Monstrosity

A word must be put in for monstrosity.

It has an ugly head, but disguises itself wonderfully under the soft and peachy skin of a four year old child who is loved by everybody. She knows she is loved. She knows her smile will charm an adult, and a kiss on a wrinkled cheek will yield more affection, which she thrives on.

Her eyes are wont to fill quickly, as her heart is so sensitive, and the adults croon over her, saying what a kind and wonderful soul she has.

‘You were so sweet and charming, Len,’ my mother says.

She doesn’t know the truth.

She doesn’t know that when I was four, I used to pinch a little girl. I pinched her and she cried.

I did it again the next day.

And the day after that as well.

I don’t know why I did it. I just remember doing it. I remember feeling guilty.

So why did I do it?

What was wrong with me?

Was I guilty about doing it, or was I guilty about being found out?

If you look at photographs, you see a small child with shiny brown curly hair and a dimpled smile. Her eyes sparkle with innocence and brim with joy.

If you peep into my memories, you see lots of love. Lashings of it. I am saturated in love. I have so much that it spills easily out of me and I can make little gifts of it to give to everybody else.

So where was the love in my four year old brain when I pinched that innocent little girl who did nothing to me?

My mother doesn’t know that when I was seventeen, I thought I was in love, and did many selfish things to chase something that was bad for me.

She doesn’t know that when I was twenty three, I felt hard done by, and used my husband’s love for me to selfishly get my own way, even though another party deserved to have her whims met more than I.

She doesn’t know that I have temper tantrums, sometimes, and say cruel things to my husband, who goes out of his way to please me, and who always wants to treat me well.

She thinks I am kind, and compassionate, and sweet, and she takes comfort in the fact that a child of hers creates good in the world.

But you see, I don’t feel so good.

I feel monstrous.

I cannot sleep at night, because I cannot ask forgiveness of those I have wronged, because I am either terrified they will crash back into my life, or because they do not know I have wronged them.

I did not commit a murder. I didn’t take anybody’s rights away. They probably don’t even think about what happened because they don’t know, and even if they did, they would not think it was monstrous.

But it is.

Oh, it is.

And humanity is not perfect, nor will it ever be. Humans make mistakes, that is for sure. But I have learned one heartbreaking thing about adulthood, and that is that humans have the power to hurt others. They can hurt others without realising it, so very deeply, and they can make selfish mistakes.

The mistakes you can make, others can make too. So you really should work on treating people well, and really think about what slithers out of your mouth.

There.

That is all I have to say today.

I wanted to disguise these dark thoughts in a piece of fiction, but I don’t have it in my heart. I feel very heavy and monstrous.

I have to work on being kinder, and better, and more honest. And dear God, forgive me for pinching that girl when I was four years old, because I severely regret it. What was wrong with me?

Love Letters #26

Did you know, you can remember things you have never experienced?

Or that sometimes, you can have a ‘false memory’, where your brain mistakes things you have imagined for things you have actually experienced? It’s amazing, some scientists did an experiment about it a while back and they managed to convince a group of people that they had a similar traumatic childhood experience when in actual fact they did not.

Sometimes, I think that our story was a false memory. Something that never really happened. It wasn’t so long ago that we were walking down the cold autumn streets, your fingers warm inside your red leather gloves. You convinced me so artfully that spending £100 on them was a great investment.

The minute we left the shop, with the gloves wrapped delicately in expensive tissue paper that you would only throw away, you turned to me with a smile and said, ‘Ooops.’

I remember everything in such vivid detail. The way your eyes looked when you were cross, and your mouth would set in one corner only. The way you would shove spoonfuls of cream into your mouth when you were mad, or sad. Pour it into a big mug and squeeze chocolate syrup on top. That was disgusting. I remember it fondly. I remember when you used to sleep sometimes, you would curl your fingers like a child. It was so odd. Maybe you felt safe?

I remember when you used to write, you would press the pen down so hard your fingernails turned white with the pressure, and your face would go right down so your nose was touching the paper. Sometimes you would come down and there would be ink spatters dotting your face like literary freckles.

When autumn came you blossomed. Cheeks red, hair alight from the summer sun, you would stay out for hours collecting leaves, and be so disappointed when I didn’t want to come with you. I wish I came with you, and collected leaves with you until my fingers were raw with cold.

