The New Face


Look: everybody was forgetting. I had married a man so severely face blind that he couldn’t find me in a hardware store. The neighbors never brought their bins down to the curb on trash day. The barista gave me matcha when I asked for chai. Now I, too, was forgetting. It was September; summer was doing what it could to cover its tracks. On the porch, I read the book for the fourth time, and for the fourth time I forgot it. Not gradually, not in the way that everything is eventually forgotten. My forgetting was immediate. I reached the last page and took in the last sentence, and the instant I closed the book I had no recollection of the characters, the plot, the style. I couldn’t even recall whether I had enjoyed it.

This was The Face, an anonymous novel published in Occitan in the 1960s that I had been trying to translate for weeks. I sat with it in my lap, the Occitan-English dictionary on one table, the laptop on another. But I couldn’t look away without losing my place. I would go to the dictionary and start looking for a word, only to realize that it had escaped me. I would turn to the computer to add a sentence to the document and find myself with nothing to type. All that remained, in these little moments of forgetting, were taunting clues: I had been on page 116 of the novel; I had started to flip toward the back of the dictionary; my fingers hovered over the ‘h’ key, but for what purpose I didn’t know. Hours passed like turned pages.

My face-blind husband came out to the porch and fed me a carrot. He was making soup. This was Thomas, and all he knew was the cello. He played his cello more tenderly than he ever touched me, for which I didn’t blame him. The cello was his world, or rather the world was his cello. He saw celli everywhere: in the long faces of bartenders, in the ephemeral formations of migrating geese, in dalmatians, in car windshields, in artichokes. Once he had approached me from behind while I was reading and, mistaking me for an instrument, tried to play Schumann’s cello concerto on me, realizing only when I turned to ask what he was doing that I was not made of wood, that my right arm was not a bow. Another time I had caught him flirting with his cello, caressing its spruce body; later he would tell me that he had assumed I was in a quiet mood, or being coy, and that he had attributed the unusual hardness of my skin to goosebumps, or psoriasis, or both.

Thomas asked whether I was making any progress on the translation.

“No,” I said, rubbing my eyes. “It’s almost as if it doesn’t want to be translated. It’s resisting its own recognition.”

“Soup will be ready in fifteen. You can take a break from Occitan and come burn your tongue like last time.”

“I’ve told you what I do with my tongue when I’m translating, right?” I knew that I hadn’t, but I liked to pretend that I was worried about repeating myself. The truth was that I never said the same thing twice. I couldn’t, even if I tried. I just couldn’t: my eyes would tear up; I would get a tickle in my throat. The words would hide, afraid to be reused. As if to say: once.

“I don’t think you’ve ever told me,” Thomas said. “What, do you bite it?”

“I run it across my palate, over and over. In the same direction, at the same speed. Front to back.” Translation was all about tongues. Mine ended up going raw from the neverendingness of this front-to-back motion, the againness of it.

As I agonized over The Face and its inscrutable contents, the inside of my mouth had become a conveyor belt, numb and self-sustaining, the tongue completing its semiconscious cycles. I was reminded of the baggage carousel at the local airport, the way people always stood there waiting: the flash of excitement in their eyes at a bag that might be theirs but wasn’t, the alarm signaling the arrival of new luggage, the childlike glee provoked by this sound in even the most serious adults, the inherent comfort of stuff, of the mere promise of stuff, of promises—IOUs, I wills, soons, somedays, lies. 

There was something peculiar about this process, something incestuous. To be human was to be a bag, to hold and be held. One stood in the carpeted basement of the airport and waited for oneself to emerge on the belt, then, seeing oneself at last, seized one’s handle or clutched one’s strap and ran, hailing a cab or finding a bus or catching a train and vanishing into a city of more belts and conveyances. In airports, one anticipated oneself.

Thomas grimaced. I had nearly forgotten that he was standing next to me, glasses halfway down his nose, or maybe nose halfway up his glasses, though that made no sense. “Are you doing that right now?” he asked. “With your tongue?”

