When I Touch Your Face

Image © Adrian Williams 2015


by Bud Smith December 30, 2015

The woman at the desk has frizzled hair and sharp teeth. Were old friends.

You dont have to sign in,she says.

She is smoking a cigarette in secret.

I wave and walk down that lemon and kelly hallway.

On Thursdays for mandatory community service hours, I read to the blind.

But like everyone else on this planet, the blind have no use for books.

Here are some of my lies:

I have lied about the Wizard of Oz. I gave him a hook for a hand and a fear of any kind of snake, big or small. I made the bricks out of watermelon sugar. I gave the witch heroin for blood. I had her speak in Nigerian Jazz.

I have re-fabricated other false pasts. Huckleberry Kim accidentally froze the Mississippi River, while her lover Tree Top Jim, swam in it. Kim used just a single drop of an experimental world destroying weapon called Ice Ice Baby Nineteen.

The Little Women all had flame throwers, and could see the future by placing their palms on the foreheads of sleeping tigers. Jane Eyre died in a spelunking accident searching for El Dorado. Lots Wife didnt turn to salt, she turned into a pterodactyl, which he rode with a sophisticated saddle, right into the center of a sand storm that was whispering both their names.

Youd think Id be more popular here.

But I’m not popular here.

The orderly wont look me in the eye.

He pretends to mop the floor as I pass, but my brain didnt melt in my fire. I know the bucket has no water.

My girl for today, the worst girl in the entire facility, is by the window.

Maybe twenty. Maybe I am being punished by being given her.

Maybe she is being punished harder by being sentenced to me.

People like us are often herded together slowly by the invisible will of the damned, fake-happy.

I say, Hello.

She looks. She has no pupils. Her eyes are solid milk.

Ah you!

She springs from her wheelchair—onto sure legs, surprises me.

You dont need that, I guess.

Oh me? Im a back flipper from way back.

With her palms, she smooths the creases of a dress overrun with gold finches.

Maybe she is at an eighth grade mixer waiting to be asked to dance, but is feral and just got done foaming at the mouth through the braces. I have no corsage. My parole officer wants me to take a job at the municipal dump: night shift.

You can tell a lot of things about a person from their hand shake,she says.

Her hands are like burnt ice cream.

What does mine say?

You were in a fire,she grins.

I sit down on the bed. Yeah, I was in a fire, Nancy Drew.

She sits back down in her wheelchair, proud of herself. Probably somebody else in the home told her about me already. Theyre kicking field goals with me here.

The blind have no love for me either.

Howd the fire happen?

Ah shit, shut up.

I wanna know—tell.

Why you roll around in a wheelchair if you dont need it?

I like to bump into things. I want a demolition derby. Ive listened to them on TV. They sound fun. Im tired of feeling around. Howd you get cooked?

Oh it was stupid. I was trying to set my motorcycle on fire. I was trying to blow it up. For the insurance money.

Whats it like to ride a motorcycle?

“I’d feel bad describing it.

Probably feels like being a loud bird, Id guess.

Loud bird. Yes, thats it.

Low flying monster hawk.

I’ve got Life of Pi on the coffee table. I am trying to decide if I am going to make the tiger be the entire forces of Nazi Germany or if I am going to make the boat be a kite.

Did you hurt anyone else, burning the bike?

Just me.

Do you want to feel my face?I ask.

No, that’s okay.”

Dont you want to know what I look like?

I can tell from your voice and the things you say that youre ugly, but dont take that the wrong way. Its the tone of your voice.

I laugh. Shes right. I say, Youre no looker either.

We make a good pair, an asshole and a blind girl.

Well, youre not just blind, youre also an asshole. I dont think Im gonna read to you.

Oh boo hoo. You sound like you’re from New Jersey. People from New Jersey dont even know the whole alphabet.

Where you from?

“I’m from Hell.

She stands from the wheelchair and walks over. I changed my mind, let me feel your face.

Nah, get away from me.

“Don’t be such a pathetic milquetoast.” she whispers.

I look over my shoulder and the orderly is looking in the doorway and suddenly Im more paranoid about looking like a punk whos afraid of a little girl, so I give in.

I close my eyes and she runs her fingers across the rippled folds of my cheek, my brow, my chin, my twisted nose.

You were foolish,she says.

“I’ve heard that.

You dont even have glasses on. Do you wear contact lenses?


20/20 vision.

She smiles again. Her teeth are perfect but for some reason still have metal braces.

I want to show you what I see, sometimes its better than a dream.

What do the blind dream of?


I let her close my eyelids for me.

I let my lids fall. Let them seal in total.

Dont get nervous. Just relax.

“I’m relaxed.

She rests her fingers on my eyeballs, applies slight pressure.

And then the world lowers its volume. The world hums and says goodbye repelling down a deep chasm. The sky folds in and the clouds fold in, all vacuumed away into a chamber of perfect snow packed nothing.

This must be why people meditate or do the dishes.

She applies greater pressure.

With the pressure I can see my blood vessels.

I see a faint purple light rising.

Then a pink.

The light becomes brighter. It transitions to orange and then white and then back to pink.

She presses slightly harder.

I sigh, completely gone gone.

Here it comes,she says.

What?I say, hoping to be shown a vine obscured temple, a white lightning sneezing horse, a volcano of pinball answers, a question that erases itself. The music, perhaps, of my life, Ive never heard, but have often longed for.

But instead—

This is when she rips my eyelashes off.

Are you fucking kidding me!

The orderly comes through the door and pushes her back in her wheel chair.

Shes celebrating like she just kicked the winning field goal and I am the Super Bowl.

And Im walking down the hallway with my hand over my face, just a little blood, but oh god the pain and the orderly is saying, You okay, man. You okay.

“I’m peachy.”

I knew she was gonna do that shit.

Thanks for the heads up.

Anytime,he says, slapping my back.

The woman at the desk has finished her secret cigarette. She smiles the smile of a deeply imbedded spy, They love you here.

I’m all temporary hate.

As she signs my paperwork.

I glance at the two more community service hours added to my tally. And I think about how I could have stayed picking up trash on the side of the road. Or I could be washing and waxing cars at the police station. Or I could be giving out soup at the shelter.

You coming back,she says.

A drop of blood from my face, lands on her hand, the slip, the metallic butcher block desk.

I say, Everyone is hurt—everyone is angry. I’m right at home.

Bout sums it up,she says, passing my slip to me.

On the walk home, I wonder, how I can I bring a demolition derby to this needful girl?


Bud Smith is the author of the novels, F 250, Tollbooth and I’m From Electric Peak. His work has been at Hobart, The Rumpus, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Smokelong, Word Riot, among others. He works heavy construction in NJ and lives in NYC, with his wife, a textile artist.

Adrian Williams is a Canadian artist working from Berlin, and one of the founding members of the Royal Art Lodge. More here: williamsadrian.com


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