An excerpt from my initial draft of ‘The Faceless’, a short story about three characters; their journey through masking their fears and desires.
And so she waits. Contemplative. Performing the everyday to avoid an inner-consumption. Re-enacting the future, repeatedly in anticipation of the unknown, taking control in the only way left. Habitually her eyes scan the paper in that familiar rhythm of absence as her thoughts turn to herself. It was a trick she learned years ago; to imitate the mundane ticks of the people around her in naturally contemplative situations; in cafes, on the train, in a crowded waiting room. Her places of comfort. most notably in the moments when the faceless descended. It was best be alone with her thoughts in safety, for which she needed the crowds of the faceless. The safety of being surrounded by the natural pulses of the busy-folk with their exuberant need for distraction to get through the seconds between meetings, the minutes between their next meeting of others’ expectations. All the while, behind her mimics and imitations, the metronome of her thoughts would slow to catharsis as those around her seemed to buzz with anticipation; like white noise.
Her eyes dart around the cafe now as she resurfaces from her catharsis; a waiter jolting her back to heightened humanity as one of these faceless, timeless creatures drives through his shoulder — so desperate to get wherever was more important. The waiter looked flustered and his mouth and eyes formed the apology she never heard.
He made a dash to his destination and continued this ritual like a fly trapped in it’s flight path beneath a light. She watched him, he rushed to the bar, brushed passed his colleagues, fumbled through the order and then mechanically forced a smile and a sense of robotic ease as he turned and focused on his target. And repeat. She watched him, his rhythm, so well formed and poetic it seemed like a dance. Reaching, moving, stepping and speaking. The hands trained well enough to work and repeat at speed regardless of any burns or scrapes that came their way, the words, repetitive and falling with no energy onto the ears of those who would pay no attention. The feet, changed motion and direction at the same floorboards into and out of the bar, as if every muscle, breath and movement were triggered by this hairline crack in the floor. A hairline seemingly unnoticed by the rest of him.
Curious. She found him curious. He found her staring. Quick! Back to her book, she thumbs a page across, unaware if she’d even reopened to the right place. It didn’t matter to her, there was no place; just patterns of distraction.
“Another cappuccino madam?”
His voice like sharp velvet cut through to her, with barely a look she nodded. He left. She watched as he stepped across that hairline crack and his shoulders relaxed into that familiar rhythm; reach, pivot, reach. Feeling a familiar white flash of shame. She’d been noticed. She’d failed to blend in. Her mind was racing, She must calm down before the tears began. Before the blood rushed to her face and she became visible to the faceless. She cared not to engage with them, they never understood her at her best, how could they at her worst.
She began her routine again; eyes flicking around the cafe to establish the aesthetic rhythm within which she must belong to give her space to be alone. To gather her thoughts before she started to write. She watches, hands reaching, sliding across the pages, reaching, turning, reaching, turning, reaching, pausing. An interruption. Of thought? No, a phone or a track change, and repeat.
She loved the serendipitous moments where strangers and the faceless would walk by in step with the music in her ears or in her mind. One of the beautiful moments she treasured, the faceless in tune for a step or two made her feel a weird sort of sense of home. Reaching, turning, pause — now it was her turn, setting her dance ever so slightly off from those closest to her; another trick she’d learnt over time.
“Here’s your cappuccino, any thing else for you?”
White flash, red rushing and a cringe as her words escape.
“No thanks, I’m fine.”
Looking around, had they noticed. Had they heard?
Suddenly she’s in the moment. That woman, to the left; where we’re her eyes tracking?
She checks herself, was her rhythm wrong? What angle was her head at, in artificial intrigue or mimicry of concern for the words on the pages she was blind to. Her heart racing and heat rising to her face. All eyes on her. No eyes on her. Her hands begin again, reach, turn, reach, turn, pause. Her eyes, their eyes, all fall back into routine. Thoughts fade back to the postmortem of the night before. Her foot begins to rock, mimicking that of a seductively soothing melody which echoes silently through her prop-earphones. She settles. Her body now in auto pilot whilst her mind races. A new tradition in her day dictates a subconscious checklist to ensure she is the perfect imitation of serene normality.