I can’t see the dying trees outside now without curling into myself. I can’t look at all the leaves you collected and framed and piled around the house without my heart breaking into a hundred dead pieces. Over and over again.

You were so warm and full of life. I don’t know how somebody so alight with fire and passion could be so cold and still. It makes no sense to me. As all these thoughts rush through my mind, I begin to think we never happened. I just dreamed you up.

But the red gloves dangling over the edge of the dressing table, where you left them by mistake before we left home that fateful day, are a stark and painful reminder of what I have lost.

Love Letters #25

 

A note slipped out of Emilia’s book while she was tidying out her dorm room.

My dear, 

Nothing is sweeter than your bright smile those cold mornings when I miss your arms around me. I can’t wait to see you again tonight.

M.L

Emilia’s fingers ran along the words. A romantic affair. She remembered it as though it were yesterday. Why is love so much more sweet when it is forbidden? Sweet. Painful.

Kisses under the underground arches when the rest of the students had moved on ahead. His hand on her knee under the table, while he played merry to the adults.

Sweet little notes slipped between the pages of borrowed books.

Glances above the heads of the laughing crowds, knowing smiles when introduced to each other by mutual friends. Her heart would surge with joy and excitement and a giddy pleasure. At the back of her mind she knew it was wrong, oh, so wrong.

But love was good, was it not? Love was sound. Love was beautiful. How could something so beautiful be wrong, then?

Her mind had been racing much too fast to focus on any words. Her legs were crossed at the ankles, where they rested on the other side of the wide window ledge she reclined on. Her eyes wandered the green outside the college windows. She couldn’t eat those days, she couldn’t sleep. That was, she told herself countless times, what it was like to be in love.

She saw him walking across the courtyard and her heart quickened. She felt her pulse pounding through her veins as she watched him stop and speak to some students. They laughed, and she smiled. Ever the charmer. Then he glanced up at the windows, and, not seeing her, hurried indoors.

She hadn’t stopped to think about why she was so special, when there were countless other young girls in her classes, some prettier than herself, smarter, funnier. She knew they were all after him, and it gave her a sense of huge satisfaction to know she had been singled out from amongst the masses. She was above them all, even though she couldn’t say anything about it.

Nobody knew, but they didn’t have to. Her confidence grew daily. And nightly. She would tiptoe back to her dorm room, wrapping herself tightly in her night gown. Slip under her covers and lie there looking at the ceiling, smiling to herself. She would be exhausted the next day, and when he handed her her assignments in class he would murmer,

‘Late night, Miss Clarkson?’

She would cast her eyes down and hide her smile, but joy would surge within her. And under her papers a small yellow note in his thick, straight handwriting.

Later that day she was going to Lord Warrington’s ball. Her whole family had been invited, it was to be a grand affair. She had prepared her red evening dress weeks earlier. Diane had gone with her and they had chosen matching shoes as well.

‘You will look positively ravishing, darling. Pity Tommy Sand couldn’t take you.’

‘Oh,’ Emilia said airily, ‘Oh it doesn’t matter. I am perfectly fine going with Mother and Father.’

Diane had glanced away, eyebrows raised. She couldn’t for the life of her imagine how anybody could go alone, or with their parents. The humiliation!

Out on the dance floor, Emilia was never short of partners. She spotted him across the room, speaking to a woman with thick black hair. Surprised, she started forward. Nobody from college was here. They could talk, maybe even dance!

She excused herself from her dance partner to squeeze past people to get to him, in her hurry slipping a little on the dance floor. His back was to her when she reached out and touched his shoulder with her gloved hand. He turned around, and she smiled wide, about to say how good it was to see him and how they could be free, here, and would he like to dance?

Before a single word fell from her lips she saw his eyes widen, and dart sideways. She wanted to laugh out loud. He had nothing to be afraid of now! Oh, she was so excited!

‘Ah, Miss Clarkson.’ he said, before she could say a word, and smiled politely at her.

‘Martin! I..’, she began breathlessly.

‘Meet Laura,’ he interrupted firmly, as the lady next to him looked questioningly at her,

‘Uh, yes, hello, I’m Emilia,’ Emilia said, bewildered, holding her hand out. Laura took it warmly, smiling wide.

