“Your face has gone,” Rupert’s mum told him, as though he might not have noticed.
“Yes,” he confirmed. “It’s a new therapy I’m trying.”
Rupert had been surprised by the results to begin with but the psychologist told him it was completely normal. “But it was my face,” Rupert said.
“Not anymore,” the psychologist told him.
He supposed it started when they were looking through inkblots and the doctor was asking, “What do you see?” There was a feeling of something sliding, or slipping or going somewhere. The something happened to be his face, or at least the features that made it. Luckily, the skin was still there, otherwise his brain would have been completely open for everybody to see. Nobody told him therapy would change him so much and he hadn’t been ready. He had thought maybe it would develop his conscience or learn to be better, but only incrementally.
Rupert wasn’t the only no-facer he knew, though the therapy was a new one and the results were still in testing. He sometimes saw other no-facers around and he had a friend who was going through the therapy as well. “How are you finding it?” Rupert asked him when they bumped into each other once.
“Excellent,” his friend said. “I didn’t think I would feel this good again, after the divorce.” Rupert thought that if the man was going through a divorce, it was no wonder he wanted to be new. Rupert had nothing like that though, and had actually been more secure about the way he looked than about most of the other parts of himself, like his personality and the way he decided things.
“It’s not my face that needs to go,” he had tried telling the doctor the first few times, “It’s just the inside of me.”
“This is a process, Rupert. The loss of your features is not to do with how you felt about them but with what they represented. Mankind makes it’s association with things like appearance. We are changing your perceptions.”
“Do I get my face back?” Rupert had asked, in his third session, when the features that had made him had gone entirely.
“That’s not what this is about,” the doctor said. “Your features have not gone anywhere, exactly. You have absorbed them. Now you must grow back new ones.”
Rupert didn’t believe that.
He had thought that maybe he wouldn’t be able to breathe without his mouth or, without his eyes, see. The doctor had laughed when Rupert asked him about it. “Just another false perception. You’ll be surprised. We would not be doing this if it was going to damage you.” Rupert thought that was a matter of opinion because, really, they had damaged him a lot already, but it turned out that they were telling the truth about that. He could eat just like he always had and could breathe and see just the same. He wasn’t sure how this worked but the psychologist wouldn’t tell him – “Telling you would only be building up more false concepts,” he said, “I don’t want you to dwell on that aspect.” Rupert thought that meant he didn’t know either.
The problem, as in the real problem and not just the problem of losing his face, started when Rupert saw a man wearing his eyes. He was sure they were his; it was like looking in the mirror. Whereas he would normally have cast it off as a strange experience, the fact that he himself didn’t actually have those eyes anymore was casting suspicion on the whole thing. He watched the man, his non-eyes following the man’s eye-eyes and trying to work them out. The man glanced at him only for a second before rushing on and taking the evidence with him. The encounter, though brief, had started a chain of thought in Rupert.
“You said my features had been absorbed?” he asked at his next session. “How does that work, then?”
The doctor sighed, as though he had gone over the thing many times when, actually, he hadn’t gone over it at all. “Rupert, I would’ve hoped that you would see by now that how’s and why’s don’t matter. It’s almost as though you’re trying to stop yourself getting better by focusing on this. Are you afraid of something?”
“The thing is,” Rupert continued, determined not to listen to the psychobabble aimed at him that seemed always to have an answer without actually addressing the question, “when I first felt my features going, I felt them sliding.” Here, he paused for effect and, quite satisfactorily, the doctor cleared his throat. “Where were they going, Doctor?” Rupert had been formulating some ideas of his own about that but he wanted to see what the doctor might say.
“They didn’t slide anywhere but inside, Rupert,” was the only answer he was given. “This type of delusional thinking is exactly what I’m talking about. What is it you’re afraid of?”
“I saw my eyes,” Rupert said, though he knew it was probably the wrong thing to say, what with the doctor accusing him of delusions. He didn’t even say it because he wanted an admission but because he wanted to see what reaction it would get. The reaction turned out to be a good one – the doctor shuffled ever so slightly and his eyes flickered with what Rupert could only assume was surprise. Being a professional though, he regained his composure as soon as it was lost.
“Rupert,” he said, his voice ever so slightly higher than it had been before, “I would like you to think about the statement you have just made. Does it seem a likely chain of events to you? Does this seem like something that would happen?”
