February 08, 2005

The Birthmark

She was born with a large splotch on one side of her face, and she never forgot it for an second. Every moment of her life that seemed glad or carefree was really a tense effort to pretend she’d forgotten the birthmark.

She hated the sight of herself in a mirror. When she met another person, she averted that side of her face, looking at the person through the corner of one eye.

Year by year the splotch diminished, but so slowly she didn’t notice. Only once a decade or so, someone who’d known her most of her life would remark, “It’s getting smaller, isn’t it?” But it was too late for her to believe it.

When she was very old and in a nursing home, she was complaining one day to a dinner tablemate about how lonely her life had been, how empty of love, empty even of the common losses that give other lives their shapes.

“And all because of this goddamn birthmark.”

The other lady leaned forward and squinted at her face. “What, you mean that beauty spot?”