The Face

The day after burying my lover, I wake to a bomb exploding behind my left eye. 

Allie the dog lifts her head from the pillow. A speck of blood rests on her nose. 

I lurch to the trailer’s tiny bathroom and examine the damage in its postage stamp mirror. My face is a ripe plum with a bite taken out, juices dripping down my neck. Allie watches from the bed, head on her paws, as I rinse the red from my hair.

I have one eye, one ear, one nose, one mouth, and a bloody chasm where the left side of my face used to be.


I take the dirt into my hands and knead it into the form of a skull, a cheekbone, an upper lip.


Allie’s head is silky under my fingers as we walk along the dusty road to the place where he is buried.I feel no pain, only her quiet animal strength. 

The upturned clay at the gravesite is the same color as his skin. I take the dirt into my hands and knead it into the form of a skull, a cheekbone, an upper lip. I find a caterpillar for an eyebrow, a shell for an ear, and a white and brown rock for an eye. 

I tuck his face under my arm and carry it back to the trailer. 


In the yellow glare of the bathroom mirror I plop his head onto mine. Our two faces don’t quite fit together. I try to smooth down the edges, molding his into my own, but it’s just too big. My white hair drifts about his shiny scalp. The caterpillar squirms and I look quizzical.

I close one eye, and look through his. The trailer feels smaller. Allie smells less like dog and more like home.


When his mother sees me she shrieks and throws a potted plant. 

“He is not yours to keep!” she screams. 

His father, arm braced against the door jam, bows and shakes his head.

I hand them the keys to his trailer and catch a bus back to the coast. At least I get to keep Allie.


I go back to work. I do not cry. When I start to feel afraid I close my own eye and live through his. 

I watch my feet swirl over bike pedals. I see my hand reaching for green bananas at the market – his favorite – and observe the stringy texture as my teeth sink through the flesh. I hold his guitar and slide my fingers over the frets. He never taught me how to play.   

The only things I feel are the fur behind Allie’s ears, the heaviness of her back against my own as we sleep.


The city damp presses down on us. Mist gathers and the clay shifts, refusing to sit still. His ear droops and his nose flairs.

“You look different,” my friend says, “Are you eating enough?”

My heart races. I stare at the silver hoop on a chain around her neck, framed by the tips of her shiny brown hair. I feel the caterpillar angle down towards my nose and suddenly I am filled with rage.

“I needed a change.” I say. 

My friend leans back and frowns. The harsh buzz of a coffee grinder echoes through the café.

“I’m only trying to help,” she says. 


His face gets heavy and unwieldy at times. My neck becomes permanently bent. I forget what the trees look like when they are not tilted.

My boss is understanding until he is not. 

“I need you to be here when you are here,” he says. 

His thick eyebrows glide up and down and the caterpillar wiggles in sympathy, tickling my brow. I try not to laugh. 

I leave his office. My fingers crawl over keyboards and somehow I do better. 


“Sometimes I miss the army,” he told me once.

“Why?” I asked. 

“Because I knew I was doing something meaningful.” He said. “What is all this?”


They are bacteria and parasites and microscopic spiders that live in the pores of your skin, emerging at night to make love on your ears or nose or eyelashes.


I read once that most of the cells in the human body are not human. They are bacteria and parasites and microscopic spiders that live in the pores of your skin, emerging at night to make love on your ears or nose or eyelashes.

 “I’ll kill them!” He said when I told him about the spiders. But that was a lie. Real spiders wove mansions in his closets.He could not bear to hurt a living thing, except maybe himself.


The caterpillar is the first to go. I look permanently startled until the day I decide to pluck it off. 

Then the winter rains hit. His scalp grows rivulets and valleys as the clay drips down my face.

I try to fill the cracks with dirt from the backyard, but it is not like the clay of the desert. It is too dark and crumbly; too full of death and hope.

I should have glazed his face and stuck it in a kiln. But he was not a man made of stone. 


Allie lies in bed. I put a finger on the short fur on her nose and look at it closely. 

For a moment she looks whole, and then the edges start to blur. Pieces of her flake off and fall to the bedsheets. Holes open up and are filled in by lamplight.

I gather all the pieces I can and hold them to my heart.

Art by Nunzio Paci

Nunzio Paci is an Italian visual artist based in Bologna, working in painting and drawing. He has developed a practice concerned with scientific and environmental issues, with particular emphasis on anatomy and the man-nature relationship. His work has been exhibited throughout Europe, the US and Asia and reviewed extensively. Instagram: @nunziopaci

Kara Jean Manke is a writer living in Berkeley, California. Her literary writing has appeared in the collection Microchondria II and her science writing has appeared on NPR and in The Scientist magazine. She can be found online at and @Kara_Jean7.