One day Brittany opened her boyfriend Shane’s dopp kit, searching for eye drops, and found a freezer bag, rolled up like a scroll. Inside the bag was what looked like a carefully snipped off face, with holes for the eyes and nose. The face was thin, yet fleshy. There were globules of liquid inside it, like the globules of fat that rose to the surface when her mother made chicken soup.
Brittany rolled the bag up again and put it back in Shane’s dopp kit. Was it just an ordinary face mask, made of some synthetic that uncannily resembled flesh? Should she contact the police? Shane was an enigmatic but loving boyfriend. When they had sex, he sometimes would cup the sides of her face in his hands and stare intently into her eyes. Now this memory filled Brittany with alarm.
Over the next few days, she became increasingly paranoid—not so much of Shane, who didn’t seem to feel anything amiss, but of his two best friends, his cousin Travis and his buddy Luke, who were always over, and who, she convinced herself, now looked at her with narrowed, accusatory eyes.
So on Friday, when Shane was at work, she moved out. Brittany found an apartment near the Bywater and took a job as a waitress at a nearby Tiki Bar called Smuggler’s Cove. To protect herself, she wore a name tag that said “Katelyn.” One afternoon several months later, Travis and Luke came in. Brittany trembled, sure they would recognize her, but when she brought them their two beers, the glasses beaded with condensation, they both smiled at her, and Travis said, “Thank you, Katelyn.”
Not far from the bar was a small Sephora. The day after this encounter, Brittany stopped there on her way to work and looked at the face masks, which were displayed in wicker baskets, and came in many tropical drink flavors: coconut, pineapple, mango. Brittany spread them out, trying to determine whether the thing she had seen in Shane’s dopp kit was merely a face mask. But if so, why was it in a freezer bag? Why would he remove it from its slick packaging?
And why hadn’t Travis and Luke recognized her?
In the bathroom at Smuggler’s Cove, Brittany stared in the mirror, first at her reversed Katelyn nametag, and then at her own pale, alien face.
Kim Magowan lives in San Francisco and teaches in the Department of Literatures and Languages at Mills College. She is the author of the short story collection How Far I’ve Come, forthcoming in 2022 from Gold Wake Press; the novel The Light Source (2019), published by 7.13 Books; and the short story collection Undoing (2018), which won the 2017 Moon City Press Fiction Award. Her fiction has been published in Booth, Craft Literary, The Gettysburg Review, Smokelong Quarterly, Wigleaf, and many other journals. Her stories have been selected for Best Small Fictions and Wigleaf’s Top 50. She is the Editor-in-Chief and Fiction Editor of Pithead Chapel. www.kimmagowan.com