The Face, or: Long-Term Structural Unemployment

Prescott had survived the job market.  He had beaten the odds and arrived at Columbia as one of the young stars on the university faculty.

It had taken years, however.   Prescott spent those years in the basement of his family home, feeding off the dwindling largesse of his parents, two former lawyers, while he spent hours everyday typing out one job letter after another, and suffering as a rare form of acne disintegrated his face and left a hard mask of red pits and bumps where his boyish good looks had once been.

The beginning of the acne Prescott traced to his first campus visit, at Wilhelmine College near Bismarck, North Dakota.  The year was the first of Prescott’s three on the market; his dissertation was not quite done, but close enough that he could be competitive.  At the news that Prescott was to be invited to meet the faculty and wow them with a job talk, there were pats on the back all around the Princeton University English Department.  Prescott had always counted as a boy wonder of sorts in the department, he had been the first in his cohort to finish his qualifying exams, the first to secure approval for his dissertation proposal, and the first to publish an article in a peer-reviewed journal. 

And what was amazing about Prescott was, he never stressed out.  He never felt the need to confess his despair, he never fished for compliments among the faculty or his fellow students, all he did was smile.  While his colleagues became accustomed to living in a state of constant fear about one thing or another, crow’s feet blossoming forth from their eyes and their hair turning brittle and gray before its time, Prescott kept his dark brown hair and his soft cheeks that glowed like the skin of an organically farmed apple.

His colleagues were jealous of him, but they had believed for so long that he would keep his halo well into his career, or in any case long after graduation, that it didn’t bother them when they learned that he was the first of them to be granted an on-campus interview.   It only made them feel numb, like they had just played the lottery and not won after so many weeks of losing that they had lost count.

Prescott gave his lecture behind a lectern at the front of a small room with seven rows of six chairs about half-full (that was the kind of guy Prescott was) with faculty.  His lecture notes were stacked on the lectern, but Prescott was so excited that he couldn’t stand still.  He paced back and forth, punctuating his really important points with emphatic hand gestures.

Prescott noticed an old man in a bow tie lean his head back and half-smile, like Prescott himself had once done when he had seen his four year-old nephew give another little kid the finger, maybe for the first time.  He realized that the man thought he was cute, even adorable, and, while his oft-rehearsed line of reasoning squirted forth with the occasional fleck of spittle from his dancing mouth, Prescott realized that he was indeed adorable; his sunny, emphatic way of speaking made it sound like his entire dissertation had come to him in a single blast of inspiration. 

The laughter and smiles from the Q & A session after the talk were practically on the TV in his hotel room after he returned there that night, they had stayed with him so vividly.  He skipped into the bathroom to get a look at his face, expecting to feel joy at the sight of himself blushing with excitement.

Prescott turned on the bathroom lights, looked at himself in the mirror, grinned, shook his head, and said, “Nice goin’, guy.”  But then he noticed something out of the ordinary and the corners of his mouth started to droop.

“My forehead,” Prescott had told the hair stylist when he went in for a new haircut, the kind that felt revolutionary only five minutes in, when the floor started disappearing under the long strands.  It was the same week as he had gotten on the plane for North Dakota to do this thing.  “It’s so big, I never dreamed my forehead could look this big!”  He had laughed and smiled.

Prescott got a feeling from looking in the mirror, and imagined that looking at his big, shiny, brand-new storeroom-floor forehead at this moment in time was the exact way he would feel looking at the bright, clean windshield of a new car, on his first trip into a parking lot to drive it home after performing some task, and seeing the glass punctuated by a bullet hole.

It was a huge, red pimple in the middle of the forehead, dark red, with pink streaks coming out of it like in a childhood drawing of the sun.

He touched it, pressed it out of sheer rage.  Not only was it real, but it was so packed with whatever gunk it had inside of it that when he pushed it back into his forehead it felt as hard as a ball bearing jamming into his skull.

So how did that change things?  He had spent an hour pacing around, flailing his arms, and running his mouth about the intellectual problems dearest to him.  Was this why he had made them smile and laugh—because he looked like a clown?

How had he missed it?  He was utterly focused on the task at hand, maybe that was how.  True academic work requires a level of concentration that nothing else can approach—you have to think a single, continuous thought that you can continue to extend for hundreds of pages at a time.  It has a way of pushing everything else out.  In his time, Prescott had missed birthdays, racked up library fines, and caused car accidents while crossing the street, all in the name of his work.

