Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Belly: Chapter Three

All ages show
By Francis Scudellari

"To see life in its totality is a very special gift."

"He won't appreciate it."

"He'll learn to. He has no choice."

"Maybe that's because we don't give him any."

A slow trickle of warm drool tickles Jonah's chin and startles him awake. For a brief moment the raised edges of the trailing liquid sit clearly on the front of his necktie. Then, as quickly as he notices it, the drop sinks into the dyed material; its outline lost in the twisting shapes on the cloth.

Embarrassed by his mouth's impolite leak, Jonah nervously turns toward the window and searches the mirrored faces. Had anyone seen? The glass, at this hour black-backed by the stubborn night, usually casts a perfect but inverse depiction of the cramped car's interior. Today, oddly, the portrait is indistinct.

The picture of row upon row of cushioned pews that stretch along each tin-can wall contains only strangely featureless faces. Jonah sees no eyes glancing disapprovingly at him. He sees no eyes at all; nor noses, lips, and lashes.

Even the bloodless hands that wrap themselves around the steel poles welded from seat top to ceiling are lacking form. No knuckles, wrinkles, ragged nails or wispy hairs are visible on the pale blobs.

But it's only the human flesh that lacks its customary identifying marks. Everything inanimate stands out sharply in the yellow light cast by the dim, domed bulbs that cling to the arched ceiling. He can make out the fibers of scarves and the creases on pant legs.

Grown brazen by confusion, Jonah rotates on his seat and stares at the man seated next to him. He sees only a swirl of browns, pinks and yellows, as if the wool-clad shoulders support a color wheel in constant motion.

Jonah strains his eyes into focus. Like a thumb on the flipped pages of a book, his gaze halts the face in flux. The salt and pepper coloring of the middle-aged man who he remembers boarding the train suddenly returns. The nose takes its recalled bulbous shape. The chin sprouts its noted stubble.

Then Jonah blinks and the image becomes as unsettled as his mind. Intricate networks of cracks spider-web their way across parched patches of the man's skin. Cheek bones push their way out and draw the now loose skin up under them. Once burning eyes cool and recede into shadowy caverns.

Another blink shifts the man's face back in time to the smooth, pudgy countenance of a teen. Frightened, Jonah spins away from his neighbor and stares at his own face captured in the dark glass. His features, drained of color, are otherwise unchanged. He peers deeply into the dilated pupils, and the glimpse of a new path flashes before him.
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