He should have been killed.
A horrible thought, to be sure, as I welcome him into the room, yet I’ve no regret for thinking it. It is well-intentioned, born out of mercy.
He is very young. No more than 19 or 20, and I can only imagine how handsome he must have been. While I have learned to suppress my compulsion to know details, once again, beyond my control, my stomach lurches when I look at him. The ragged purple edges of his torn-away cheek, exposing broken teeth. The empty space that once held his nose. Bullets, most likely, or possibly shrapnel. It doesn’t matter. He has been rendered grotesque. Unfit to live in genteel society.
His mask is finished. Made from the thinnest shell of galvanized tin and enameled paint, I lift it carefully from its hook on a wall displaying dozens of other masks like it, and gently fit the cold metal against his battle-shattered profile. He winces.
You’ll look so distinguished with glasses! I remark lightly. And the skin color is a perfect match! How does it feel?
Bereft of words, he simply nods.
I press into his hands a small mirror.
Go ahead, I urge. Take a look.
His hesitation stretches into a full minute before he haltingly brings the mirror up to his face. Greeted by a semblance of normal, he starts to sob. His gratitude is so deep and so sincere I can hardly bear the pain upon my heart, and in that moment, I fall in love with him.
I push back my own tears. Now go, Henry! Go and have yourself a truly wonderful life!
His tin face, the made-whole companion to his damaged one, is frozen. Expressionless.
Except for his eyes.
Standing taller, he kisses my hand, and then he’s gone.
Tomorrow, another face in a seemingly endless string of faces will come to me, looking for the promise of a second chance.
And I will fall in love again.
This piece was inspired by efforts during WWI to provide severely disfigured soldiers with a new life by using facial prosthetics.