You see, it all started with the invention of the front-facing camera. Without that he would’ve been just fine, but Vanity had come to rest in the small circle of an iPhone 8+ (silver, he wasn’t a rose-gold kind of guy). Vanity, with her flashing bright eyes, pink cheeks and breathy whispers. She traced her fingers over his spine every day when he left the gym, proud of the way his arms barely fit into the circles of his t-shirt arm-holes.
It started out as a necessity. Social media dictates that you update every so often, so that people don’t start to forget what your face or body looks like. He hadn’t known, back then, what a simple selfie could cause.
It was a regular day when it happened. He went into the living room of his house to take the selfie because the sun shone through the front window with just the right brightness. He swiped to open the camera, and touched the spot on the glass that would turn it around. He lifted his phone high because that was supposed to be a good angle for his face, and stared straight at his phone without smiling. When he was satisfied that he’d taken the selfie at enough different angles and with the right kind of background, he started to choose the perfect one to edit and post. He swiped through, deleting the ones that made him cringe, considering others. Then he saw it. That. Was his. Face.
He sat down on the plush armchair, staring.
He considered the small hairs that didn’t quite fit into the sleek animal of his eyebrow. He noticed the way the light hit the flat panes of his cheeks and forehead. He observed his own mouth, the shape of it when it covered his teeth. The rich colour of his skin in the glass-filtered sun.
Then slowly, slowly, slowly… his face woke up. It shook itself from such a long sleep, leapt from his head and dashed away. He was so focused on the photo that it took him a whole five-minutes of facelessness to notice that something was missing.
Now, I don’t want you to imagine that it was simply the skin from his face that got up and ran away. A face is made up of much more than the skin that covers it, though that is part of the package. It would be horrible if just his skin had run away, leaving him all sinewy and boney, his teeth clattering in empty air. No, he lost much more than his skin. He lost it all, everything that made up his face. It would be hard to imagine if you didn’t see it yourself, but without a face his head looked more like the absence of something, like what you see when you rub your eyes for too long and the blackness moves and swells.
Still, even with the distraction of his newfound state, he found it hard to tear his gaze away from the photograph. He wondered if it had been what scared his face away. Or if his face had leapt through the phone glass to glue itself so seamlessly on the stranger he saw there.
Without a face to hold his eyes, he found it easy to take them out and put them in the pocket of his jean-jacket. He needed to take a walk, to clear his mind. He didn’t want to stare at the photo anymore (I guess it didn’t occur to him to delete such a perfect selfie, or to throw his phone from the top-storey of a tall building). So, he took a walk. Careful, because he couldn’t see anything now, except for the inside of his pocket.
He let his feet guide him by muscle memory through the suburban streets. If he had lived in a city, he would have been in big trouble, but his town was almost always quiet, barely a car passed him and if they noticed something wrong with his face, they only looked away to keep their eyes on the road. He could hear squirrels twisting their way up trees. The pollen in the park made him sneeze. His head felt curiously light without a face.
When he finally got to the convenience store he was careful to step over the lip of the door, and he felt his way over to the slushy counter. His eyes had started rattling in his pocket, and his iPhone was getting hotter and hotter in his hand. He hoped a self-induced brain freeze would snap him back to normal, would call his face back, to warm his head up.
You see, without a face to hold the essences in, everything that makes You can start to spill out of your neck. The swelling blackness (the same kind that makes up universes) starts to think that it belongs to everyone and everything. The blackness that made up his head now started to expand and billow out around his shoulders. He was worried that the room might fill up with him and that he wouldn’t be able to squish it all back down. What if he blew the roof off? But it was no use, his face was in the wind. Just like that one word he’d chanted over and over until it lost its meaning and he could finally hear the strangeness of human sound. Oh despair!
He could hear the kindness in the shopkeeper’s voice, as his eyes rolled around and around in his pocket.
“I’m okay thanks, how much for the slushie?”
He paid and was about to depart when the shopkeeper called him back.
“You’re going to have to throw your eyes far away if you want to call all of that blackness back into you. It happened to me once. Your face will come back then.”
He nodded and left, with the tinkle of a doorbell. Would throwing away his eyes really call his face back? He could only think of one place to throw them.
At the pond, he took his eyes out of his pocket and rolled them around in one hand. He knew that once he threw them, he’d be able to see just enough to walk around town. Then his phone buzzed. Someone had liked an old post on one of his accounts. If he was going to be practically blind, he wanted to see that selfie one last time. His face crawled out from behind him quietly, to watch what he would do.
He popped his eyes back into his head, his toes at the edge of the pond, and opened his pictures app. When he looked at the photo again, his face sprang from the shadows and knocked the phone out of his hand, into the pond. The face disappeared again, and he waded out to find his phone, (thank god for waterproofing), searching the murk with his eyes. Then he caught sight of his own reflection in the pond water. The water felt more like home to him than the body reflected on the stranger he saw there. He wished for his face to come back to him now, but instead his body leapt away, like a golden retriever sent to find a duck in the pond. There was nothing left to contain him.
They say he drowned, the pond enveloping him, Vanity planting a flower where he lay. Like a letter stuffed and sent. But the truth is, it was just a small slip-up of the universe, the day Narcissus lost his face.
Artwork by Eugenia Loli