Stanislaus Frye, actor, was looking into the mirror. He was examining a blemish on his forehead, no bigger than a garden ant, which had materialized overnight. His index finger obsessively orbited the unwelcome intruder and cursing he began to bob and bow his head in a strange dance as if this could shake off the little mark or that it might fade under a more favourable light.
The matter was of the greatest importance, an issue of desperate urgency. He prided himself at all times on his appearance and would frequently explain to all those who would listen how his dedication and vigilance to his soft, pale face was the key to his future success. To be an advertisement star, the big name of the thirty second screen, one had to be tirelessly conscious and faithful to the aesthetic routine. Today in particular was significant. He had a dinner date in the evening and he had to make preparations for a shoot tomorrow.
His fidgeting continued. So anxious was he, so unnerved by this sudden strain, he began to have wild ideas of how the mark must glare on his head like a break light, the red shade rebounding off the tiles and walls, against the cream porcelain of the sink and toilet. The white carnations on the windowsill boasted themselves as they paly blushed. Abject humiliation and universal condescension surely awaited him from the moment he stepped out the front door. He took a step back from the mirror and threw his arms wide. He wanted to throw off his concerns with a sudden burst of good humour. This only increased the vulgarity of the offence in his mind’s eye. Still this blot glared at him from the mirror, perfectly framed by the mocking oval mirror. Even his white dressing gown seemed to cast a strange light on his impurity. Finally he gave himself no choice but to retreat from his washroom back to his bedroom.
Pacing by his bed he began to ruminate about the past few days. What had he done to incur this? An erring in his diet, perhaps? This was such a catastrophe. Only two days he had remarked to himself and Louis how fat and bloated Tubb Willis was looking recently. Now he had to confront his own case of unsightliness.
No, he thought, it wasn’t all so bad. People like Tubb Willis exist to serve others; they remind you that you could be in a worse state. Everyone exists to satisfy someone else’s own concerns and doubts. Some are much lower on the scale while others, mercifully, rank far higher.
He found that his finger had returned to its patrol around the blemish. Enough! Enough with this foolishness. All would be well. The solution was simple: today he would not venture beyond his door. Dinner was an impossibility. What would Marguerite say if he turned up in this state? He’d cancel, she’d understand. Stay at home, recuperate, be prepared for tomorrow.
Looking into the long mirror by the foot of the bed he returned to his examinations. The mark was not raised. He estimated that it would not mature much beyond its present state, he needed to wait, in solitude, and with care and diligence all would settle. He disrobed and studied himself in the mirror, caressing his firm stomach and thighs. It cannot be denied, he thought, that he was a fine specimen. The surface matched the soul within. Tussling his hair he wondered whether it would be possible to rearrange his fringe to cover the mark.
It was then that he felt an itch. It was like a fly crawling up his back. Running his fingers over the spot he felt a slight crevice in his skin. Turning in the mirror he wheezed a gasp as he found a curious aberration on his flesh. A divot on his lower back- colourless, though with a waxy shine, it seemed to him like a crater on the moon. The rim was fleshy and quibbled beneath his finger tip.
“What is this absurdity?” he whispered into his reflection.
He stood there, naked, constantly probing, his fixation blinding him to, first, the passing minutes, then the hour which rolled on without him. It was only when a glint of sunlight, creeping up past the window frame, caught his eye that his trance was interrupted. Noticing the time he felt a flush of panic, dashing to his chest of drawers and began to scramble through looking for clothes. He was so agitated he spent no time deciding his outfit. Flying out of his bedroom and down the stairs to the kitchen he fought to maintain his resolve. Fixing up the kettle he told himself that nothing would change, this was just a temporary curiosity. No need to see the doctor. He probably slept on something- a loose copper, perhaps. He would still face the day with the same mirth and alacrity as he always did.
It was while he was pouring the kettle into his cup that he noted the next mark. On his right hand on the flesh between his thumb and index finger was another sunken, pale crevice. It was the size of a fingernail and seemed to be much deeper than the one on his back. It was like something had taken a bite out of him. He was so disturbed that he failed to notice that his overflowing mug and it was only with the tapping of water onto the floor did he awake. He cursed and scream “Devil!” as he scampered his feet away. Returning the kettle he brought his hand to his face, squinting like a myopic old man, and began a new inspection. Using his fingernail he began to gently pinch the rim of the mark and the skin quivered ever so slightly beneath his touch. He began to rock the skin back and forth. Like an anaesthetised lip it gave no resistance. On and on he rocked it, gently at first though gaining speed until the little lip, under too much exertion, teared itself away leaving a hanging flap so slightly glistening like candle wax. Aghast he sprang back from himself and coughed out a desperate cry. “What is this?” he screamed inside his head.
He rushed out of the kitchen and down the hallway to the coat rack by the front door. Reaching into a jacket pocket he tore out a pair of black gloves and frantically pulled them on. Staring at his hands he slowly opened and closed his palms, his dread still climbing, fearing that they might abandon all hope and plop right off. Safely reassured after many heavy breaths of consternation Frye began to walk back down the hallway. This was all getting ridiculous. What was the explanation for all of this? He questioned whether or not this was some terrible waking dream from which he could not escape. Should he go to the doctor? It would mean going outside- who could tell what calamity could fall upon him next. He was usually quite a
As he ventured further down the hall and deeper into the shade of his own thoughts he began to scratch his hands. And then his sides too. The gnawing tickle from before had returned. Finally it felt as though a hundred ants were crawling over his hands. In panic he ripped off the gloves and had the air stolen from his lungs. His hands were still there, technically, but now they were riveted with sunken marks- on his palms, his fingers, the back of his hands. They resembled dried up sponges than his once soft hands. The tickling resurged across his body, thousands of ants this time. The malformed hands scrambled to abate the irritation but it was of no use. He was an animal, turned mad by invisible hornets. Tearing of his clothes, buttons from his shirt falling to his feet, he cast his eyes on his body, no longer firm but riven with the cavernous pores. Hunched over like a reptile his frightened eyes were wide and screaming with the first taste of inanity.
It was then, curiously, that he remembered the mirror in the hallway. It hung opposite the coats. Some voice told him to take a look. Finding the strength to regain his former posture he rose from his stoop and looked and saw. The little red mark was still on his forehead. As were countless more. Sunken, gaping pores, almost breathing, the rims all cracked and dry and nearly serrated. The skin was turning into a living honeycomb. Cast across his cheeks in swirls and crossing lines were holes and bumps. He was blighted all over. Face close to the mirror he saw. From the dried crust there also seemed to be little tuffs of skin, swaying so peacefully like sea anemone ruffled by the current.
Frye stood transfixed. The revulsion would not relinquish him. Steadily a looming cloud passed through him; it was like a fog passing before his eyes. A force which overwhelmed his panicked senses and he felt himself falling, collapsing inward, so fast and deep he thought he might slip through the floorboards like a pebble breaking the surface of a placid lake. And, just before all turned to the impenetrable darkness, he thought he heard some distant voice, much like his own but possessed with confusion, feebly call out, “Why?”