12. The Measure of a Man
“I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant: I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.” – Hippocratic oath.
Do no harm. Not to Enid nor Ig. Not to the man in the workshop. And not to myself. The swirling pool of pity and doubt and connection I felt to this man must be pushed down out of my mind. The truth is I did not know who was living out there is the shell of my father’s destruction. Faces are all built on the same blueprint and there are only nine distinct facial types for the entirety of humanity.
My heart, my gut, the growing pulse of wonder and connection I felt for him – none of it was based in fact. Just feeling. I had to remove that from the equation in the interest of helping him without damaging myself.
So, I trudged out to the ruins and pounded on the entry with a rock.
He rose and shambled forward. He stopped, shielding his eyes from the sun. “Neighbor Dolly.” He said.
“I brought you some food and…” He reached out and took my arm and led me in. I was welcome. His right hand had three fingers. The index finger was missing – as if surgically removed. There was a nasty gashed scar on his middle finger, but it was intact.
We sat on the floor and I spread out a small towel with bacon, bread, peanut butter, apples and bottles of water and Gatorade. He looked at me questioningly. I slapped together a bacon sandwich and handed it to him. “Picnic.”
He smiled on the side of his face that bore no scarring. His dark hair covered his eyes, but a glint of silver-blue showed through. I smiled back. He grabbed the sandwich and took a bite.
“You never did tell me your name.”
He shook his head. He was chewing, mashing the bread around the bacon in his hand. He would not look at me directly.
“You don’t have a name. Okay. Well, I never liked my name. Dahlia is a flower and it was probably Enid’s idea. It’s pretentious. My dad called me “Dolly Daisy”. Louis never called me anything but “Dolly.”
“Louis.” He mumbled through food.
Was he saying that his name was Louis? Or was he just repeating so I would know he was listening?
“Louis is my brother. People tell me he died when he was little. But I don’t believe that.”
“Louis.” he nodded.
I almost could not look at him. I took out a small knife to cut an apple, but he flinched. He moved to crawl back to his corner, but I stopped him.
“For the apples. Not…not for you.” I picked up an apple, sliced it and dipped it in peanut butter. “Try this.”
He shoved the whole thing in his mouth, chewing furiously. His body began to relax. He came back to our picnic. Just two neighbors talking about not much. I opened a water bottle and handed it to him. He drank half straight down.
“Louis.” He said.
And every time he said it, he was heaving an invisible sledgehammer at my heart. But I could not let that show. I was here to learn, to help, to put him at ease.
“I’m learning to be a doctor, a surgeon. I came home for a little bit to fix some stuff. I came out here to fix this place. I didn’t know you were living out here. How long have you been out here?”
He shook his head. He wasn’t talking and I was trying not to get frustrated. I charged ahead on my mission anyway.
“Can I see your face?”
He stopped chewing. I reached out slowly and moved the long, dark hair away from his eyes. He grew very still, closed his eyes. Was he expecting pain or punishment? Was he learning that maybe I could be trusted? Nameless patient – case study – nothing more. Clinical assessment – a beating heart – a warm body.
The left half of his face, zygomaticus major to the mentalis, had deep scarring and restricted movement. It pulled the bottom eyelid down a bit, showing the red of the eye socket and making the eye look wide and frightened. He jerked away, but I touched his cheek very lightly and he leaned back into my hand. The scarring extended down his neck into the collar of his shirt. I followed it with my hand. He stopped my fingers by closing his hand around them.
I nodded. I put my hand on the other side of his face, smooth and unmarked. I drew a sharp breath. The planes of his face, the balance of his high cheekbone and straight jaw, the depth and curve of his eyes, put me in awe. He was beautiful. In the most cold and clinical measures of perfection, in the exact measures of divine ratio, he was perfect.
My fingers lingered on the vein pulsing beneath the white skin at his temple. And I pulled back from him. When I looked on his face, all at once both sides, he was a contradiction. He was the mask of all images we call good and evil. Hyde and a beautiful Jekyll. Fear and peace. A burnt angel.
I turned away from him to hide my own face. “I can help you, if you want. With…with the marks.”
He swallowed more water. He touched my shoulder and when I turned, he nodded at me.
“The food is all yours. I brought some wet wipes too. We’ll figure this out.” I emptied my bag of basic camping supplies for him and turned to leave.
“Louis.” He said. Enough. Please.
“You know, Mystery Man, keep saying that and I’ll start calling you that.”
He nodded again, pressing his fingers to the scars on his face.