But could it really be that he had not seen it?  He remembered looking in the mirror before he left for the job talk and he remembered liking his forehead.


Months later, Prescott sat in the office of Prof. Striver and explained what he was doing with his time.

“There are some new jobs,” Prescott said.  “They pop up every once in a while, and you can spot them if you check the job list at least once a day.”  The job list was a series of postings that universities made available on the website of the Modern Language Association.  “Yesterday, I saw a job posting from Carleton College.  Of course it’s remote, but it’d be amazing to work with such great students.”

Prof. Striver nodded her head very slowly, as though she approved, like an elementary-level piano teacher watching her charge play through a pre-recital rehearsal.

Prescott knew that this was all formal, even aesthetic.  In the end, the only thing Prof. Striver could really do was tell him whether it sounded like he was doing the right things, in other words, whether the things he was doing had the right sound.  She could not predict any better than anyone else whether any of it would actually work.  He also knew that she was a decent enough woman that she felt bad to see what was happening to her students, but, because neither she nor they could do anything about it besides somehow be luckier, Prescott saw no point bringing the topic of despair into their conversation.

“What’s interesting about the Carleton position is that it would be a joint appointment,” Prescott said.  “In English and Communication Studies.  So I’d have a chance to show off my Media Studies chops just a little bit . . . provided, of course, that they view Communication Studies and Media Studies as the same thing.”

Prescott laughed loudly at his joke, then smirked through one side of his mouth.

Prof. Striver said, “Ha,” then turned silent and looked at her lap.

Prof. Striver was a very famous figure, a real asset to Prescott’s program at Princeton, and in her own way the scion of an important dynasty in the Humanities.  While at Yale she had worked with Carlo Bushmill, the groundbreaking literary scholar and cultural theorist whose massive book, Postmodernism: Capitalism as Hedge Fund in its Twilight, had redefined the way that scholars and laymen alike construed the relationship between literature and social theory.

Prof. Striver looked up from her lap.  “Prescott,” she said.  “Have you seen anyone about your face?”

In the months since his campus visit at Wilhelmine, the acne on Prescott’s forehead had become a polycentric infestation.  In the first week after the visit, similar streaking mounds of compressed bile had sprouted on both his cheeks, his chin, and even on the tip of his nose. 

One day he found Carolina, an officemate and member of his cohort, in the office that they shared drinking whiskey and writing emails to ex-boyfriends; she called him Rudolph over and over again.  It was childish and deeply annoying, but Prescott gave her a pass because she had not received any campus visits at all and appeared, like so many others, to have simply given up hope.  The dress that Carolina wore was so faded and full of holes that it looked she had draped a giant spider web over her body.

Week by week, the blemishes had grown, forming large clusters that covered most of his cheeks and forehead, and his entire nose and chin.  What was left of his nostrils left Prescott barely enough room to breathe through.  The feel of the acne was rough, like the granite surface of a mountainside, but the color was vivid dark red.

And it hurt, like the acne was alive and actively working to suck his face clean of blood.

“No,” Prescott smiled.  “I don’t really see the point.  It’s just acne, right?”

“Prescott, it seems to me, in absolutely all honesty, that you might be in some form of denial.”

Prescott cleared his throat.

“The next time you go in for an interview, they’re going to ask you what that is.  And you don’t want to tell them you don’t know.  That’d be almost as bad as if they asked you what your dissertation argues, and you told them you don’t know.”

“I know,” Prescott said.  “They hate to hear ‘I don’t know.’ ”

“That’s right,” Striver said.  “They never, ever want to hear that you don’t know, about any question in the entire world.”

The truth was that it had crossed Prescott’s mind to see a doctor, but the thought kept getting crowded out of his head as each day went by and Prescott kept cranking out job letters for the different universities where he thought, maybe, he could get a job and remain a scholar.  Each job letter was a challenge in itself that required Prescott to retool his dissertation topic so that it would appeal to a different audience, but what every audience in this process shared was that they would accept nothing less than the most precise language imaginable.  Any ambiguity of meaning or inattention to grammar would cost Prescott the chance that he needed.

One day Prescott received an email just as the lights in his apartment all suddenly went out.  He remembered the stack of unpaid electric bills sitting on his kitchen counter beside the grainy brine in which his dishes were becoming an ecosystem.

But fortunately, there was still enough power stored in his computer that he could read the email.  It wasn’t from Carleton—despite its isolation in the heart of Minnesota, Carleton was a very highly regarded college, and they had received 3000 applications.  But it was from St. Augustine’s College, in northern Iowa, and they told him they wanted to arrange a phone interview.

