He held the photo, encased in cracked, dusty glass, next to his heart.
“Let it go. It’s yellowed – the couch, the tint of my skin – everything sallow,” I protested, trying to pry his fingers loose. He held me back.
“How could you?” he wept.
We yanked at the frame back and forth, until I managed to loosen his grip. I peeked over at my upside-down self. The chin. Chin face. Soft black eyes, orange lips frowning. My chin transformed into a face, just like it used to do when I was a kid. My sister and I would paint each other’s chins into faces. It was my idea. We would take mom’s bright orange lipstick and black coal eyeliner. Two black circles for the eyes and orange lips for the lips. Then while one of us sat on the lower bunk bed, the other would hang upside down from the top and put on a chin show. And then we’d switch. I’d give my face a wig by wrapping my long dangling black hair underneath my chin. I loved how I could make my chin face grimace with a grin.
“Those sexy cat eyes, look!” he said, pointing at photo me. “Ruined by those bangs,” he said, pointing at flesh and blood me.
I rubbed my own chin, not the smooth flawless chin in the professionally shot photo, and felt the little red bumps. Those bumps used to give my chin face freckles, adding character. When my sister would point out my chin acne, I’d remind her it wasn’t mine but belonged to chin face, and not acne but freckles.
“Don’t do that,” he said, “your chin’s already pimply.” I continued rubbing.
“How could you?”
“You asked me that already.” I forked my bangs with my fingers, fluffing them for effect.
“Please don’t do that.” He set the picture down on the fireplace. I took it one step further and placed it face down.
“Betty Page,” he said.
“You’re no Betty Page.”
“I’m not trying to be.” My bangs were not black and blunt like Betty Page. They were blunt but not black.
“Betty Page had a body.”
“What does this have to do with me?”
“Well, her bangs accentuated her body, yours don’t. They get in the way.”
“They accentuate my eyes. My cat eyes you so love,” I argued. Not really. He imagined my eyes looked like those of some cat and he imagined that he was in love with these eyes, which were now marred by my newly cut bangs. For me, my eyes were only to see with.
“Those bangs – they make your eyes bulge out like puffer fish.”
What he wanted to see was what he had always seen before the bangs. I didn’t see myself as he saw me. I liked just being, the feeling of an enclosed entity without a face. Enclosed within teeth. I’ve always been hyper-aware of my teeth – bottom row under top row, clenched, chattering, or at rest, cushioned with a warm tongue, hinged with a chin. Yes, teeth, and a chin. I avoid looking at photos of myself – that Other outside of myself. Gazed upon, watched, judged.
“I used to call you Sparky, remember?”
The first time he called me Sparky was in a Valentine’s card. I asked him why he called me that. Because your eyes sparkle, like you’re happy, was his answer. He smiled as he looked into my eyes. I suddenly awakened to my eyes as objects, not just to see with. And I was dumbfounded, because I didn’t feel happy. I was bored of him. I stayed with him because he was there, and he adored me.
My eyes betrayed me.
“So no more Sparky?” I asked.
He looked at my bangs. “No more Sparky.”
As he lunged towards the photo, I grabbed it first, and out popped sprouts from the eyes, and they grew and grew like dangling hair until they swallowed up that Other. All but the chin.