Rupert scoffed. Losing his face hadn’t seemed like something that would happen once but that hadn’t stopped it.
Their time wasn’t up but the doctor was getting out of his chair, patting down his suit. “I think we’re done for today, Rupert. I really feel you could do with going home and reflecting on what’s happened here.”
“But we’re not finished!” Rupert said. “I only just got here.”
“And I can see we won’t be making any more progress right now. Remember, Rupert, this is a process. Sometimes, it can take a while for something to sink in.” Noticing the irritated look on Rupert’s lack of face he added, “This has been a very good session, when you think about it,” before quite literally herding Rupert out the door and shutting it behind him.
Rupert stood, shocked, for a minute and then decided to stand for a minute more so he could hear what the doctor did next. There was no noise for a while and Rupert was finding it hard to listen without looking like he was. Then, there came the doctor’s muffled voice – “What a monumental mess!” he was saying to somebody; on the phone Rupert supposed, unless his doctor was the crazy one after all. “The transfer should never have been made so close,” he went on, and then he said more but Rupert couldn’t hear it and he had to move away anyway because the receptionist was looking at him by then. He walked away slowly, trying to make it look casual but she started frowning so he walked a bit faster.
In the next session, the doctor seemed to have changed his tune. “I think you’re ready,” he said, before Rupert had even sat down. He didn’t seem like his usual self – he was flustered; he wouldn’t look at Rupert properly.
“Ready for what?” Rupert asked.
“To start your reabsorption,” the doctor told him, still not looking him in the eye.
Rupert wasn’t happy about it. He didn’t feel ready; he didn’t want it. Even so, he knew the therapy had gone too far to decline. He couldn’t be a no-facer forever.
“Well first, about what we were saying last week…” he said, but the doctor held up a hand and stopped him.
“I don’t want to cover that old ground Rupert,” the doctor said, “you know exactly how I feel about that thinking.” The doctor had never been the most openly talkative guy, but his behaviour was making Rupert nervous. He looked closer at the man’s face and saw there were bags under his eyes. Rupert decided not to pursue it, for the moment.
“So, what happens with reabsorption?” he asked. He didn’t understand how it might work, how long it might take.
“It works the same as the absorption did,” the doctor said. “We’ll do a mouth one session, nose the next and eyes after that.” Rupert nodded, though he didn’t look forward to the idea of being a half-facer again; he thought it best to be either one or the other.
“Right,” he said, once he had thought about it properly, “let’s start this then.”
The doctor nodded and gave Rupert a tight smile. “If you could lie back on the bed for me,” he said, “I’m just going to plug you into a little machine. Tight pinch.” There was the sharp stab of a needle on Rupert’s right arm before he had a chance to say that he didn’t see why he had to be plugged into a machine at all. “It just gives you nutrients,” the doctor said before he had a chance to even ask, “helps speed things up a bit. This is quite a strain on your energy reserves you know, Rupert.”
Rupert knew that wasn’t right. He would have said but the needle was there by then. He studied the machine – it was a small grey box that looked unassuming enough. There were no labels on it to tell him what it did. Rupert thought he would just wait; see what happened. He thought there wasn’t much point fighting. He had searched it on the computer at home – ‘No-facer conspiracies’. Nothing had come up. He was starting to think he had just gotten crazy about the whole thing.
The session involved a lot of nothingness. The doctor didn’t speak, just wrote things and looked through paperwork. Anytime Rupert did try to speak, the doctor only mumbled in reply. Rupert persevered and eventually got him to put down his pen and come over to stand at Rupert’s side. Rupert thought that was progress, until there was a hand on his arm and the doctor saying: “Rupert, you really shouldn’t be speaking during this. Try to relax and clear your mind. This is such an important part of your recovery, we can’t risk any mishaps.” Rupert swallowed – he hadn’t been told about any mishaps. Come to think of it, he hadn’t signed disclaimer forms about any of this. He should have, really. He wouldn’t have a leg to stand on. He tried to get off the bed but realised he was woozy. He sat up and his head was spinning. The doctor ran over again, easing him back onto the bed; he didn’t put up any resistance.