Prescott stood up from his desk, jumped once, and then ran over to his fridge to drink his remaining beers before they got warm.

An expansive curve of highway in front of him, rolling hills, farmhouses and silos on both sides, Prescott looked at the rearview mirror and into his own eyes, which had never changed.

It was galvanizing, the feeling of billions of tiny flagellae worming their way into his face, getting slightly deeper all the time, at all times.  It was like the one or two times that Prescott had had a truly obnoxious roommate.  The vast hordes of tentacles tickling and stinging the nerve endings in his face, while it had deprived him of sleep, had made him feel bolder and more certain of himself through the sheer contrast of an absolute other inhabiting his own personal space.

The phone interview was a breeze, and it made Prescott feel confident going into the campus visit.  The acne now covered all of us his face but his eyes, and his nostrils were now useless, so that he had to do all of his breathing through his mouth.  Some people found it hard to take, such as little children, who tended to run away when they saw him, and his friends, who always seemed to have discovered some fascinating detail in the drabbest wallpaper imaginable whenever they talked to him.  He had even taken to wearing a ski mask whenever he went out to do errands, which some people found even harder to take, especially at night.

Prescott had spent so much time perfecting the job talk for his visit to St. Augustine’s and becoming acquainted with the work of the scholars on the faculty there and learning about the different types of classes that they taught, that the question of how to prepare them for his face had never left the back burner until he was on the plane to Iowa.  And even then, he found that there were still some conceptual wrinkles in his talk that needed to be ironed out at all costs.

One good thing about the acne was that Prescott no longer had to shave everyday, or even at all.  But at the same time, he occasionally felt pangs of loss for the smooth texture he got from his face right after finishing shaving, a feeling of youth being temporarily restored for which Prescott could not find a substitute at the moment.

It had taken some explaining when Prescott picked up the rental car, because the photo on his driver’s license had been taken two years earlier and looked nothing like the way Prescott did with his mask of acne.

Getting used to the mask had taken some imagination on Prescott’s part.  In his hotel room, preparing his job talk, he grinned differently than usual, hunched his shoulders, and pumped his fists.  When he was younger, Prescott had read a lot of comic books, and it struck him as faintly cool how much he looked like a comic book character with his dark red face. 

He touched his ear.  It felt stiffer than before and the color seemed somehow red, but not so red that he could tell whether it was just his imagination.

Also, his hairline seemed farther up his head than before.  Prescott wondered if his hair was the next course on the acne’s long feast.

On the way from the airport to the hotel, Prescott had bought a pint of Evan Williams, a cheap whiskey that a lot of bars used to stock the well.  He wrested himself away from the mirror and the sight of his growing face and ran three steps to the bed, where his backpack was, and took the whiskey out of his backpack. 

He tossed it back; it made him shiver for a full thirty seconds but after the rising in his stomach settled down, he felt more confident.

He returned to the mirror.

“OK, Prescott,” he said.  “You can do this one of two ways.  You’ve already chosen to do the crazy thing.  They don’t know about your face.  You always had something better to do than telling them about your face.  But it’s too late to do anything about that now.  Now, it’s just a matter of attitude.  You can make this look sick, tired, and sad, breathing out of your mouth, looking down, sighing a lot.  Or—and this is your only chance to make this happen—you can make this look cool.”

He looked into his own eyes, staring himself down with a view to intimidating himself.

“Yeah,” he replied to himself.  “I’m going to make this look cool.”

He realized that he still had the pint in his hand, and took another swig.  After downing a glass of water he launched back into his job talk, having memorized most of it, but tried modulating his voice this time.

Prescott looked like a comic book character, but not a hero.  He looked like a supervillain, a monstrously deformed freak.  But Prescott knew that the best supervillains, no matter how ugly, had a special type of charisma.  With his face this far gone, that was the only kind of charisma he had available.

The faculty met Prescott at the door, standing in line.  The Chair of the department stood closest to the door, and behind him the faculty stood in descending order of rank.

The Chair stepped out of line toward Prescott, who stood smiling at the threshold.  The Chair’s chin was shaking.

“Is this some kind of joke?” he asked.

Prescott laughed and shook his head.  “No, Professor, I’m afraid it’s not a joke.  I’ve just been having problems with acne lately.”

“Is there something wrong with your voice?  You sound differently than you had during our . . . our phone conversation.”

