Will You Mar Me?
by Jimmy Chen
A soldier comes home, only his face is no longer a face, but left over slabs that belong to flying shrapnel. Dressed in full uniform, his beady eyes looking out of the pink jagged smear of what's left of his face. His wife, a modest looking woman, looks away. I don't know their names, only that they were, as described by the New York Times, "a young couple from Illinois."
A young couple from Illinois. An old couple buried next to each other. Two kids fucking in a car. A prenuptial, a mortgage, a war. One plus one is two, of bodies. One plus one is one, in love. One plus one is three, with child.
This child is me. Another photograph is taken. My parents are at the park, a glimmering lake behind them. It's autumn and some dried up leaves are by their feet. My mother's dress is perfectly white on the outside, though there must have been grass stains on the bottom. I think about how the air might have smelled that day, or if there were any sounds in the sky--an airplane above maybe, or a bird's call. He stands next to her, jaw clenched tightly and looking away from the lens. In the photo her eyes are shiny with water and they catch the sun.
I was empty inside so I filled it, one leaky drop at a time. I lived in public libraries, running my fingers along books--their spines like silent piano keys. The world of words was dead, airless. I went to the recruiting office and signed the forms. Across the lot, I found you on the second floor balcony pushing your cart from room to room. "Housekeeping," I heard you say into each closed door before you knocked, a syncopated conversation with rectangles. You made a thousand beds you never slept in. You dreamed a thousand dreams you never lived. One day I asked you for dinner and you said yes.
Face the nation. Face the day. Face with no eyes, only two mucousy wounds squinting at the pale day. I wear my uniform to the photo-shoot. The kind lady keeps her gaze on the floor and gives us a discount. You look lovely in your wedding gown. My love, I am still who I am. Please believe. I still want to fall asleep to the sound of you flossing in the bathroom, plucking the strings of your mouth-banjo. I want to wake up with my old face, the one God gave me before his associates took it away. I want get up and see your face in the mirror, without my reflection, without the silent chaos in my head.
Tomorrow let's go to Ruby Tuesday's for Brisket and Cake. We'll share a soda, slurping it down until it sounds annoying. I asked you to marry me and you said yes. I went off to war and came back fucked. A large and notable newspaper puts my face in a photo essay about disfigured soldiers. A man sees this picture--of you in your wedding dress after you said yes and before you changed it to no, and me holding your hands dressed in uniform--and writes a story which fragments into the first person. He wants to understand what happened with this world but cannot. He is a cheap liar. Here, more lies:
The universe is connected. The Brotherhood of Man. Love is blind.
The following never happened, but can be considered true: Before the waitress comes over and takes our order, two children laugh and stare. I lost my face in another country, lost my mind in mine. Tonight I will go to sleep and, with hope, not wake up. They say that's what God's kindness is.
About the author:
Jimmy Chen's writing has recently appeared in Word Riot, Yankee Pot Roast, Titular, and Eyeshot. He lives in San Francisco.