“No. Because I’m not translating. I’m talking to you. But once you go back to the kitchen, it’ll start back up.”

“I kind of wish you hadn’t told me this.”

He was serious, I could tell, but I laughed. There was a piece of carrot stuck between my two front teeth now. It felt like a little orange wedge had been driven into me. Thomas went inside to check on the soup, and I sat and stared at the book and hated it, which wasn’t fair. My tongue traced its sullen line. I read a sentence and forgot it. All that remained was a sense that I had once known it. An almost-rememberable dream, a piece of music recognized but not identified.

The soup was good. All the best soups, I decided, stuck with you. You woke up with the taste still in your mouth. You spent the next day unable to rid yourself of the memory of the chicken broth, a memory so tangible that it turned into a sort of broth itself. You licked at it; it went nowhere. Books sat on tables; tables sat on porches; porches sat. Everybody was forgetting, and everything was being forgotten, but there was always the soup.

The orchestra in which Thomas played as assistant principal cellist boasted several homosexual woodwind players. The first clarinetist had hit on him four years back, the piccoloist a year before that. Both times Thomas had politely said no, and that had been that. The principal oboist, Griffin, was a more complicated case. Griffin knew Thomas was face blind. More precisely, Griffin knew Thomas was so face blind that he would be incapable of distinguishing his husband from an oboist. I had met him after a Mahler-themed concert a few months back. “Your husband,” he told me in the lobby, “is a great guy. You’re very lucky to have him. If I cared a little less about right and wrong, I’d study your mannerisms and trick him into thinking that I was you.” I forced a smile, and Griffin copied it. That night, I had opened a blank Word document, typed “I do not trust double reeds,” and dragged the file into the trash.

Sometimes I presented these scenarios to Thomas as pure hypotheticals. “What if,” I would ask him in bed, “somebody made you believe that they were me?”

And Thomas would say, “I would never let that happen.”

But I worried. I was plagued by a vivid dream in which a man dragged me from my own house and took my place at the dinner table. Thomas grinned and chatted the whole time, unaware that one man was being replaced by another. I barged back into the house, and Thomas, unable to recognize me, called the police. I had become the impostor, the imitator, the non-husband.

We got Italian takeout on a Tuesday. Thomas played A Flock of Seagulls on the gray Bluetooth speaker that we had named Martha. Every few songs, an ad would interrupt the music: a horror movie with a faceless villain; cataract surgery; a home security system with infrared cameras; a hypnotherapist specializing in social anxiety disorders and intrusive thoughts. I burned my cheek on the gnocchi. We agreed to turn off Martha for the night. The house was quiet but not silent. The kitchen smelled like mozzarella. I didn’t want the kitchen to smell like mozzarella; I wanted the kitchen to smell like a kitchen. We talked about thesauri and “Space Age Love Song” and the principal violist’s new nose ring, and the conversation was good and fresh, like cheese. There came a point about halfway through the gnocchi when there was something I wanted to say but couldn’t remember.

“Damn it,” I said.


“I was going to say something.”

“It’s gone?”

“Not quite. It’s lingering. Right where I can’t see it.”

“Why not just let it go?”

“Do you want me to let it go?”

“I’ve just learned not to lose sleep about the things I can’t call up, that’s all. Faces, mostly.”

When I told Thomas that nothing scared me more than forgetting, missing the things around and behind me, letting the words I wanted to say become words I could have said, leaving the past to be the past, separating myself from what came before—when I explained, in bed or in the kitchen or in the car, that the frustration I experienced when I couldn’t remember what I wanted to say was unlike any pain I had experienced, that it faded but never disappeared, that it came back, sharp and existential, to prod me while I was in line or at a red light, to remind me that it had been forgotten—when I took notes on my phone about everything happening around me, recording in painstaking detail the number of tissues remaining in the box or the color of the squirrel on the porch or the time at which the garbage truck came on Wednesday—Thomas looked at me as if to say, “You are an anomaly,” as if to say, “All the real humans know how to forget,” to say, “The more I confuse your face with my cello, the more of a person I will be.” So I had mostly stopped telling Thomas that nothing scared me more than forgetting.