Prescott was deliberately trying to lower his voice so that it would match his appearance more organically.  His models were a variety of evil characters from cartoon shows that he remembered from his childhood in the 1980s.

“I’m sorry,” Prescott said.  “I don’t know what you mean.”

The Chair winced.  Inside, Prescott winced, too.  There less than a minute, and already one “I don’t know.”

After Prescott had shaken hands with all of the faculty, taking care to squeeze each of their hands extra-tight, they all filed into a small room with a layout that by now was familiar to Prescott.  There were seven rows of chairs, six chairs long, and a small lectern at the head of the room.

Once again, the time had come for Prescott to perform.

The job talk that Prescott had prepared was about the concept of metaphysical investment in Charles Dickens's novels.  In particular, the talk would focus on Great Expectations: Prescott would argue that Dickens uses the novel to experiment with the idea of a stock market in human beings, with Pip as the prototype of a human stock.

The lines on Prescott's notes, which he had printed out and kept in a special folder since before he left for the airport in New Jersey, bent and swam into each other like streams of some fluid.  Prescott realized that he had drunk too much whiskey before he had come to deliver the talk.

In the moment that he realized this, pain struck Prescott's face.  It felt like what was happening was that all the thousands of small tentacles that the acne was using to drill into the skin of his face had suddenly thickened.  Prescott ground his teeth and, for the first time that he could remember, felt what it was like to have a head with no thoughts inside of it whatsoever.

He looked up from his notes, and saw a group of people bemused.  The front row of the audience, the senior faculty, all looked sad, like they were mourning the loss of the funds that they had wasted on Prescott's flight and hotel room.  Everyone behind them was half asleep, which they would have been anyway, no matter how good Prescott's talk would have been.

Prescott could not read his notes because he was too drunk, and he could not improvise because the distraction of the tentacles in his face made it too hard for him to think.

Prescott asked the audience, "Have any of you ever been an investment?"

No one said anything.

"The answer is, Of course.  Your parents?  They made an investment in you.  All of you in the front row, the senior faculty?  You made an investment in me bringing me here.  And all you junior faculty?  If I were you, I'd feel very nervous to make sure that, you know, you're an investment, and you, pay off in some way."

No one said anything until a man in the second row, an old man wearing a tan-colored suit and a bow tie, stood up.

He folded his arms.  "What if we didn't have parents?" he asked.

Prescott grinned.

There was one young woman named Melissa in the second row, one empty seat away from the old man in the tan-colored suit.  She was an assistant professor who had been hired two years earlier.  The senior faculty belonged to a different generation, her grandparents' generation, and they did not understand the pressure that she was under.  None of them had published anything in at least twenty years.  Largely for this reason, Melissa did not trust them and never told them anything about her personal life.

She found Prescott’s face morbidly fascinating. That grin and those eyes looked like the Cheshire Cat, parts of a face materializing in a vacuum.  Melissa couldn’t shake the feeling that the effect was somehow deliberate, and that Prescott was hiding something important from them.

Meanwhile, everyone laughed and clapped at the question that the man in the second row had asked.  He half-smiled and sat down.

Another man in a bow tie and a tan suit, in the front row, shook his head.  "You have to excuse Ben," he said.  "He's the comedian."

Prescott grinned, too.

"I'm surprised that you can afford a comedian," Prescott said.

"I'm not that expensive," the comedian in the second row said.

Everyone laughed again.

Prescott's dark red face appeared to swell and become darker, turning black for just a second.  Everyone who noticed it thought it was because Prescott was angry.

Prescott laughed but no one thought it sounded sincere.

"I wasn't aware that there was such a thing as not expensive anymore," Prescott said.

"He was just kidding," Melissa said.  "I'm the one around here who's not expensive."

No one laughed.

"That can't be true," Prescott said.  "How much do you make?"

"Ten thousand," she said.

Prescott blinked a few times.

"Don't get your panties in a bunch," Melisssa said.  "It's a competitive field.  So competitive that, you know, they can pay what they want.  It's the nature of the beast."

In the front row, beside the man who had said that the man in the front row was the comedian, there was an old woman in a pantsuit with blond hair so bright that it looked fake.

"I take umbrage at that," she said.  The old woman sat at the edge of her chair and craned her neck so she could look straight at Melissa.  "If there was ever a time when we discussed anything of an even tangentially pecuniary manner when we made the decision to hire you, I wasn't there."

"We make all of our decisions when you aren't there," said the comedian.

