Thursday
Aug042016

Disfigurement

Glenn Shaheen


 

In orientation at my new job we go around to say where we went to college, and a bit about ourselves. Me, I went to Auburn, and I'm a Florida Panthers fan, unfortunately. Everybody laughs with politeness and ease. The guy at the end of my table stands up, and his face is twisted, malformed, like somebody tried to mold a face with clay that had gone too cold. He went to Georgia Tech, and used to work in Central America as an engineer with a private security firm until a sniper shot him in the face from a long distance. We applaud him, but he seems ashamed of it, sits down quickly. I don't work in the same department as him, or even on the same floor. He's in engineering and design, and I'm in advertising. Still, I keep bumping into him, a few times a day, and I try to smile and wave politely, but worry that he'll think I'm staring at his face. But what else am I supposed to stare at? I'm trying to be polite without connection, wave or nod because we're co-workers, we must have the same general goals of success and upward mobility. My co-worker's face is mostly fine—he has two real, working eyes, a mouth, a noselike hole where his nose should be. It's only mildly scary. Once on the train I sat across from a young woman. She was very pretty, too pretty to be on a train from New Orleans to Tallahassee. Our seats faced each other, and my eyes settled on her face even when I was trying to look at the blur of trees outside. At first she smiled, but it kept happening, my eyes kept landing on her face. She got angry, shifted in her seat and tried to look at her phone. I looked away, but had to look back to see if she was still angry, and she looked back at me just as I looked back at her, and that happened four times before she told me to stop, she'd have me thrown off the train. I was sad that I upset her, I didn't mean to, but I was also angry that she saddened me by becoming upset. I got off at the next stop, Biloxi, and let the train leave without me. It was morning in Biloxi, just before seven, and the streets were empty between the abandoned buildings. The train whistled away and I felt the tethers pull free from my chest. Somebody had left a child's stuffed giraffe in front of the train station, next to a tall black ashtray that contained only dust and a dried piece of gum.