‘Emilia, pleased to meet you.’

She was beautiful.

‘This is my wife. Laura, Miss Clarkson is a student of mine. I was not aware your family knew Lord Warrington.’

His voice faded into the background, as her stomach fell to her feet. She murmured something faintly before staggering away, aware Laura was staring her her with a frown.

‘Is she alright?’ she heard her ask him. Him. 

‘I’m sure she is. Come dance, darling.’

She staggered outside to the wide balcony where she fell painfully onto the banister overlooking the dark orchard down below. She was heaving, and her ears were ringing. And it hurt. Oh it hurt like a hundred knives slicing through her body. She was numb, and the tears refused to seep from her eyelids.

She would have to pull herself together, of course. She would have to get up and stand tall and smile and dance and charm people, then go home with her parents and make merry.

She would have to get on.

Emilia looked at the note again, and crumpled it in her fist, throwing it into the fireplace.

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Love Letters #19

She was laid up in bed when I went in to see her, ducking my head under the low beam arching her doorway.

She was dressed in the largest nightgown you ever saw – she had completely vanished beneath it. And her face under the fringe of thick, ropy curls was pale.

‘I’ve got a broken heart,’ she said softly, looking up at me with her large, dark blue eyes. So dark they could be black.

‘Well, now.’ I told her, standing a little back so I could get a more complete picture, ‘Is that so?’

‘Yes it is so.’ she folded her arms like she expected to be in this for the long run.

I put my notepad away, and folded my stethoscope. I then sat on the chair next to her bed.

‘Well, then. What’s this about?’

She looked at me for a long time, her eyes piercing me. Then she smoothed the covers before her with small fingers, and took a deep breath.

‘Nobody believes me at all’ she said, ‘everybody thinks I am exaggerating. But I am not. I really, really do have a broken heart.’

She clutched her chest, and I saw in her frightened little face that she genuinely believed it.

‘And why is your heart broken, my dear?’

The tears filled her eyes almost immediately. She picked at the embroidery on her bedclothes, and her mouth trembled.

‘I – I don’t..’

She stopped, and the tears leaked from beneath her drooped lids. She wiped them furiously away.

I sat solemn and still, waiting for her to finish.

‘They said,’ her shoulders heaved, ‘they said they took her to the hospital because she was feeling poorly, but then,’ a tragic sob escaped her, ‘they said – they said – they say-aii-dd..’

She couldn’t stop her tears. I could see her small fists bunching up the bedsheets, and her hair, straw coloured, obscured her wet face.

‘What did they say?’

‘They said she went on holidday-aay-ayyyy’ her voice rose to a wail, and her face was turned up to the ceiling, and the pain on her face made me feel, for the first time, a stab of pity for the poor little thing.

‘Ah,’ I sat a little straighter on my seat, ‘and why does this break your heart, my child?’

She looked incredulously at me, wiping her eyes, glaring.

‘They won’t listen to me, Mister Doctor. They say I am being silly, and that Lucy went on holiday because she was getting old now and needed to relax.’

‘Well perhaps that is exactly what she did do.’ I said, raising my eyebrows a little.

‘She didn’t, Mister Doctor. That is utter – utter poppycock.’ She was firm and resolute.

‘Oh?’

‘She — she died, is what she did, Mister. She died, and my heart is broken, and nobody thought nicely that they could tell me about it. And my Lucy is gone, and I didn’t – even – get to say goodby-yy-yye.’

I looked at the five year old child for a long, long time.

‘You are a very astute little person,’ I said, finally.

‘I think,’ I said, carefully, ‘I think you are right. You do have a broken heart. We must find a way to fix it as soon as possible.’

She pointed at my folded stethoscope, ‘Aren’t you going to use that?’

‘Not for this, I’m afraid. I think a broken heart needs quite a different fix.’ I stood up, ‘It needs first for you to get your little feet out of bed.’

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Love Letters #14

18.09.1994

Falling in love is like descending into madness. The first few days are euphoric. Everything they do or say is special and fabulous, melting your heart into mush and making your knees tremble with the sheer power of their words, their voice. Then the twisting knife of jealousy and fear begins to pry at the very top layer of your skin, shaving off small translucent curls. Barely noticeable in the beginning, obscured by the encompassing passion of hormones and intoxication. Hormones, I think, can be like drugs, if administered in large enough doses.

