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Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Black and Blue - Short Story by Margaret Wilde

Black and Blue
Her skin was definitely taking on a darker hue. It began with the sides of the nose. She attacked what she took to be blackheads. She scrubbed them with cleansing grains for open pores. She applied refining astringemts. She redoubled her scrupulous facial cleansing night and morning. She tried lemon juice to lighten the colour.
The darkening spread slowly, irregularly and ineluctably out from her nose.
No-one appeared to notice.
Her teeth began to darken too. Light grey became dark grey. Dark grey became black. They loosened somewhat.
She took to eating food which required no chewing: mashed potato, potted beef, soft white bread, tinned rice pudding...
She avoided smiling, gave up singing, appeared morose as she spoke less and less. Her eyes grew dim, though they often brimmed with tears. She cried herself to sleep night after night.
Still no-one drew attention to what she thought was so glaringly obvious. Tact, she supposed. - She consulted her doctor.
"You say you noticed a darkening from about six months ago? Well I'm sure it's nothing serious. A bit too much sun, perhaps. - More noticeable to you than to anyone else. - Take one of these tablets an hour before you go to bed. - Come and see me again in about a month." Throughout his monologue the doctor barely looked at her. His gaze and his attention were elsewhere - on his desk? on his prescription pad? on his previous patient? on his imminent lunch?...
She consulted a dentist: "Oh well, if it's been going on so long it's probably psychological you know. Have you seen your doctor? What about a psychiatrist?"
Were they all mad? Or was she going mad? Surely not. Her face was almost black all over now.
She was having a light lunch at work, sharing a table with another woman. She responded monosyllabically to the proffered conversation. - Oh God!  A tooth had finally detached itself! A thin, coal-black, top front tooth plopped into the soup she was eating, and her companion was splashed a little. Murmuring brief, embarrassed excuses, she hurriedly rose and left the table.
It was a week to the day after this that her black face fell off, also into the soup.
The bones revealed were black too.
She could not speak at all now, of course, without lips, and with only a few back teeth; but with her shrunken black-furred tongue she attempted to reply to people who, amazingly, continued to behave as if nothing was amiss.
It was the winter that finished her off. Her head was so very cold without the face. Every breath was a chill agony, though she tried to protect the exposed bones by wearing a modified Balaclava helmet.
The remaining stumps of teeth were chattering uncontrollably; there was a sudden "Snap!" and her head fell off.
It turned out to have been a hereditary problem. What else can you expect when your name is Schwarzkopf?
Margaret Wilde © 1983

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