The Face in the Mirror

Ron Karpinski 1999


Ben is twenty-four and single.  A college dropout, he has landed a job installing cable at the telephone company.  He works the swing shift, from three-thirty to eleven-thirty.  Near midnight, he starts his car and heads for home.

From the main office in downtown Fullerton, California, he drives west a few blocks to Harbor Boulevard, then turns south.  Traffic is heavy, even at this late hour.  Cars crawl in long lines, like columns of soldier ants, from one stop light to the next.

Creeping along in the right lane, Ben's mind wanders to the problems that concern him these days.  They are trifles, really; but they seem important to him.  So many other people have more in life than he does.  He feels sorry for himself.

There is never enough money, for one thing.  It is 1971, and, after taxes, he earns eighty dollars per week.  Rent, food, car payments, and insurance costs take most of that.  Some new clothes would be nice, but there is no money left.

A mild case of adolescent acne lingers.  Because of it, he dreads shaving.  Rare is the day that his face is not bloodied, after an encounter with the razor.

The day before, a young lady refused him for a date.  That has happened often lately; he wonders, if his pimples might have been the cause.  Or, could it have been his skinny legs?  He tries to recall, if she has seen him in shorts yet.

At Lincoln Avenue, Ben stops for a red light.  Music blares on the radio, but he doesn't care for the song and reaches over to change the station.  As he does so, he glances in the rear-view mirror.  The sight in the mirror changes his life forever.

Staring back at him is a pair of clear, intelligent light blue eyes set in a pale expressionless face.  Ben thinks his own eyes are out of focus, so he blinks and looks again.  Still, the face in the mirror is blank, void of any features at all.

The man in the car to the rear has suffered through a horrible fire.  His face exists no longer; rather, the front of his head is a flat mass of scar tissue, stretching from side to side in harsh strips of dull pink and alabaster.

Gone are the ears, nose, lips, hair, and eyebrows.  His mouth has been reduced to a mere slit in the surface of the skin, hardly discernible.  Surgeons have formed two small holes for the nostrils and two larger ones for the eyes.

Those eyes gaze out at the world with a strength that Ben cannot fathom.  His own perceived problems are irrelevant now, and he feels a deep shame.  If this man can face the world in his condition, then Ben has no room to complain.

The light turns green.  Ben drives away, his troubles forgotten.


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