Prescott figured that they made most of their decisions when the comedian wasn't there, and that was why he was the comedian.

Everyone laughed at the comedian's joke besides the old female professor in the front row.  She frowned deeply, stood up, and pointed at the comedian with a finger so straight it was like she was threatening him with a knife.

"We built this department together!" she exclaimed.  "We were like brothers and sisters!"

The man with the bow tie in the front row nodded.  "It's true, comedian.  Look at how we've grown old together."

Now it was the comedian's turn to stand up.

"When we came here, this college had never had an English department before.  We built their first English department.  Nevertheless, as far as I'm concerned, this college still has never had an English department before."

And then he left.  The comedian's seat was in the middle of the row, so he had to pardon himself several times to get past fellow members of Prescott's audience, but it still seemed pretty dramatic.

"Why does any college need an English department?" Prescott asked.  "It's a luxury for any society to be able to afford full-time experts on a subject so frivolous. If we're no longer a rich society, I don't see the point."

"Exactly," said Melissa.  "From my point of view, I'm just lucky I'm not homeless."

"Exactly," Prescott repeated.  They held eye contact for a second, which Prescott appreciated; it had been a long time since anyone had held eye contact with him because his face was so hideous.  The mere appearance of solidarity in that one instant bore Prescott out through the rest of the evening.


In the end, Prescott never gave his job talk.  The discussion rapidly devolved into an excursus on the history of the department, provided jointly by the old man and the old woman in the front row.  None of their goals made any sense to Prescott, and he had never heard of any of the so-called major critics who they cited as their influences.  Whoever these people were, they had been left behind in a scholarly twilight zone that the men and women who had educated Prescott's own professors had forgotten, and all of them were approaching advanced age in their own right.  The old man and the old woman were not really that much older than Prescott's mentors, even though their ideas were, but what Prescott found really irresistible about them was that they still acted like young people in every respect that mattered.  They bickered, laughed too loud, drank too much at dinner, and constantly flirted.  They were like twentysomethings from the 18th century exiled in the bodies of twenty-first century geriatrics.  Prescott supposed that it was because a place this isolated had never produced anything sufficiently powerful or interesting to have aged them.

They offered Prescott the job, even though his job talk never happened.  Melissa told him that the old woman and the comedian had such severe cataracts that they could not tell the difference between Prescott's face and a normal face, and that had helped.  In contrast to Melissa's ten thousand dollars a year, however, the old children offered Prescott no salary at all, and told them that they wanted him to consider the job a scholarly teaching internship.  They had no idea what that meant, they said, but those were the instructions that they had received from the administration.

After St. Augustine, Prescott's acne took a turn for the worse.  It crusted, turning the exact same color and texture as charcoal, and became a source of constant agonizing pain.  What was more, Prescott no longer had any means of financial support, and could not get a job of any kind because his face hurt so much that he could not walk.  One day in the fall, a full year after he first went on the job market, his parents loaded him into a wheelchair and pushed him up the walk into their house, where a couch in the basement was waiting for him.

Prescott spent a year in the basement while his face grew increasingly heavy.  It drew down his neck so that he had to crane the neck out, like a vulture, or else spend all of his time in a horizontal position.  His parents, whose own financial problems made this state of affairs a similarly warping burden on their own lives, did not immediately realize the full extent of Prescott’s agonizing pain because the face became too rigid for him to talk.  The only way that Prescott could consume food was in the form of a smoothie, which his parents took turns mixing up in their blender out of whatever food was available, three times daily.  Through the narrow slit in the black crust that was all that remained of his mouth, Prescott absorbed the smoothies using a small plastic straw.

Yet throughout all this, Prescott continued to write job letters.  Every other means of interacting with society besides writing job letters had vanished from his life and, deep in his mind, he knew with satisfaction that this isolation had actually sharpened his focus.  It had used to worry him that academic work, with its demand for supreme concentration on just one, single thought, had the tendency to crowd everything else in his life out of his mind.  Now, at least, all of those other things were gone, possibly forever, leaving room in his mind for nothing but academic work.

Prescott rarely emerged from the basement in that year, becoming so accustomed to the dim light that he learned to dread the sun.  On two occasions, Prescott was offered campus visits, but had had to turn them down because his doctors had advised him to avoid traveling for fear of aggravating his condition.