Soon the knife digs in deeper and the Alices and Katies and Corals of the world rear their pretty heads and tinkly voices, wreaking havoc in the oh so perfect system.

It’s not supposed to be like this. It’s not, it’s not. Every time I think about him my whole body shifts, as though it is leaving this realm of reality and floating a little higher. Everything is a little brighter. Old crushes are now pale and unappealing, mere fragments of memory on the edge of this brilliant sphere in which I now hang.

Falling in love is painful.

I am not too young to understand it. This is love. This all encompassing passion. This drive to do things I have never done before. This mad hunger pushing me outside my comfort zone. The whole world is small and insignificant. Nothing matters.

Until it feels like your whole world is shaken and pulled from under your feet like a rug, and you are displaced and the fall when it comes is hard and harsh and sudden, aftershock reverberating around your skull like a metal stinging wasp.

Who is Alice? WHO IS SHE? I thought you loved me. I thought this was love. I THOUGHT YOU LOVED ME.

Lying on the floor and staring at the ceiling, too numb to cry. Wanting to scream and scream but knowing it won’t solve anything, won’t take the pain away.

‘You’ll get hurt,’ they tell me, ‘you don’t know what you are doing. Stay away from him, you don’t understand love.’

I fell in love. You don’t understand, you adults with experience, that I need to experience this for myself. I am young and naive and too trusting, but this feeling is too powerful for me to ignore. You should know this. I can’t stay away. It is physically impossible. My intuition doesn’t know any better.

And when all your prophecies come true why do you say ‘I told you so.’?

Just hold me and tell me this is a lesson to learn from, like you learned yours. I know you want to keep me away from the pain that you know, but how will I learn until I have experienced the same pain? How will I know, like you know, if I haven’t been heartbroken.

‘Ah, young love.’

That is what they say. Because they know.

Now I am like you. I want to protect my baby from being hurt, from falling in love and chasing that which is bad for her heart and soul. I want to prevent her from feeling like she has been seared open from inside. Like I was. My little baby with the torn hole in her chest.

Now I look back I wish they had dragged me away from him. I wish they had chained me to my room, rather than let me be foolish and have my happiness and sanity snatched away from me so.

They did, though. Didn’t they. I escaped and did it all in secret anyway. All I have now are thorny memories and bitter regret.

Falling in love is like descending into madness, because when you escape its frenzied clutches, you see everything clearly again. You see situations for what they were. You see people for the selfish manipulators they always were to you. Stark reality pierces you from every direction like poisoned arrows, and you wonder, where was I all those months? Why didn’t I see this from the very beginning.

‘Ah, young love,’ they should say, ‘the drug that clouds your judgement and steals your sanity.’

Signed,

L.P.

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Love Letters #13

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It was late. His letter was late. And when it fell limply through her letter box she could see that it wasn’t akin to the thick volumes he used to send.

It’s alright. He is busy. It makes sense.

Still, anxiety gnawed at her as she put her small index finger gently under the envelope flap, coaxing it open with her nails. She didn’t want to rip it. A part of her didn’t even want to read it. Her heart was thumping wildly under her thin nightdress, her hair hung like coiled honey, resting on her shoulders, gleaming in the light filtering in through the glazed window on the front door. She was aware her breathing was shallow, and when she had prised the flap up and pulled out a thin piece of folded paper, she had to sit down.

It’s okay if it is just a small note. I do understand. I won’t be like those petulant housewives waiting for their husbands to pay them attention, hankering for it, living their lives around their husbands. I have a life. I have. A life.

She glanced out the window at the rising sun, behind the mountainous rosebushes outside her front room window. White and peach blooms against a backdrop of dark green and a low stone wall. The street was quiet. She saw the postman across the road now. She wanted to go outside and return her envelope to him.

‘Here,’ she wanted to say, ‘Take it. Deliver it again when it gets fatter.’

She wanted to throw the window open and scream, ‘My husband doesn’t love me anymore!’

