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Somewhere There's a Dark Hallway of Faces


There’s some stories we tell over and over. There’s some like this one.

That’s got to mean something—the way I keep returning to it. Doesn’t it?

Or like, how come every time I tell this story, I can’t figure out the looks on people’s faces? It’s like they’re thinking about something I haven’t thought about yet, but they don’t want to tell me. People always look so disappeared, like their whole thoughts go outside their head and just leave space behind. Maybe there’s something about my face, the way my face shows what I’m thinking, that I can’t see, like it’s showing something inside myself that I can’t see pushing out at the surface.

They’re looking at my face, I know. What else is there to look at?

* * *

There was this bar, nothing special.

And then one time I go inside and there’s this guy there, and he had a slab of meat for a face—all torn. His left eye was glass; there was an unnatural glare to it, like it was off somehow, pointing in the wrong direction, or like always away from what he was looking at. The left side of his face was screwed up with scar tissue, all the way down from his temple to his neck.

I got that feeling I get sometimes, like it was one of those days, you know, where it feels like the world’s stopped spinning—stopped spinning and left you alone, motionless somewhere.

Dude was just sitting at the bar, neck hunched like a vulture, elbows out at his sides. He was turning his mug round and round, staring into it like it was some out-of-space vortex or something—something that eats light.

He said his name was Pat and he held one of his leather hands up in front of his face. You work construction long enough, he said, and your hands go hard.

Okay, whatever. And then he’s saying, It surprise you I’m a fag?

Should it?

And that was it. That was all the interaction we had. This dude, for a big guy, he moved real fast. He grabbed his mug, let his arm wind all the way back. I had just about a second to see him like that: thin lips white and tight against his face, chest pushing out. And like a weight lifter doing an inverse fly, he smashed the mug into the side of my face. There was a flash of red. Snap of breaking glass popped in my ear. The whole place sort of tilted up at an angle and this dude’s hand was around my neck, huge and hot. He pulled me down off my stool and we came down to the floor. I was tasting my blood in my mouth.

I’m gonna gut you, he was screaming. I ain’t no fag.

There was a big dry noise, a noise bigger than those narrow walls could hold, put the pressure on my head, then another, and another. The smell of gunpowder and my ears were ringing something like metallic, like machine music, like those two metal things had come together—an alloy, a single sense.

I don’t remember much after that. The left half of my face was cut up pretty bad—lost the eye, couple molars, took something like forty stitches to get my cheek back together. But I’m sure you can tell all that just by looking at my face.

The things I do remember, though, they come back as still images—single frames. But the lighting’s all wrong. Like it’s nighttime inside or it’s like all tinfoil outside, covering the windows. Something’s off like that. But I see that little bartender, bar hatch up, standing there holding a .38 with both hands, blue smoke curling out the snubnose. And there’s the meatface with his body rolled up against the wall—the back of his head a big black hole, pouring out blood in big gushes, like glops of tar.

I don’t remember being upset. It was like I wasn’t even me.

* * *

I’ve been thinking about it for a long time. I’ve told this story a lot of times. And maybe it doesn’t mean anything. Violence just happens. People are filled with terrible black feelings and they’ve got bile in their throats and sometimes violence just happens because they’re throwing up their bile and they can’t stand the taste of it.

Best I can figure is I’d stumbled into some dude’s private world, and that dude changed me—made me like him. Ruined my face and made me look like him. And I think that’s why people are always staring at me like they don’t know what to say. But what am I supposed to do with that feeling? What am I supposed to do with this new face when I can’t even tell what people are thinking when they’re looking at me? I know I’m still me.

I touch my face in my sleep sometimes, I know, because I feel like it changes my dreams when I touch it. And in my dreams I’m always in front of mirrors or lost in big houses with narrow hallways and there’s faces pushing out at the cracked and peeling walls, and these faces, they’re just like mine. I know that somewhere in that big dark house somewhere there’s a dark hallway of faces and there’s a face that’s still mine. I’d just find it if I could turn on the lights.

David Peak blogs at and lives in New York City. He is not a jerk.