A world-famous dermatologist from Japan eventually got wind of Prescott’s face, and flew to the remote suburb of Minneapolis where Prescott’s parents lived right away.  The disease was known only from Viking sagas and a few theoretical interventions; like the black hole or the quasar, a face as rabidly destructive as Prescott’s was generally believed to be a theoretical possibility but had never been documented empirically, and the entire world of quantum dermatology waited with bated breath while the great doctor’s taxi cab rumbled down the dirt road to the small house where the legendary Facio rabies cuticorum psychopathicalis (“Psychopathic Fury of the Face”) had nested.

The doctor took all kinds of samples, strapping Prescott down to a gurney and playing with him using all variety of scalpels, needles, catheters, and tourniquets; he blasted Led Zeppelin’s BBC Sessions from the small boombox that Prescott’s parents had given to Prescott (and which he had never used), calling the exercise an “extended jam session,” and broadcasting the whole thing live on the Internet so that his fellow dermatologists could follow his every move.  Prescott tried to scream the entire time, but the opening over his mouth was so small that only a vicious reptilian hiss could escape.

Finally the doctor synthesized a white cream, boiling it to life on the family stove, and told them to administer it by hand every day.  Until the black mask could be purged from Prescott’s central nervous system, the application of the cream would be unimaginably painful for the young, unemployed scholar, so he advised Prescott’s parents to keep him strapped down to the gurney in the basement until the treatment was finished.

The two weeks proceeded without incident, even though Prescott seemed to miss his job letters.  His parents saw him with his hands in the air, his fingers stabbing out in front of him like the legs of a tarantula, and realized after a few days that Prescott was writing job letters in his mind.

One morning Prescott’s mother came down to the basement with a pot of the white cream in hand.  The handle of the ladle, which the family had once used for applying frosting to homemade cinnamon buns, leaned over the rim of the pot.

She found Prescott strapped to his gurney as ever.  She could tell that he was asleep because his hands lay slack on the mattress, rather than splayed in the air in front of him.  His face was as black as ever, like looking into the bottom of a well.  With the mask closed over most of his eyes, it felt to her like Prescott wasn’t really the one in the basement at all, but that he was somewhere underground, buried alive, beyond communication, the rest of his body just a place holder for the absent man.

She dipped the ladle into the pot and slowly removed it.  Inside her rubber gloves, her hands tensed and pressed hard into the aluminum stem. She had never touched the cream, and was deathly afraid to ever do so because of the way that Prescott writhed when she dribbled it on his face.

When the cream landed on Prescott’s face, it came out in a long, elegant white tongue, just like footage of pouring milk or white chocolate in a TV commercial.

But when the cream hit Prescott’s face this time, something new happened: a lot of it seemed to sink into a crack.

For a moment she stood hovering above Prescott, unable to process what was happening.  But then she touched it, found that the crack stretched all the way up and down the face, and could not restrain herself from pulling it.

It came right off.

She dropped the ladle back into the pot, knocking the pot off of the small table next to Prescott’s gurney, and screamed for her husband when she saw what she was doing: holding half of Prescott’s coal-black mask-face in her gloved hand, just like a hockey mask or anything similarly innocuous.

Prescott received his invitation for a campus visit at Columbia later that week.  He was sitting at the table in the kitchen eating cereal the moment it happened, and his parents screamed and jumped for joy for the second time in the same week.

“I don’t know how this is going to go,” Prescott said.  “My voice is so low and raspy now.  I sound like an old man.”

“You’ll get it, Prescott!  You’ll get it!” his father assured him.  “It’s a sign that it happened this week.”

Prescott stood up from the table and went into the bathroom.  A surge of nostalgia for his visit to Wilhelmine, some time in the ancient past, inspired him to look at his new face and say, “Nice goin’, guy.”  But he still couldn’t recognize himself in his new face, a mass of pink and orange scar tissue so thick that no hair would ever be able to grow there again, a permanent mask of dead tissue to replace the living monster that had engorged itself on whatever life had once been there.

When Prescott got the job, he told the Chair of the Columbia English Department, “I’ll be counting on you to help me get used to my new face.”

The man took it as a joke.  “Then who’s going to help us get used to it?”  He laughed and told Prescott that he would see him in the fall, and then hung up the phone.

PATRICK W. GALLAGHER's stories and essays have appeared in the New York Times, Glasses Glasses, The Battered Suitcase, PopMatters, Mr. Beller's Neighborhood, Wheelhouse, and elsewhere. He is a former managing editor of Mr. Beller's Neighborhood and currently a contributing editor to Open City. Plus, Patrick is writing his PhD thesis in the department of Comparative Literature at NYU.