Toward evening, well before Traub expected it, came a notable transformation in the face. The nose became more and more accentuated, like a blade, the cheeks grew hollow, the skin began to tighten. Traub continued trying to draw the profile, but the face was changing with such rapidity that he could only capture it, when he captured it at all, at several removes. He had the distinct impression that he was observing not one but several faces, coming one after another, quicker and quicker until finally, moments before death, the rush of faces was so rapid that it made Traub feel dizzy, and he forgot the paper, the pencil, and just watched, and in the vast shuffle of humanity nearly caught sight of himself.
Days later, back in the city, having left the mountain inn, the body buried and left behind, Traub found himself shaken. He began to see heads in the emptiness, in all the space that surrounded them, isolated and remote. On the platform in the metro surrounded by hundreds of people he saw nothing but a series of heads, each suspended in a vast emptiness, each face in the crowd parcel of a single face that was changing with a rapidity he could no longer comprehend— as if a progression in time had been instead smeared out over space, all the faces of the city a record of one man’s death. No matter where he was he had the distinct impression that there was only he, Traub, sitting beside a bed where a body was slowly giving way, through a desperate flurry of faces, to an implacable and faceless corpse.
How many nights, Traub wondered about himself, night after night, as in the darkness that one face broke into multitudes and spread all about the ceiling separating out until each face was surrounded by a terrifying silence. All around him in the light of the street, the light of the moon, the room was rendered harsh and was taking on at last its true character, its true face: no object, he realized, touched any other— the legs of the chair, weightless, no longer touching the floor; the table too, shimmering and discrete; the curtains not touching the window, but rather each panel riding remote and alone. Everything was its own solitary world, he realized; if he tried to touch something, he would touch nothing. He rode on his bed above a void, was suspended above a solitary world that was a bed in his own solitary world, all of it hanging in a void. He lay there, feeling faces tick across his flesh like a clock, slowly now, but a little faster every day. And who shall draw my profiles, he wondered, no longer certain of who he was. And who shall render all my faces as I die?
This is excerpted from The Wavering Knife (FC2), Brian Everson’s fifth story collection.
BRIAN EVENSON is the author of ten books of fiction, most recently the limited edition novella Baby Leg. He has translated work by Christian Gailly, Jean Frémon, Claro, Jacques Jouet, Eric Chevillard, Antoine Volodine, and others. He is the recipient of three O. Henry Prizes as well as an NEA fellowship.