“What do you think about this one?” the face tech asked Skyler and Hudson. “The skin tone is a perfect match, cafe au lait…mmm…and that adorable smile…” The tech echoed the smile gracing the small mask’s face—though his with teeth, of course. “Sets the dear little one off on the right path.”
“I don’t know…” Skyler fingered a green-tipped, black cork-screw curl, turned her dark eyes to her husband. “What do you think? Is it too girly?”
“Well, she is a girl, Sweetums,” Hudson answered. “And well…uh…” He felt the heat of an unbecoming blush—thankfully hidden beneath his pale mask—at the unintended faux pas. “Well…uh…for now, that is.”
Skyler’s perfect lips strained slightly downward as her eyes turned back to the tech. “Can you whip up something a bit more gender-neutral? We wouldn’t want the mask to influence how they might develop.”
It took several days, but little Domino became accustomed to their face and stopped fussing when Skyler smoothed it back on after removing it to clean the bare skin beneath. Skyler hated the daily ordeal, revolted by the imperfections on her infant child’s face…slight, yes, but still ugly. More and more she had turned the task over to Hudson, who seemed unaffected by the baby’s unmasked face. She was so ready for Domino to be able to do the daily cleaning for themself, but the child was only seven months old, so that was a couple of years away. Why, Skyler could barely stand to see her own under-face, let alone anyone else’s.
She recalled when she was small watching her mother, Francis, at the vanity with her bottles and tubes and brushes and other strange small tools, laboriously applying swatches and layers of colors to her skin, stenciling on brows, gluing on long eyelashes, smoothing on ruby red lips. The process took a minimum of 90 minutes. Her father (Had his name been Christian? Since Francis had refused to extend their five-year marriage contract, he had been gone so long it was hard to remember.) had worn makeup also, though not as heavily applied as her mother’s. And so had Skyler. She remembered the torture of sitting still as Francis fixed her face every morning before sending her off to preschool.
By the time Skyler entered middle school, Faces had become widely available, and soon everyone was using them, from the wealthiest down to the poorest, who had demanded they be included in their free government health insurance. And soon a law was passed that made it a misdemeanor to appear in public without your Face. Why, they were just as necessary—no, more necessary—than a personal cellphone. All one had to do was pick out a model at the local Faces R Us store, tell the tech any modifications or small tweaks one wanted, and minutes later, a 3-D printer spit it out. The malleable Face contoured itself to its owner’s features, stayed in place until peeled off, doing away with makeup. One’s best face was always put forward, no need for anyone under any circumstances (except Face techs and doctors, who both were well-schooled to hide their revulsion when looking upon an under-face) to see the hideousness of imperfection.
Hudson sat in the rocker in Domino’s room, cuddling his child, his daughter, singing softly so Skyler wouldn’t hear, an ancient lullaby he’d learned on YouTube. “Rock-a-bye baby, on the treetops…” Though, since his wife was so fearful of seeing their child’s under-face, he didn’t think she’d as much as crack open the door. “When the wind blows, the cradle will rock…” He had cleaned Domino’s under-face before sitting down with her in his arms. “When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall…” And had left off her mask, as he had been doing for several weeks now. He was in awe of her translucent skin, adored the tiny, pink mole high on her left cheekbone, loved the untidy, dark eyebrows. “And down will come baby, cradle and all.”
Domino giggled when he pretend-dropped her, then swooped her upward at arm’s length. His heart swelled as he marveled at the smiling pink lips, marveled at all his daughter’s under-face. He hated hiding it behind her Face.
And he wondered, as he had been doing ever since he had started leaving Domino’s Face off for a while after cleaning her under-face, how she might react to his under-face. Would she be repulsed? Curious? Accepting?
From across the hall, he heard the faint sound of the shower starting up and knew that Skyler would be occupied for at least an hour. The woman scrubbed down every square inch of her body—twice—and Them above, no telling how many times her under-face. So now, before he lost his courage, and his wife would be unlikely to hear Domino if she cried, he decided to take off his Face in the presence of another person. He would show his true daughter her true father.
Hudson crossed an ankle over his knee, creating a spot for Domino to sit and face him. After settling her, Hudson raised his hands and beginning at his hairline, slowly peeled off his Face.
Domino stopped fidgeting, her rounded eyes, which were the same stormy blue as his, stared fixedly at his emerging under-face. Her face scrunched, and for a horrible moment he thought she might cry, but instead, her rosy lips ohed in surprise; and when the Face slipped from his chin, his daughter’s surprised expression widened into a grin. “Da-da…?” Her words seemed to echo a question. Then a resounding, “Da-da-da-da!” She waved her arms in his direction.
Hudson pulled her toward him, balancing her as she stood on his lap. He held her on either side of her tummy, allowing her to make swiping motions at his under-face, one chubby fist grasping his nose, the other pinching an ear. She gurgled her delight. “Da-da-da-da-da-da…”
Skyler had begun attempting to teach Domino to say “Skyler,” but the baby was too small to make the complicated sound. All that came out was a garbled “sl-sl-sl,” which Skyler hated. Hudson, however, reveled at being called “Da-da,” though he knew it wasn’t sociably acceptable for a child to refer to their parent as anything other than their given name.
Skyler knew something was going on. Hudson spent way too much time in the nursery with Domino, almost to the point of ignoring her, his own wife. She was beginning to think he loved their child more than he did her. And that just wouldn’t do. Skyler knew she was too beautiful to be slighted in such a way; her Face told her that every time she looked in a mirror. What could he possibly be doing with a seven-month-old who couldn’t even carry on a conversation?
Skyler’s imagination took flight, flying off in all sorts of directions, attempting to understand Hudson’s behavior. And all thoughts led back to only one thing her mind could conceive: her husband was a pedophile. That could be the only explanation behind him spending so much alone time with their child. She’d had him screened before their marriage but well, nothing was foolproof, not even government servers.
That very night she decided to see what went on behind Domino’s closed door when Hudson went inside to presumably give them a bath and clean their under-face. Making as much noise as possible without being obvious, she went into the bathroom, turned on the water to the shower, but didn’t get inside; instead, she toed off her slippers, slipped from the bathroom, pulling the door gently closed behind her, and padded across the hall. Steeling herself against what she might encounter, she eased open the door to Domino’s bedroom.
At first, Skyler saw nothing out of the ordinary, just Hudson sitting in the rocker, his back to her, baby-talking—ugh, enough already—to Domino who was hidden behind her husband’s broad shoulders. And Domino’s squeals of delight that always grated on her nerves to hear. Skyler moved deeper into the room, circling around so she could see her child.
Domino caught sight of her first, and Hudson a split-second later. Both startled at Skyler’s horrified screech. “You…you…pervert!” she screamed. It was even worse than she had suspected, her husband and child were interacting without their Faces. Who in their right mind would do that? “Are you trying to traumatize them, Hudson? How could you? This is wrong…so very, very wrong. And sick!”
She spoke to the room: “Zia…”
“Yes, Skyler, how can I help you?” answered a disembodied voice.
“I have an emergency…send a mental health team right away.
©️2021 KT Workman