“Am I supposed to believe,” I said, mouth still fat with gnocchi, “that you would rather forget everything than remember everything?”

“Absolutely,” he said. There was no hesitation, no new paragraph, no enter and tab. This was not a question that required thought. It was a question so obvious as to be preceded by its answer.

“Why’s that?”

“I’ve spent my whole life almost remembering faces. I promise there’s nothing worse than that almost.”

“But that’s exactly why remembering everything seems to me like the better choice. You know, there’s that instant where you have something, you’re practically holding it, and suddenly all that’s left is the knowledge of an absence, the knowledge that something was once there. Wouldn’t it be nice to do away with all that uncertainty? To hold things and know that they’re not going anywhere?”

“I don’t know. Being unable to forget sounds like hell to me, but I don’t know if I can articulate why. Maybe a part of me has come to enjoy moving through the world and not retaining certain information. It gives me space to doubt. And to leave things behind. People.”

I took out my phone and, in the Notes app, wrote, “space to doubt and to leave things behind.”

“See?” Thomas said.


“There’s always more to record. You can’t spend your whole life recording.”

“I’m a translator, aren’t I?”

“You create things when you translate.”

“By recording them.”

He sighed. “I love you, Leo.” It sounded like he meant it.

In bed, Thomas read Proust in English. I held The Face. I didn’t try to read it. I just held it. It felt like a book, like something that wanted to be remembered. It had weight, and corners, and it carried the odor of all the other books it had touched in the shop in Marseille where I’d found it a few years ago, books crumbling, books thin, books bent, books untranslated. The old man had charged me four euros. “A good choice,” he told me. “Thank you,” I said, pretending to believe that he had read the book, or even heard of it.

Thomas set down his book and switched off the lamp on his side of the bed and turned to face me. He was looking at me, waiting for me to say something. Expecting a conversation. Instead I set down my book and switched off the lamp on my side of the bed. There was no malice in this choice, which Thomas knew as well as I did. There was simply nothing to say. Our marriage was sharp cheddar, not cottage cheese. We talked when we talked. Everything delineated, the edges hard. We liked it that way.

When I turned out the light, there was that almost-magical moment in which the room ceased to exist—until it began, as it always did, to gently reassert itself, the bathroom door tracing itself in gray, the line of light on the ceiling begging to be noticed, Thomas’s sloped body saying, “I’m here,” until all I could do was see, see what had been and then had not been and now was again, see and see until I wanted to remember existing without eyes, before eyes, existing in a bag inside my mother, until I wanted a greater darkness, a more perfect darkness. But there was no such thing. 

I dreamed of Thomas calling me Griffin. I dreamed that I knew how to play the oboe and that Griffin could speak Occitan. I dreamed that I couldn’t remember that I was not Griffin. I dreamed that Thomas couldn’t remember that I was not Griffin. I woke up early and opened the Notes app and wrote, “You speak Occitan, you do not play the oboe,” over and over until my thumb cramped up and I went into the bathroom to shave.

Griffin invited us to dinner. Thomas said yes on our behalf. I told Thomas that this was a mistake. I told Thomas that I didn’t trust Griffin. Thomas told me not to worry.

“Griffin,” he said, “is just an oboist.” 

I wasn’t sure what that was supposed to mean, so I just stood there, in the upstairs bathroom, like a plane waiting at a gate.

“You have the least forgettable face I have ever seen,” he said.

I ran my tongue, front to back, across my palate. “Okay,” I said, “turn around.”


“Just turn around.”

He was facing the wall now, and I was facing his back, and behind us was an open door, and through that door the stairs, and to our right the shower where we had once tried to have sex and vowed never to try again, and to our left the mirror, in whose glass I could see the side of Thomas’s neck, which was smooth except for a small pimple peeking out over the collar of his shirt. I looked at him for a minute, looked at him as he looked at the wall, and said, finally, “Tell me what I look like.”


