EDVARD TUSK: without his face
Only the turgid cold was compelling me back towards the motel, even
it doing a lackluster job, the urge was to take my time,—even with the
chill, stomachache, the grimy feel of rising fever—linger my way along
the upcurving lot, somehow as keen to stay away as to approach my room.
I leaned to one of the lampposts, now a curtain of snowfall—an
appearance to it of dust stirred by the first set down in a long empty
room—showing in the light, the sound of it like a faucet left on in the
neighbor’s apartment heard through the wall, a little hiss out in the
dark air between where I leaned and the motel office.
That was where I was looking, eyes squinted, intent—the dull brown of
the office at the motel’s bottom corner, in through the blur of window
at two baubles of shape lilting this way and that: the second man from
the diner and the night clerk going about their business.
Was this man checking in? Or was he just showing that picture he’d
shown the diner staff to the clerk, asking had anyone looking that way
taken a room, recently?
‘Not anyone,’ I groaned, grunting the words aloud as I started moving
again. No, not just ‘anyone.’ I knew right well it was the man from
earlier at the diner whose face would be on that paper were I to get a
look—the man who was in the room right next to mine. The man who never
opened his eyes.
This thought was an absolute certainty to me, as though idiotic not
to know by instinct—why it mattered to me, though, I could not bring
myself to focus on properly. What did I care? Two strange men: one
looking for the other? So what?
I growled ‘Damn it, so what?’ only to find myself coughing, having
nearly bellowed it aloud, the words swallowed in the chill sponge of the
It had nothing to do with me, yet in my state I found that
unacceptable, as though my having noticed the situation was integral to
the situation existing, my understanding it integral to…
‘To what?’ I said, coming to a halt again, leaning against one of the
cars in the lot, now a cleaner view in to the office. ‘Integral to
The man from the diner had checked in. I saw him handed his key and,
as had been done for me, the night clerk pointed with a pen to indicate
on an index card sized map of the motel where, exactly, the room
assigned to this new guest was situated.
I only saw the back of the man from the diner’s head, but already
referred to him as ‘The Man Who Never Closes His Eyes’ in my thoughts.
This I did not feel the least compelled to confirm, not as I had
about the man earlier never opening his eyes—I took it for granted, the
fact this man and that had been in the same diner within hours and the
diner staff had all marked this man as strange in this particular way
was enough for me.
And—again—so what? One man doesn’t close his eyes. He’s looking for a
man who doesn’t open his.
This had exactly nothing to do with me—me who would be on the road
just shortly after waking up, on my way to Justine and her nonsense
(which also had nothing to do with me) Justine and her demands of my
time, my life secondary to her whim. These men? What about them? I’d
sleep, never know them from nothing, again.
Yet my intention clearly was not to get to my room, bring on this
sleep, fall into uncomfortable tangles of illness in the tight tucked
sheets, the heavy motel comforter—no, I was watching the man who kept
his eyes open move towards the stairs just outside the motel office:
there he was, ascending, and there was I, at a casual distance, eyes
kept firmly downward except for flits up to be certain he was still
moving, following him up.
I’d expected him to stop at the level me and the man who never opened
his eyes had our rooms on, was genuinely confused—to the point my
impulse was to cough, purposefully, as though the sound should jar him
in to noticing where he was, get him on the correct path—when he kept on
up to the fourth story, where he straight away stopped to get a
I’d already committed to following him up, was three stairs into the
ascent to the fourth floor when he turned, looking down at me, smiling
Yes, I could have playacted. I had overshot my own destination, given
a foofball ‘aw shucks’ and turned around—certainly could have done so
upon reaching the fourth floor, proper, where I returned his smile and
gave a nod as I was passing him by—but instead I casually approached the
third room door from the stairwell and stopped, gave a big pantomime of
putting my hands through my pockets for my key (the wheezes and coughs,
the difficulty standing straight not part of the act, these torments
genuine, as was the rising necessity to find a toilet) then gave a sigh
like a disaster had befallen me, chuckled at myself I was an idiot.
When I moved to the railing, the man who never closes his eyes—still
at the railing just at the top of the stairwell—asked me was everything
He blew his cigarette smoke very precisely out, lips pursed just so,
only the tiniest aperture for the exhalation to leave him through, the
smoke, however, just a waft immediately pulled haphazardly three ways by
the wind and the various tones of light and shadow where he stood.
‘Left my key down at that diner,’ I said, vaguely indicating out
across the motel lot with my nose. I added, to not seem overly
thick-headed, that I was certain the clerk at the front desk could make
me up another, but that it was a drag to think about going back down
there, in my state. ‘Yes, you don’t look well,’ the man said, cigarette
now almost entirely smoked down to the filter, clipped between his
unparting lips while he took another from his pack, lit this new one
from the remains of the stub he’d been talking around, flicking this
then thoughtlessly against the wall, where it struck in a short rain of
orange embers, stub rolling to a smoldering halt almost exactly halfway
between the two of us.
‘I hate to blame the food,’ I chuckled, then trailed off, looking
right at the man (his eyes held open as full and wide as possible, smoke
from a new drag off his cigarette moving over the left one as though a
languid frog’s tongue) with a mocked up expression of considering
something before saying, ‘Hey—you were at the diner, yeah?’
‘I was. And I’d not spend too much energy defending the food,’ he was
smiling amiably, ‘quite frankly my gut is in revolt as well. I’m worried
looking at you is a glimpse of my impending fate.’
I nodded, a lot, like this remark deeply amused me—really it was just
that the motion of my head briefly eased my nausea—then went on with
‘You were looking for someone?’
I stopped nodding, rubbed my nose, looked him directly in the eyes
(only a moment, urgently turning my gaze down almost at once) before
saying ‘They said—at the diner—you had been looking for someone.’ I
shrugged, he shrugging back while I did. ‘They said you showed a
photo—it occurred to me I’d been down there, earlier.’
He made a face—meant to seem silly, no doubt, but which was actually
disquieting due to his eyes keeping wide while his face scrunched and
stretched into an I-don’t-know-what-you-mean expression around them.
‘Just thought I could have a look…maybe I’d seen whoever it was.’
‘Nope,’ he said, seeming to all of a sudden not like the taste of his
cigarette, scrapping his tongue-top along the sharps of his front teeth
a few times as though to clear mud from a shoe bottom, ‘they must have
meant someone else.’
‘You weren’t looking for anyone?’ I asked before I could stop myself,
eyes again—and again for just one second—locking with his before casting
‘I wasn’t looking for someone.’
He grinned another nod at me, asked was I going to be alright about
getting my key, then moved right to the door I’d stood in front of while
I’d done my act of fishing through my pockets, moments before.
He took out his key and—not giving me so much as a glance—opened the
door (light switching on, illuminating the drawn curtains) went inside,
letting it slam shut behind him.