BEAUTY MARKED
Albert Mobilio

My lower lip split open by an angrily swung door—once a blood-caked groove six stitches long and deep enough to leave, when it healed, a curlicue of scar tissue that ripples over the lip line and fades into my chin, thus lending my whole face a startled aspect, as if I had just done something to muss my lipstick. This split lip turns out to be a pretty good thing. When it happened, I cupped my mouth in my hand and felt the sick-making ooze of blood between my fingers, felt with my tongue the frightening raggedness of my flesh, and my first thought was Who will want to kiss me now? I ran into the bathroom and turned on the light above the medicine chest and beheld my new face under construction. A pinkish foam clung to my mouth’s corners as the red stream, which dripped off my chin and already dappled my blouse, made me look like a sloppy vampire. For a moment I could only stare, fixed on my own impossibly wide eyes. Then I held a wad of tissues to my chin and ventured to explore the cut first with my tongue and then, with even more trepidation, my finger. Christ! Will I want anyone else to kiss me?

I had only myself to blame for the carnage. It was not a wound delivered by a cruel lover, nor suffered while staving off some psychopath’s attack; there was no tense tale, no rueful confession to be told. It wasn’t even a household mishap caused by a series of improbable events—a tale to trot out during one of those war-wound conversations. Not me; I can only hope to be amusingly improbable. Instead, if someone asks about my scar I have to state simply that, being much piqued at not finding my house keys, I yanked open the kitchen door right into my face. An act both baldly clumsy and just plain dumb, it has nonetheless left me with a teardrop’s streak of damaged skin as a memorial to its unremarkability.

Of course, the scar itself hardly goes remark-less. Sooner or later, everyone asks. They summon up their meager tact to say something like, Oh, I hope that wasn’t painful what you did there? and then nod in the general direction of my face. For fun, I’ll look puzzled and answer, Where? That gets them down to the grim business at hand; they have to say, That scar on your lip, and I guess saying those words out loud must hurt because people wince as they whisper them, or they do a bit of pantomime that involves scratching the air in front of their chin and then pointing at me. They do it for their sake, not mine. It’s like they’ve discovered my tragic flaw, and breaking the bad news proves them to be tough-love truth-tellers. And it follows, then, that I should be darn grateful they’ve confided my own bang-up with a discretion fit for confessing to the family priest that you’ve knocked up a nun. Sensitive folks. The kind whose open mouths I sometimes wish would just heal up shut.

A few months after the accident, one guy won my heart by leaning across the bar table, squinting purposefully at me, and asking, Hey, what the fuck happened to your lip, you get bit by a donut? Not surprisingly, he was soused and would later pass out cold in my apartment while struggling to get his sweatshirt over his head. I remember him sliding off the couch, his arms upraised and a wadded ring of shirt covering his eyes like he was surrendering to a firing squad. I sat beside him swigging my beer, indifferent to the trickle of brew leaking past the imperfect seal my busted lip made around the bottle’s mouth. My shirt was open—he’d gotten that far—so the beer drummed down onto my sternum, losing its chill as it coursed underneath my bra. Scarface can’t hold her liquor, I taunted myself. But sometime after dawn he crawled into bed with me and spooned me from behind. Just as I was waking, he pecked at my chin very gently. His kisses circled my mouth until his tongue found the fissured skin, which he sucked at with lips pursed like a nursing infant’s. For a moment I felt like a fairy princess. But sobriety and morning light conspired against romance, so I sent him packing.

Still, he gave me a clue as to what lay in store. To the way my sliver of wreckage is a siren call. To the whispers and pledges. To the braided strands of sexual crush and body blows. In short, I mostly get the men I want when I want them. That’s what I mean by it being a pretty good thing. I had spent years slinking under the brim of an imaginary hat to avoid come-on looks. But now my scar throws the boys a bait and switch. Its jagged red line—a wiry cascade tumbling from the crescent lake of my lip—makes them look twice. Then they stare, trying to right the symmetry that’s been botched, trying to figure out what I would look like if. And that’s when I know I’ve got them. Once they’re redoing my makeup, recombing my hair, unswinging that door, they have looked too long, their gaze unguarded by truculence. Later, they will kiss too gently but when they realize it doesn’t hurt, they’ll tug with their teeth and nibble my scar. And me, I will open my mouth and make my imperfect O. Or what I guess is really a Q. The kissing gets good when it gets hard and ragged, slick surfaces prone to collision. I kiss back like something slammed into motion. I open my mouth wide as if beginning to say Oh no, the words I said over and over that day my darling face came alive with the immutability of change.

 

Albert Mobilio’s books of poetry include The Geographics and Me with Animal Towering. His essays have appeared in Tin House, Harper’s, The Village Voice, and Cabinet. He teaches at the New School and is the fiction editor of Bookforum.

 

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