To make a mask that fit like a second skin, they required a mold of my father’s ruined face. I sat in a green vinyl chair and watched them work while he breathed through a rubber tube. This was after midnight in an office above a bowling alley.
The woman spooned thick white gook from a glass bowl onto his cheeks and forehead. She wore a nurse’s uniform. Her pink eyeglasses hung on a chain. She plopped the stuff on and the man helped spread it flat with a wide stick. Both of them wore white rubber gloves and paper surgical masks.
“Keep those big baby blues closed now,” the woman said.
“Not so tight you create lines,” said the man.
“No squinting,” said the woman.
Through his tube my father made kazoo sounds like he was laughing.
“Please don’t move,” the man said. “We want to avoid unnecessary impressions.”
The woman worked at scraping the bowl while the man used his stick to smooth paste over my father’s scars.
“How you doing in there? You doing okay?” the man said. He worked the stick slow and steady.
The woman blinked at me. “We should do the boy.”
“Why,” said the man.
She wrinkled her nose beneath her mask. “He’s too pretty.”
My father joined his hands behind his neck. He looked comfortable with his feet up. I listened for his breathing.
“This won’t take long, sweetie,” the woman said. “There’s a soda machine out in the hall. You don’t need any money for it.”
While the gook dried on my father’s face, the man and woman stood by an open window and smoked from the same cigarette.
I wandered into another office, turned lights on, found a Highlights magazine and flipped to the hidden picture. I studied it awhile. Then I undid two buttons and slipped the magazine inside my shirt, tucking it into the waistband of my jeans. I looked around for other things I could take back to the motel.
“Button your shirt.” my father said.
He had a drink in his hand. His hair was sticking up rooster style. “What are you doing?” His face looked raw, like new sunburn. A wormy scar curled from his mouth to his ear where it intersected a narrow scar that cut beneath his eye. “What are you hiding?”
“Nothing, ” I said.
He looped one arm around my waist, scooped me up and carried me on his hip. In the hallway we passed the man and woman who were talking quietly by the soda machine.
While his new face was cooking, stinking up the room, he held me on his jittering knee, his big hand squeezing the magazine against my ribs. He sipped his drink and told me again about Saint Louis, about the Gateway Arch, about our chances of finding my mother there. He promised we would never stop searching. But really we were moving further away all the time.
“Unnecessary Impressions” was awarded 2nd Prize in Lumina’s 2005 National Flash Fiction Contest, judged by Amy Hempel, and appeared in Lumina, the literary journal of Sarah Lawrence College.
Born in 1955 and raised in severe poverty, Bob Thurber committed his life to writing at age nineteen. He spent his adult years working menial jobs while passionately studying the craft of fiction. He served a lengthy apprenticeship, writing every day for twenty-five years before submitting his work for publication. Over the last few years he has published more than 200 short stories, appeared in 14 anthologies, and received awards or citations in thirty writing competitions. Most recently he is the recipient of: The Marjory Bartlett Sanger Award, The 2006 Meridian Editors’ Prize, and The 2007 Barry Hannah Fiction Prize. For more information visit: www.BobThurber.net