“Don’t turn around. Describe me.”


“Do I have the least forgettable face you have ever seen?”

“Of course you do.”

“So tell me what it looks like.”

“This isn’t fair.”

“What color are my eyes?”

There was a long silence. I had something I wanted to say, something biting, something like, “That’s what I thought,” but not that, something else. I wasn’t sure. So I said nothing and left the bathroom and ran down the stairs, Thomas’s “I’m sorry” missing me by meters, and went for a walk with my face. I passed the cemetery and the cathedral and the triangular park and the corner store, and I thought, it’s a nice day, isn’t it, the air feels right on my hands, and the sidewalk wants me on it, and I have a nose, and everything smells like pomegranate, what a nice day, I will call the only person ever to publish a translation of The Face. And I did.

Her name was Apolline Martin, and she had completed a French translation two years before. Her book—her face—told the simple story of a man and the things he loved: the tissues with which he blew his nose, the leash with which he walked his dog, the pen with which he wrote letters to his son—all those with whiches that traced the quiet contours of his life. It was not a book I found myself struggling to remember. We had exchanged some emails, and she had encouraged me to call at any time, but it was never clear to me whether people meant that. The phone rang; she picked up; I told her who I was; she sighed. That, I figured, was my answer.

“I’m so sorry,” she said, “but it’s not a great time. My mother has Alzheimer’s, and she’s just forgotten my father’s name for the first time, and he’s a wreck. I’m on the train to go see them.”

“No, no,” I said, “I’m so sorry.” I wanted to feel more than I did. I was good at this: convincing myself that the world was far from me, alienating myself from so many things that I ended up alienating myself from my own alienation. 

“I can answer a quick question, if that’s all you have. I’m just a little out of it.”

“Of course. That’s all I have. Just a quick question.” Yes, I was a brilliant alienator. As I circled back to the triangular park and sat on a bench with a dead person’s name on it, I thought, I am easily the best alienator in this entire city. I explained to Apolline that I couldn’t seem to remember The Face, no matter how hard I tried. I told her that the verbs always slipped my mind, and with the verbs went the nouns, and with the nouns the adjectives, and with the adjectives the adverbs, and all that remained were small words that by themselves meant nothing: an, if, on. I asked Apolline how she had managed not to forget the book each time she closed it.

There was a pause. I could hear the train in the background, its engine rumbling like a slow roll on a bass drum. “Who says I remembered it?” she asked finally.

“What do you mean?”

“This is not a book that wants to be remembered, Leo. That gives you the unique opportunity as a translator to write whatever you want. If the text leaves you with nothing, if it leaves you entirely alone, dropping its prepositions behind it like a leaky engine—if you have nothing to translate, anything you write is a translation.”

“Wouldn’t it be that nothing I write is a translation?” There was a melody coming from around the corner, quiet, barely audible. I recognized it from a wind quintet Thomas had introduced me to. A clarinetist, busking, perhaps, or an oboist.

“Nobody is ever going to be able to evaluate the accuracy with which you’ve translated this manuscript. That’s all I’m saying. You’ll be remembered based on what you write. What you invent.”

“So should I read it again?”

“What’s the point?” she asked. “I mean, what is the point? Why do something you know you’ll forget?” 

In the Notes app, I typed, “What is the point?”

I was in a triangle, but the triangle was in a place of many squares. The city unfolded like a piece of graph paper, flat and rigid. Blocks met blocks; people lived in block-shaped buildings and looked out over the blocks through block windows and thought, how lucky I am to see such gorgeous blocks from my block of an apartment. This was why I liked the park: it was an interruption, a distortion of the four-sidedness of it all. When I was in the park, I didn’t feel as much as I normally did that my life was a series of unrelated, blink-sliced moments. I peeled myself off the graph paper. 