How long had it been? Six months? She couldn’t even remember anymore. She missed him so sorely, and would tell him freely, of course, until that fateful evening. She missed his letters filled with sweet nothings, filled with details about his days, filled with love and warmth and the promise of his arms around her and his mouth on hers and his comfort and kindness.

When did it even start? When did his letters stop being novels and start being harried notes, almost resentfully explaining how he couldn’t write because he was snowed under.

He will come back.

Even as she thought it, slowly unfolding the weak little letter, she felt her heart turn to lead. There was a metal lump in her throat that she couldn’t swallow. She didn’t want to. She didn’t want to move, or think. She just looked listlessly down at the meagre words, in her own darling’s handwriting, that crossed the page, no doubt ripped out from one of his journals.

She sat there for the longest while, staring down at the note, until eventually it fluttered out of her small little hands and sailed gently down onto the carpet she had chosen with her husband three years ago.

My darling Pamela,

The boss has asked me to stay on, I’m afraid. I have accepted. I will call you from the post office on Tuesday at 3PM. We need to talk.

Harry

 

Love Letters #8

Walking down the street with his hands in his pockets. He always cleaned up so nicely. His hair slicked back, his face tidy and trim, his suit brushed and straight with the crease in the trousers, shoes shined up to perfection, like brand new, reflecting the street lamps in their gleaming glory.

The pavement was shining with the mist of rain that floated down upon the town. Heels clicked and shoes scraped with the faint gravelly echo of damp street sand. The evening twilight descended upon the world, combining with the golden glow of the street lights to create a surreal dusk stillness, when the streets emptied and families sat around dinner tables, and shops were empty and dark behind their shutters because shop keepers had long gone home.

I stared. Thomas? No. It could not be. Impossible.

But it was, and he was!

He whistled a little as he walked, his step jaunty, and my heart ached. I loved his whistle, his cheery, melodious tunes. His whistle meant he was happy. He turned quickly into an alleyway and vanished.

I peered into the darkness of the alley, squinting a little. It was like a cavern, swallowing up all light, so I couldn’t make anything out. What was in there? Should I follow?

My footsteps sounded loud on the pavement, so I bent over and slid my dainty heels off, holding them by the straps by my side. I followed him.

I heard his whistle, faint, further down. So I hurried, further and further and I still could not see him.

‘Amelia?’

I froze, my toes curling inwards on the cold, damp concrete beneath me. My eyes focused in the gloom; the brick walls on either side of me were illuminated by the faint lights out on the street; they were glistening.

‘Thomas?’

His voice was so clear, as though he was standing right next to me.

‘Thomas?’ I said again. The whistle sounded again, even fainter, and I knew then that the voice I had heard could not have come from Thomas, his whistle was too far away. Or was it?

‘Amelia..’

I jumped. It sounded right in my ear. I looked around frantically; nobody. Nothing. Just the damp concrete and the strangely glistening walls. My heart beating wildly, I tried to shake off this panic that rose within me like bile.

There is nothing to be afraid of, just carry on, it is not real.

I could not do it. My fingers clutched my shoes as I turned and raced out of the alleyway, the long rectangle of light from the street ahead of me looking so far away, every hair on my body standing on end, screaming at me to go faster faster get out of here before I am grabbed.

Finally I burst into the light, as a car sailed past me on the road. A gentleman walked across the street, head cast downwards. Lights twinkled at me in the shiny, shiny, post-rain twilight world.

I glanced behind me and shivered as I walked hurriedly, still barefoot, along the pavement. It was not Thomas. It could not be Thomas. Not my Thomas, at any rate.

It was not real.

Dear Amelia,

I write you from the depths of this ship. My cabin is fairly tight, four beds confined to a space not even wide enough to fit my length. But it is alright, the boys are friendly, we all await the end of our journey nervously. What will the war hold in store for us? I have spoken to some boys who have already been on the front line. They are cagey, and I heard one telling the the lieutenant that it was hard to remain cheerful about it all. I know they don’t want to terrify us with horror stories, and so we carry on. The closer we get to our destination, the more sombre everybody becomes, but we mask it with our jokes and tales of women and joy, and we smoke and smoke and smoke. Write me, Amelia, keep me updated, all the time. Fill your pages with tales of home.

