and he said ‘can I help you?’ and she asked ‘oh, do you work here?’ and he smiled, and he said ‘no’, and he felt like an idiot, and she felt awkward, and he continued with ‘but i don’t know what else to say’ and she didn’t either so she responded with ‘okay’ and he thought about how, if he didn’t say anything else, he’d either lose out on his chance with this beautiful girl now, or he would follow her around the store like a creepy person which he really wasn’t but obviously could be if he didn’t control himself.
He said ‘can I interest you in maybe dinner sometime?’ and she didn’t really want to say yes even though she loved dinner and ‘sometime’ could just mean ‘maybe never’ but she hated first dates and so she thought to herself and finally decided that life happens every day you haven’t died yet so before she told herself to agree to the date- she nodded.
And, so the first date went well, and she walked out of the restaurant with him, telling him there would be a second date. He asked to walk her to her car, but she refused. Shaking her head no, while her voice thanked him. She kissed him, hard with soft lips, holding onto the lapels of his coat, and left him standing there, tasting her vanilla chapstick, as she walked the two blocks to her car. She didn’t look back. She was too cool for that. She assumed he stood there for moments, turned, and walked away. Or maybe he vanished. Maybe everything vanishes when she’s not looking.
A block from the restaurant and a block from the car is where she saw her.
The night was dark. The street lights lost their illumination, it seemed, before getting to the sidewalk; the cement of which was already puddled from a rain storm earlier in the night. The lady stood there in a badly fitting rain coat, or a poncho, it was hard to tell which, and she stood there, middle of the woman’s walking path. The lady’s shoulders were hunched over, her straight black hair falling down in front of her face, her arms hung loosely to her sides. The woman noticed this lady was wearing bright red, plastic, ballet-style shoes, strapped once around the ankle, with white, wet knee high socks that seemed to attract dirt every time the lady breathed. And breathed she did as she choked down sobs.
‘Are you okay?’ the woman asked, wanting no one to be sad on the same night she was over the moon from her date.
When the lady looked up, it helped none to make out her features for across her face was a surgical mask the same white as her socks. Only her eyes could be seen, bright red from crying, a broken blood vessel in the right. The lady’s skin seemed to be the same color as the streetlight but less illuminating. Veins showed behind the skin where veins laid.
‘Can I help you?’ the woman asked, prying for more information. It seemed this lady wanted to be noticed. Otherwise, why stand in the middle of the sidewalk, obstructing the pathway for people walking on the side of the road. The woman wondered if she was being too nice engaging this lady, and as she looked around the street, the block, the world, she noticed that these two females were alone. She was alone with this lady. She was all this lady had at the moment, the woman and her sorrow.
‘Am I pretty?’ The lady choked out.
The woman didn’t know how to respond. What a ridiculous question to ask when someone covers up their face with a mask. The Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees and Batmans don’t care about how handsome they are on Halloween. The women running the Tough Mudder competitions don’t fix their faces while climbing the ropes. If this poor lady in the middle of the sidewalk wanted to be seen as pretty perhaps she should first try and be seen, then fix her pretty.
“Am I pretty?” The lady asked again, but instead of being madder that she had to repeat herself, she seemed to be going madder with sorrow, forcing the woman to respond.
“Yes. Very.” The woman lied.
The lady reached up, and pulled down her mask. The horror that was behind it. The corners of her mouth that never closed for they were cut all the way back to her earlobes. Gnarled flesh which seemed to want to heal but couldn’t grasp on to the other side of the face. The woman could see every tooth in the woman’s mouth, the molars covered in blood that was watered down with saliva. She could see the muscles that strained to connect her lower jaw to her skull. And as if the reveal of the wounds also opened up her senses, she could hear the strain of the lady to hold in her spit as her tongue circled, and her throat fought against choking on the fluids of her mouth and the pieces of flesh that tried to circle down her esophagus.
“How about now?”
The woman went to scream, she opened her mouth, she took in the biggest breath of her life, and just as she gave it everything she had- the lady lashed out with a blade hidden in her fist- slicing through the woman’s cheeks. The pain was numbing, she didn’t feel the blade as much as her skin parting. She felt the steel enter her jaw, bounce off her teeth, ripping at a filling, and where her lips were once straining at the corner of her mouth in the scream, they were now in piercing pain and loose.
Her terrified cry of help and surprise got lost somewhere in her mind as her whole body turned to shock that this was happening. Another lash out with the blade on the opposite side of her face, and the woman was reaching up, trying to hold her jaw together. Her fingers slick with blood, falling into the slits in her cheek that were never there before. She couldn’t stop pushing her fingers into the side of her mouth, couldn’t process her face wasn’t whole anymore. That her mouth was a hole, was a wound, now reaching back to her ears.
Shock turned to numbness as the lady stabbed out, the blade smoothly entering the woman’s chest. She looked down, blood from her face pouring forth with saliva as she saw the handle of the knife stuck in her chest, the blade buried somewhere deeper.
And just like that, her heart, so recently filled with butterflies and new love, sprung a leak.
The woman fell to the ground where she was soon found.
She couldn’t help smiling.