“Is that wrong?” I asked finally. “To do that?”

“My mother doesn’t know who her husband is,” she said. “That’s wrong. This is art. Art can be bad, or ugly, or derivative, but it’s rarely wrong.”

“I’m not sure I agree,” I said. “I think art is wrong all the time.”

“No,” she said, “that’s wrong.”

We said goodbye. I wandered over to the corner store and bought a bag of mini muffins, which seemed like an appropriately sullen food. I walked east and opened the bag and began to pick the muffins out with two fingers. They were so small. It was ridiculous. Years before, at the airport, waiting for a flight to Marseille, I had bought a bag of similarly miniscule muffins and eaten them at the gate. Eating those muffins, I had been overwhelmed by a sense of aloneness. I was a man in an airport eating tiny muffins; everybody around me was a stranger; there were only the muffins and the bags, the bags everywhere, dragged and toted and left outside bathrooms and unzipped and rezipped and holding and held and bulging with motion sickness remedies and changes of clothes and magazines bought to be left unread. And I had said to myself, “Here is something close to living. The pastries too small, the planes too large, the lights too strong, everybody looking elsewhere.” My mouth tasted like blueberry and dough. Layers of flour accumulated until there was scarcely room for me to breathe. I ran my tongue across my palate, front to back. A man announced on the intercom that the flight to Marseille had been delayed. His voice sounded like that of an old friend pretending to recognize me at a college reunion. He provided neither an explanation for the delay nor an estimate of its length. So I bought another bag of mini muffins. And ate it, and bought another. By the time I boarded, I had gone through seven of those bags. I vomited the whole way to France; the stuff was blue and came out in fits, one little muffin at a time. Now I was waiting again, but not for a plane. I was waiting for the book to let me remember it and for Thomas to recognize me. I was waiting, in short, for a series of small impossibilities. I walked east until the bag was empty, then turned and retraced my steps, then walked east again. It went on for hours.

At one point, near the laundromat, I caught sight of a man across the street. He was standing still, watching me, right hand clutching what looked like an oboe case. I saw the figure again forty minutes later, outside the Thai place where Thomas and I always ordered green curry and got red. I ignored the man. There were plenty of men in the city, many of them watching other men, many of them holding things in their hands.

But I recognized the man, and the man recognized me. 

Griffin’s house was small, and when we walked in the television was on. It was tuned to one of those stations that played only infomercials. Griffin was thin as a reed; he wore jeans and a red hoodie and glasses. I, too, wore jeans and a red hoodie and glasses. I felt sick, but I smiled, which I was good at.

“Hi,” I said.

“Hi,” Griffin said, “so good to see you again. Let me turn this off.” The pitch of his voice matched mine exactly. Before he switched off the television, I overheard a woman talking about the new face of cleaning. I had always found it strange that ads talked about the new faces of things. As if one face were being replaced by another. As if the old face were being torn away from its body.

The three of us sat at a round table with three white napkins and three white bowls and three sets of silverware and a vase in the middle with a single iris. “I’m so glad we were finally able to do this,” Thomas said.

“Me, too,” Griffin and I said at the same time. Griffin looked over at me and raised his eyebrows, then took off his glasses and flicked away a lash that had been trapped under the bridge. I watched him like an old video of myself.

“Can I offer you some salad?” he asked.

The first time I saw Thomas, he was performing with his string quartet in a small recital space. I was twenty-four and he was twenty-six. They were playing Borodin’s second quartet, which I had loved since I was seven. The piece began with a soaring melody in the cello. I watched Thomas finger the first minor third and land on the high A with a shiver of vibrato. I wasn’t somebody who did much crying, but by the fifth measure I was almost there. The piece unfolded like a map; it was less a line than it was a space, something you couldn’t trace. I was in it; it was around me. The harmonies seemed to exist beyond time. They twisted around themselves, traveled forward and backward in the same breath. I kept my eyes fixed on the cellist the whole time. It wasn’t that I found him attractive. It was that he sat at the center of the most beautiful thing I could remember experiencing in years. He was an embodiment of the sounds he was creating. He was music physicalized. He was the cello. I forgot everything else. It was terrifying.