The doctor held a mirror in front of Rupert at the end of the session and Rupert gasped. His new mouth was there – fully formed and integrated. He wasn’t sure what he had been expecting, but he hadn’t thought it would fit so much to his face. “Your new mouth,” the doctor announced. Rupert studied the mouth, put his hands to it to make sure it was there. It was completely different to his old mouth – before, his lips had been thin and the set of them had been so stern that if he wasn’t purposefully making an effort to smile, he looked like he was angry. His new lips were fuller and they turned up at the corners in a way that made it look as though he was smiling a little bit, even when he wasn’t.
At the next session, Rupert regrew a nose. It was the same as before – the grey box was pulled out and plugged into his arm. Again, the doctor didn’t say anything and urged Rupert to do the same. Rupert had wanted to talk about his experience with having a new mouth, but the doctor had told him to be quiet. Rupert was annoyed, because he hadn’t really been able to adequately express the experience to anybody else and because it was meant to be therapy, after all.
The mouth had given him mixed feelings but he couldn’t deny that he did sort of like it. He supposed that maybe he might like it even more once all the other features were there. Even so, he thought it was a good mouth. He liked the way it curved at the corners and the way he could look cheerful without putting any effort in. He looked in the mirror a lot, so he could see what the mouth looked like when it was doing different things. He liked the way it looked pretty much always. There were still things that bothered him, but he was finding them easier to ignore. He was starting to think that maybe the doctor was right; he probably did spend too much dwelling on the practicalities. After all, did that really matter? He was starting to think he had grown the mouth himself anyway, because if he were to choose his own mouth, that probably would have been the one.
The nose was not such a success – it did have a slight kink in the middle. Nothing extreme, but certainly something noticeable when he turned to the side. The doctor saw him studying it, running his finger down the kink. “It’s not meant to be perfect, Rupert,” he said. “This isn’t about being more, or less attractive. This is about learning how to be complete.” Rupert nodded, though there was still some sadness, because his other nose had been completely kinkless.
Once the process was complete, and Rupert had his new eyes, he didn’t mind about his kinky nose anymore. While that nose was a little worse than before, the eyes were so many times better. He had been nervous going there that day, knowing that he would see his face as a whole for the first time in a long while. He was also nervous knowing that it would be his last session and feeling that maybe he wasn’t ready. After all, the inside of him was fundamentally the same, despite the fact he was quite literally a new man. He still felt bad about things, still had reactions that probably weren’t what they should have been. He tried to ignore that though, and focused instead on his excitement.
The eyes he got were the best they could have been and again, he was sure he must have been the one to grow them. They were blue, not like the sea but like a pure block of ice or the sky on a fresh, cold day. They were eyes that would make a person look twice. He could have looked at them all day. The doctor, who had seemed increasingly exhausted as their sessions went on, seemed to have a spring in his step.
He smiled the first genuine smile Rupert had seen from him in a while and gave Rupert what seemed like a heartfelt handshake. Rupert, so happy with his new eyes that he had pretty much forgotten about his misapprehensions, returned the handshake with vigour.
“Thank you so much, Doctor,” he was saying, “I’ll never forget what you’ve done for me.”
“Thank you, Rupert,” the doctor said. “You’ve been a very interesting case.”
Once he got home, Rupert took a picture. He had avoided cameras ever since he lost his first eye all those months ago. He didn’t have any pictures of himself as a no-facer. He didn’t think it would’ve been a good thing to remember. He thought it would have made him sad, or looked like he had been possessed or something. It felt good to be able to pose again; there had been a time when he was always in pictures. He uploaded that picture straight online, because his family had yet to see and he thought it would be the easiest way to spread the news. Next to the picture, he added the caption: ‘My new face ;)’. The picture got ten likes in half an hour, mainly from women. Rupert was pleased.
Ten miles away, a relatively new no-facer was searching the Internet for ‘no-facer conspiracy’. Like Rupert, they found nothing, but what did flash up, mainly because it was the most recent matching for the tag word ‘no-facer’, was Rupert’s picture. The new no-facer clicked on it, shocked, and studied it for a long time to be sure. With shaking hands, and a horrible feeling in their stomach, they clicked on the comment box. “That’s my nose,” they wrote, and pressed send.
Rupert never got a chance to see the comment though. It was deleted before it could be received.
Olivia Pope is a 24 year old writer, reviewer and general literary obsessive. She can be found @readinglikemad on Twitter.