Fiction: An Ordinary Face by Arthur Staaz

No one else seemed to notice. Their eyes were downcast so that they only saw the feet and legs of passersby. From that perspective, he looked like an average person walking down the street. Hugh, however, looked up and noticed the head.

The eyes had a hollow gaze. They were large and set too far apart, with long, thick lashes curling above them. The nose was crude and flat. He wore an exaggerated smile nearly as wide as his face and full of undeviating rectangular teeth. It was like his features were drawn on with thick strokes.

His head seemed to sway in the warm breeze. His eyes wavered as if looking at Hugh from underwater, yet somehow his gaze remained steadfast. Hair stuck up on the edges of his head like broken wings and waved in the breeze like the tentacles of a white sea anemone in the ocean’s currents.

Both stopped and looked at each other. Hugh tried to maintain a polite disinterest, but the stranger’s face was thoroughly unsettling, particularly his ludicrous smile. Like a repressed memory, Hugh saw something almost familiar in it, something he’d rather not have identified. When Hugh resumed walking, the other joined him, walking by his side. Silent, smiling, watching.

It was like this for days on end. Hugh would come across him while walking down the street. They would recognize each other, then walk along silently for some time until duty or circumstance separated them. Each day his gaze seemed to penetrate deeper. It was unnerving, but Hugh found himself glad simply to be recognized, no longer some amorphous froth in the stream of humanity flowing down the street.

Hugh gradually lost his discomfort with him. Yes, his eyes were set too widely apart and his nose looked squashed on his face. His teeth were too uniform, his face too pale, and his tufts of white hair flailed like thick cilia in the warm breeze. But the features that initially disturbed Hugh began to take on a semblance of proper proportion, even normalcy.

Eventually, Hugh began talking to his new friend, who listened, who smiled, who watched. Every so often, Hugh thought he heard a response, but he was never quite sure. When he turned to look, he found his friend silent, smiling, as if encouraging Hugh to expose his true self. Gradually, over several weeks, he did.

One day, as an unusually cool and arid breeze blew, Hugh met him once again. But this time, his new friend took the lead. They walked down alleyways and side streets—into neighborhoods familiar to Hugh—with spacious houses, lush lawns, and fuel-efficient cars parked in driveways. He led Hugh into one such house and introduced him to his family. They welcomed Hugh silently but with demonstrations of affection bordering on mindless approbation. Even though there was something vaguely repelling about it, somehow Hugh felt captivated, that he belonged.

Leaving him momentarily, his companion walked into a small pantry and opened a cupboard. He returned with a gift for Hugh. Grateful for the gift and display of kinship, Hugh hugged him. Fondly, he took his friend’s head in his hands, but it collapsed in on itself. It was a plastic bag. Upon further inspection, Hugh realized the family also had no heads, only plastic bags with scribbled faces.

Hugh looked at the gift. It was a white plastic bag. A cartoonish face had been scrawled on with black marker. A buried memory arose and, with it, a realization. Long ago, it was he who had drawn the face. He slipped the bag over his head and inhaled its emptiness.


Arthur Staaz‘s work has been published by various publications and media, including Gone Lawn, the Oddville Press, Neutrons Protons, Morpheus Tales, and Pseudopod, among others. After 27 years as a government attorney in New Hampshire, he recently retired to Ireland, where he will further concentrate on writing short fiction.