No expectation, no understanding, no fear. Just be. But these were just moments, this was just a moment, an omnipresent anticipation where the faceless would appear; she never knew when but was rehearsed well enough to get through it. After these moments invaded by the faceless passed she could never recall the details, not of anything that mattered, she knew the feeling, indescribable untangible and insensible; to anyone else. They had no right to be called feelings; abusing that term, her need to analyse and mimic left her nothing to feel, nothing. No heavy darkness as before the faceless took over her life, just nothing. Just gone. Gone and yet never more present. Never knowing who she was in these moments, never seeing if the efforts were worth it for an outward transformation. The seemless transition performed in parallel to a perfect portrayal of herself. Within which she begins to deconstruct her actions, her thoughts and her intentions as she spirals through deep semiotic analysis of her thoughts. Never giving voice to the temptations to drive her nails deep within her flesh, to rip, to tear and to destroy; such a passion only to feel. To feel something in these moments.
The faceless portrayed feeling and emotion; they laughed and cried and kissed as much as any human would, perhaps more heightened passion than she had ever seen, reflects more extreme in her own absence of passion. As she visualises the critical and physical destruction of the tranquil being she inhabits in these moments her hands turn their attention to her skin.
It begins as an itch, an irritation, a hair out of place or something under a nail. Anything in the vain hope that the touch will simulate some form of satisfaction towards the desire to tear it away, to be lost. Once ignited the desire fades in an instant, only to return with a fierce hunger. More determined, disguised as the same innocent irritations as before. This time her fingers find something, her nails catch on old scar, or a minuscule fleck of dry skin behind her hair line. Any excuse.
The body maintains posture, continuing the facade, playing the role it’s been given. Foot tapping — check. Rocking with a slightly increased rhythm to appear more real, occasionally off beat and wavering in tempo and ferocity. Hands in their rhythm — check. Occasionally stop-starting, reaching to turn, reaching to scan the page as if investigating an image or guiding the eyes. Eyes scanning — check. Running sporadically across the page, forwards then flicking back an awareness of how the pattern of scanning reflects effort and concentration. On occasion her eyes flick up into mid air as if to consider what they’ve seen, now and again falsely requiring eager eyes of the faceless as they seek a stranger’s gaze. All the while critique continues and nails keep searching for their excuse, syncopated with the reading rhythm already assigned.
Her eyes rest on a couple across from her, they’re not the faceless, they’re in their own bubble. Contented. A sudden jolt hits her. Not like lightening, more like a heavy pull on her heart which deepens in her stomach. The pointlessness overwhelms her. To belong nowhere, to no one, with no one, not even to her self.
It starts, the faceless stop. The rhythm is lost. All she hears is her own heartbeat. It’s a slip, a distraction back to the now. She drops her pretence, her body is no longer playing the part. And she’s unaware of herself. As in tune as she was, she is now absent. She reads the page in front of her, trying to find the context. When did she get here, what has she missed?Hooking her eyes on a character’s name she recognises it all comes flooding back and the reading begins. Then an itch. Her hand moves to scratch, a small scratch to the right of her left eyebrow. Something innocent. A minor action to satisfy the irritation, suddenly unaware of the deeper desire that’s driving her on. The reading is an conscious effort and the nails operate alone, driven silently into a rhythm, the rhythm she’s just left behind, ever increasing in pressure. Then a voice inside. Keep performing, catch up with where you were pretending to be. Where’s the book?
“Is this yours?”
She looks up. There’s a man sitting next to her, holding her novel tenderly in his right hand. She smiles nervously. He’s not faceless either. Taking the book gratefully she hears herself agreeing to have coffee. As the faceless around her fade and her awareness tunes into the now, she realises she’s visible. Not white hot flash, no fear of the red. Just visible.
“So tell us in your own words what happened please Miss Tulley?”
The DI looked caring as her soft eyes tried to find the light in the detainee across from her. But Jane didn’t move except for a slight picking, she made no noise except for a light ticking noise made by this; pick-pick-pick. The police officer tried again:
“Can you tell me in your own words what happened tonight Jane?”
Maybe it was her softened voice, her nod to her partner which encouraged him to leave the room, or perhaps her more personal approach but something caused Jane to lift her head a little. And their eyes cautiously met…