Yours, 

Thomas

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Carrot Cake

For breakfast, he ordered a slab of carrot cake, coated in thick, creamy icing, and a small mug filled to the brim with a fresh, well made latte. He ate it with a plastic fork, off a ceramic plate, and glanced around at the slowly filling cafe.

‘Hello.’

‘Hi, hi. Yes, hi, Arianna.’

‘Peter?’

‘Pete, but yes, hi.’

‘Pete. You look different.’

His hair was bleached in places from the sun, and the tops of his cheeks and his nose were red, browning. He seemed thinner. His face was sharper, his arms almost scrawny. He wore a bright green polo shirt, and on his wrist was a ring of pasty white against the browny red of his forearms, where he must have worn a watch. Why did he take it off, then?

She sat down in front of him, her clothes pristine, sharp edged, and her hair cut short and straight, not a wisp out of place, despite it being loose around her face.

Her face was clear, symmetrical. She was neither pretty nor ugly, nor was she plain. She just was.

‘Arianna. You don’t.’

Neither of them smiled.

‘Right.’ Arianna pulled a small black folder from her neat bag. It looked as though it fit inside perfectly, neither too big nor too small. He eyed the folder and the bag, then scratched his neck irritably.

‘Let’s get cracking.’ Pete said, and he shoved the last mouthful of oozing carrot cake into his wide mouth, his cold, blue eyes on the folder that Arianna was now sifting through. He swigged at his latte, and then pushed his plate and cup away, folding his arms on the table and leaning forward as though he were at a social gathering, and about to enjoy himself.

Arianna glanced up at him, then quickly down when she realised he was looking at her.

‘Right,’ she said again, ‘right.’

‘Right.’

Arianna pulled out some documents. She leant over, her straight brown hair falling over her face, and pulled a pen out of her bag, which nestled by her gleaming high heels.

‘You will need to sign here,’ she pointed with the end of the pen, ‘and here.’

‘Right, yep.’ Pete pulled the papers towards him, and as he did the bottom part of the paper rubbed against a glop of carrot cake icing on the table, smearing the underside of the crisp paper.

‘Right.’ Arianna said, noticing, and she made the slightest of grimaces. Pete did not notice, as he signed his life away.

‘Right,’ and he slid the papers over to Arianna again, leaving a trail of smeared cream across the table as he did so.

‘Ok.’

‘You okay?’ Pete took another swig of his latte, eyebrows raised in question over the rim of his mug.

‘Yes, I’m fine.’

‘Going to Spain?’

‘No.’

‘Oh.’ he paused, then raised his eyebrows again at her, when she didn’t fill the silence between them.

‘It fell through.’

‘Why?’

‘Company decided to send someone else.’

‘Well. Too bad. I’m great. Had a court hearing last week, for punching a man in the face.’

‘Oh.’

‘Yeah. Punched him because he was abusing his girlfriend.’

‘Okay.’

‘He deserved it. Right twit. I don’t regret it. And I was feeling terrible because I’d lost mine.  And there he was shouting at his, while he still had her. Fuckin’ prick. Mind you, I wasn’t that great to you myself, was I… so.. What’s wrong?’

‘Nothing.’

‘You’re peaky as fuck.’

‘I fainted. At work.’

Pete sat back, and swallowed.

‘Good.’

‘That’s not nice.’

‘You deserve it.’

‘Okay.’

‘Yeah, you deserve it.’ Pete pursed his thin lips, nodding a little, and his eyes were full of anger when he looked at her.

Arianna stood up.

‘Okay, then.’

‘Call me soon.’ Pete looked up at her, and despite his cold, cold face full of hostility, she could see the desperation in his ocean blue eyes.

‘Yup.’ Arianna walked away quickly, her sharp, pointy heels clicking on the wooden floors of the cafe, the sound swallowed into the loud babble of voices that took over the cafe as she got further away from him.

Pete watched her go, picking absently at the crumbs on his plate. She exited the cafe, then stood outside for a second. He frowned as she put her face up to the sky, her shoulders rising deeply then falling, before walking across the road. She didn’t glance back once.

His shaky fingers, the nail beds black and grimy, pulled a cigarette and a lighter from his pockets, and he stood up to walk jerkily outside the cafe, where he lit up and took a deep drag, closing his eyes against the bright sun of summer on his face.