by Russell Richardson
His reconstructed face is a scientific wonder, but a corrugated fright in the mirror.
Ray interacts only with his medical team and, reluctantly, his online support group. Gayle, an Irish woman from the group, is sweet, but he recoils from her DM requests to turn on his video. She is not self-conscious about her own patchwork visage.
Ray has everything delivered. Outside his apartment door come groceries, Amazon boxes. He breakfasts at his window, watching pedestrians below. In her gentle slur, Gayle recommends timed excursions outside—sit on a bench for five minutes among the living.
Ray dons an invisible man outfit and paces the hallways first. Next day, he sits on the courtyard bench. A young couple pass, obliviously in love with themselves. A mother pushing a stroller averts her gaze. Having survived, Ray resets his timer for another five before retreating.
Ray texts Gayle the news. She calls immediately. He debates answering. “I’m so proud!” she squeals. They talk for an hour. The next day, they chat for another hour. He calculates their time difference while washing dishes. The third night, they talk until she falls asleep. Drifting off, she threatens to visit.
He confides in a nurse, “I have a girlfriend.”
She asks, “Has she seen you yet?”
His confidence plummets. A blind date with a blind girl would be simpler.
The pressure to show his face is suffocating. Ray skips the following support group, and Gayle sends a worried text. They talk again on the phone. One day, she sends a picture of a booking confirmation screen. He nearly dies——and cries.
During the next group, she DMs: “I’d be so happy to see your face.”
He inhales. His mouse hovers between the browser’s red X and the video icon. He clicks.
He sees himself smile.
* * *
Russell Richardson has written and published many short stories, illustrated a book of poetry, and created children’s books to benefit kids with cancer. His YA novel, Level Up and Die! was published in April, 2021. He lives with his wife and sons in Binghamton, NY, the carousel capital of the world.