Second place winner of our second annual flash fiction contest, Cook's piece introduces a speculative world to explore identity in our own.
Choosing a New Face
by Georgia Cook
On my twelfth birthday, my father brought me into his workshop to choose a new face.
The face I had worn for most of my childhood was small and blank, with tiny pinprick eyes and a round open mouth—a child’s face, an unfinished face. My father had made it for me, and although I was grateful for the gift, I was equally as excited for a new one.
The walls of my father’s workshop were lined with faces, some as blank and unadorned as my own, some large and beautiful, inlaid with shells and Mother Of Pearl, their lips curled into snarls or sneers or wide grins. I loved these masks most of all; I’d never had an expression before. Not even a frozen one.
“…and I can pick any of them?” I asked.
My father nodded. His own face was set in an expression of thoughtful reserve, as if perpetually on the verge of some great revelation. He’d crafted it himself from a piece of grey-tan wood, inlaid with swirls and knots more familiar to me than the stars in the sky.
I gazed around in awe.
“…When I take it off,” I asked, suddenly unsure, reaching up to touch my own face. “What will I look like underneath?”
“Nobody knows, lad. That’s the point o’ havin’ a face.”
“But surely you know!”
My father shook his head. “Doesn’t work like that. People change beneath.”
My heart fluttered. Faces That Changed! Faces capable of multiple appearances, multiple expressions! No wonder we kept them hidden.
I could lunge forward now; grab a face from the wall—any face. Slide it gratefully over my skin and breathe the comforting scent of wood and paint. Be protected. Be safe. Never have to look or know…
…but what was a face without a mask? What was my face, beneath the sanctity of wood? If I looked, would I recognise myself? And what would happen if I didn’t like what I saw? Could I bundle it away out of sight and forget? Or would it always be there, hidden but not hidden, leaking out around the edges.
The real me. Eternally exposed.
There was a mirror on the wall of my father’s workshop, made for examining one’s new reflection.
In the stillness of my own uncertainty, surrounded by the gaze of a hundred unworn eyes, I turned to look.
About the Author: Georgia Cook is an illustrator and writer from London. She is the winner of the LISP 2020 Flash Fiction Prize, and has been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize, Staunch Book Prize and Reflex Fiction Award, among others. She can be found on Twitter at @georgiacooked and on her website at https://www.georgiacookwriter.com.