After the recital, I had walked up to Thomas and said, “Your cello is lucky to have you.” I didn’t walk up to people very often, and when I did, I certainly didn’t say things like that.

 “Thank you,” he said. He talked slowly, carefully, like a bow being drawn across a string.

We went to a club. He had to use the bathroom, so he left me at the bar, and when he came back I was waiting for him on the dance floor, but he couldn’t find me. They were playing Eurythmics, or a cover, or a cover of a cover. Thomas had just stood there, turning around, making half-circles with his feet, scanning the faces in the dark, hoping for an eye or a lip or an ear, something he could latch onto, something he could remember. When I finally walked up to him and took his hand and led him onto the floor, he looked at me as if he were seeing me for the first time. That had been my first exposure to the notion that it was possible to know someone and to meet them again and again. I didn’t understand at the time that I would need to be reintroduced to this man thousands of times over the next few months: at restaurants and at weddings, in buses and in bed, before and after concerts. All I understood was that he was nice and funny, and he played the cello naturally, instinctively, like he was blinking his own eyes, and I wanted him to like me. And he did. 

That was the first time I saw Thomas, and the first of many first times he saw me. I was to learn that Thomas lived life in firsts. That the only seconds and thirds he knew were those he played on the cello.

Griffin brought my bowl back. It was filled to the brim with salad. “There you are, Griffin,” he said, setting it down in front of me.

“I’m Leo,” I said.

“Right. I’m sorry.”

Soon we all had our salads. I asked Thomas what he thought about spinach.

“I’m a fan,” he said. “Yeah, you could call me a fan of spinach.” We laughed, the three of us.

“I’m glad,” Griffin said, “because that’s all I’ve got. Oboists don’t make enough for arugula.”

Principal oboists,” Thomas said. Griffin’s red hoodie was the same size and color as mine. It was the same as mine.

I said, “Do you have anything to drink?”

Griffin grinned. I hadn’t seen him grin like that before. “Of course,” he said. He disappeared through a doorway.

I turned to Thomas. “I’m nervous,” I said.

“Don’t be.” He was looking at me in that funny way. Like I was new to him. It was another first time.

Griffin emerged through a different doorway with two large bottles of red wine and three wine glasses; after placing the bottles in the middle of the table, on either side of the iris, he set the glasses behind our bowls with a precision that frightened me. He opened the first bottle and poured us all the same amount of wine. “Cheers,” he said.

Thomas raised his glass. “A toast,” he said, “to the musicians of the world, and to the translators of the world, and to all the people who remember and forget.” I thought that was a bit sentimental as toasts went, but I held my tongue. Thomas touched his glass to Griffin’s. Then Griffin touched his glass to mine. Then I touched my glass to Thomas’s. They were looking at each other.

We finished the salad and the bottle. The wine pushed itself through me; I felt a pressure rising to my head. I imagined that I was in a landing plane, and that I had stolen everybody’s complimentary pretzels and was eating them so fast that I was running out of room in my body, and that we had to abort the final approach and try a second time, and that the flight attendants all had the same face, and that the pretzels filled me up and burst through my skin, and I was just a heap of pretzels on the floor of a landing plane, and the same-faced flight attendants came to clean me up, and I was gone. 

Griffin was talking. “They’ve performed several successful face transplants,” he said. “You know, after catastrophic accidents. Fires, car crashes. They put the new face on, they attach it at the edges and drape it over the cartilage in the nose, and over time the face comes to look like a face. It finds its shape.”

“I wouldn’t want that,” I said.

Griffin turned to me. “Why not, Griffin?” he asked.

