mask 1

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 beenWhile 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.

They dance.

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.


Picture credit here, and here.


47 thoughts on “Facade

    • Janna, I felt the exact same way when I was researching the details for this piece. One nurse said the wounded faces of soldiers reminded her of beautiful broken marble statues. What a gorgeous sentiment!

      Thanks so much for your comment:)

  1. Not just anyone could have that job!
    And not just anyone could write about it. You rendered it beautifully, Valerie.
    I love that she keeps falling in love with them.

  2. wow, really interesting piece. you took a subject I never thought of before and gave a lot of humanity to it. nicely done. fitting piece around veteran’s day.


  3. Oh, Valerie… this is a beautiful story. I’m impressed.

    You might be interested in reading a book by Fredrick Busch… ‘The Night Inspector’… it is one of my favorites.

  4. ..the made-whole companion.. terrific use of the word. Beautiful story, Valerie. Stands up today as so many who return from war are disfigured. Technology and drugs can save their lives now, but they return in pieces. Such heartbreaking stories.

  5. You writing has always been wonderful and lord knows that I have been a big fan for years, we have been writing in the same groups for years! But I have to say that recently you have taken a huge leap and your writing has gone from wonderful to truly magnificient. This was as always well told in your vintage style, but oh so complicated as well. The layers to her, to her motivations both in the moment and in the implied future were so well done. As was of course the touch of creepy tht alwys makes the dark fantasy writer in me grin.

    Again. Wonderful.

    • There aren’t enough words to express my thanks for that comment, Jenifer. Without my dear writer friends like you I’d never have gotten this far. Your support means everything to me!

  6. Oh Valerie. Although I certainly knew plastic surgery had its origins in the efforts of doctors to deal with disfigurement caused by cruel wars, I never thought of the story in quite this way. One to one, after being kept alive, a professional attempts to actually save the soldier’s life.

    The story is beautiful but it is your expert telling and the most heart squeezing last line that take it to the next level: “And I will fall in love again.”

    Gorgeous. Thank you so much for writing this.

  7. Incredibly touching and poignant! I had to pause and mindfully think about ths piece before commenting because of this…”Tomorrow, another face in a seemingly endless string of faces will come to me, looking for the promise of a second chance.” Such care! You wrote it beautifully but then again, you always do!!!

  8. You’ve infused this scene with such beauty. I love the idea of falling in love each day. I guess that’s how you know your job is a good fit. 🙂 Thank you for linking up with such a fantastic piece.

  9. I was hooked from the first sentence.

    You have such a knack for infusing your pieces with seemingly simple lines that pack so much power. For example: “I can only imagine how handsome he must have been.” In that one sentence, we know how much he has lost and how difficult his life is going to be from then on.

    Lovely and heart-tugging story. Well done, my friend!

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