The Story of a Scar

Since Dr. Wayland was late and there were no recent newsmagazines in the waiting room, I turned to the other patient and said: “As a concerned person, and as your brother, I ask you, without meaning to offend, how did you get that scar on the side of your face?”

The woman seemed insulted. Her brown eyes, which before had been wandering vacuously about the room, narrowed suddenly and sparked humbling reprimands at me. She took a draw on her cigarette, puckered her lips, and blew a healthy stream of smoke toward my face. It was a mean action, deliberately irreverent and cold. The long curving scar on the left side of her face darkened. “I ask you,” she said, “as a nosy person with no connections in your family, how come your nose is all bandaged up?”

It was a fair question, considering the possible returns on its answer. Dr. Wayland would remove the bandages as soon as he came in. I would not be asked again. A man lacking permanence must advertise. “An accident of passion,” I told her. “I smashed it against the headboard of my bed while engaged in the act of love.”

Here she laughed, but not without intimating, through heavy, broken chuckles, some respect for my candor and the delicate cause of my affliction. This I could tell from the way the hardness mellowed in her voice. Her appetites were whetted. She looked me up and down, almost approvingly, and laughed some more. This was a robust woman, with firm round legs and considerable chest. I am small. She laughed her appreciation. Finally, she lifted a brown palm to her face, wiping away tears. “You cain’t be no married man,” she observed. “A wife ain’t worth that much.”

I nodded.

“I knowed it,” she said. “The best mens don’t git married. They do they fishin’ in goldfish bowls.”

“I am no adulterer,” I cautioned her. “I find companionship wherever I can.”

She quieted me by throwing out her arm in a suggestion of offended modesty. She scraped the cigarette on the white tile beneath her foot. “You don’t have to tell me a thing,” she said. “I know mens goin’ and comin’. There ain’t a-one of you I’d trust to take my grandmama to Sunday school.” Here she paused, seemingly lost in some morbid reflection, her eyes wandering across the room to Dr. Wayland’s frosted glass door. The solemnity of the waiting room reclaimed us. We inhaled the antiseptic fumes that wafted from the inner office. We breathed deeply together, watching the door, waiting. “Not a-one,” my companion said softly, her dark eyes wet.

The scar still fascinated me. It was a wicked black mark that ran from her brow down over her left eyelid, skirting her nose but curving over and through both lips before ending almost exactly in the center of her chin. The scar was thick and black and crisscrossed with a network of old stitch patterns, as if some meticulous madman had first attempted to carve a perfect half-circle in her flesh, and then decided to embellish his handiwork. It was so grotesque a mark that one had the feeling it was the art of no human hand and could be peeled off like so much soiled putty. But this was a surgeon’s office and the scar was real. It was as real as the honey-blond wig she wore, as real as her purple pantsuit. I studied her approvingly. Such women have a natural leaning toward the abstract expression of themselves. Their styles have private meanings, advertise secret distillations of their souls. Their figures, and their disfigurations, make meaningful statements. Subjectively, this woman was the true sister of the man who knows how to look while driving a purple Cadillac. Such craftsmen must be approached with subtlety if they are to be deciphered. “I’ve never seen a scar quite like that one,” I began, glancing at my watch. Any minute Dr. Wayland would arrive and take off my bandages, removing me permanently from access to her sympathies. “Do you mind talking about what happened?”

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