“I wouldn’t want to look in the mirror and see somebody I didn’t recognize,” I said. I didn’t say, “My name is Leo.” I didn’t say, “You are calling me by the wrong name, and I know why.” He was trying to play a strange game with me, a sort of musical chairs of identity, but I was tired now, and drunk, and I let him call me Griffin. I was willing to let him win if it meant leaving earlier, getting home earlier, ending up in bed with my husband earlier, turning to him in the dark and looking at the shape of his body under the blanket and committing it to memory.

“That,” Thomas said, “is what I see every time I look in the mirror. Somebody I don’t recognize.”

“Oh, honey,” Griffin said, taking Thomas’s hands.

“God, Leo,” Thomas said, staring at Griffin, “you look like a cello.”

I had read an article, years before, about a car accident. There was one woman in a green sedan; there were two women in a gray hatchback. They crashed at an intersection late at night, and the woman in the sedan died. The women from the hatchback, panicking, found that the doors to the sedan were unlocked, so they took the body and buried it. And then one of the women from the hatchback slid into the front seat of the sedan and called the police. They had only minor injuries, and they pretended not to have known each other before the accident. It worked, it all worked, until the mother of the woman in the sedan came looking. She saw a photograph of the woman whom the police had found in the sedan and said, in so many words, “That is not my daughter.” But almost. It almost worked.

Thomas and Griffin went home and left me in Griffin’s house. “Goodnight, Griffin,” they told me. 

I didn’t try to stop them. I wanted to sleep. “Goodnight, Thomas,” I said. “Goodnight, Leo.” I curled up on the couch and thought about the two of them in my bed. What would they be up to? Griffin would be setting his glasses on the bedside table. I could see it. And as I watched him set his glasses on the bedside table, his face shadowy, I could almost convince myself that he was me, or rather that I was him, that I was the oboist, that I had projected myself through these walls and down these streets and around these corners and was back in bed with the cellist: the cellist draping an arm over the oboist, the cellist whispering something to the oboist, the cellist laughing with the oboist before, at last, we fell asleep, two musicians, unremembering and unrecognizing and in love.

I woke up early with a headache and an idea. I had left my laptop at the house; I would get it later. In the meantime, I found a pad of paper on one of many music stands and grabbed a pen from the desk in the corner and began to write. “Bags,” the first sentence read, “are the atoms of the airport.” This was The Face. My face. I was translating from nothing. I wrote so fast the ink began to lag behind itself, so fast, impossibly fast, the ideas running after their own expressions, the words trying to remember themselves; I wrote so fast, so mercifully, mercilessly fast, that I didn’t have time to think that Thomas’s face blindness wasn’t enough, that Griffin’s red hoodie wasn’t enough, that my husband knew, that my husband had made a choice, that we weren’t going back; I wrote so fast that it all became slow again; I wrote about little boys losing themselves in the cavernous halls of airports, screens announcing the arrivals and departures of aircraft and thus of people, music playing in the many-stalled bathrooms, families divided throughout and across planes, faces alone at the windows, hands pushing the shades all the way up for takeoff, as if seeing what one was leaving behind would make one safer, as if one could watch the past from the sky. I wrote until I was done, until the roof of my mouth stung, until the pen was dead.

Look: I don’t remember what I did after that. I might have put down the notepad and walked to the triangular park and sat on a bench. I might have called one of the hypnotists I had heard about in the ads the speaker played between songs and asked him to make me forget every face I had ever seen. I might have signed up for oboe lessons. I might have gone to confront Thomas and been greeted by a man who had forgotten, who had no idea who I was, who threatened to call the police if I didn’t leave his property, who looked at me as if I had gone at his cello with a baseball bat. I might have gone at his cello with a baseball bat. What I do know is that, at some point, hours or days or weeks later, I bought a bag of mini muffins. And I ate those muffins, alone, in the house that was beginning to feel like it was mine. They were tiny. They were so tiny. In the Notes app, I wrote, “so small, so small, the muffins, like castanets, like model airplanes, each muffin a time-eroded memory of itself.” I counted them. There were sixteen. That was enough.

(winner of the Editors’ Prize in Fiction for issue 38)