Burley clutched his Bible, notebook and military handbook tightly to his chest. His white standard issue T-shirt was soaked through with sweat. The fat from a sipping gentle double chin padded the rims and rings of the white cotton, looped into the form of a shirt. The bones of his lower thighs dug into his meaty legs and grinned on the butt of the cold, old seat. It was a faded, stained, vintage yellow.
“Barley!” the voice called to him from the lips of a feeble, balding man. He looked like an accountant. His ratfish nose was posted just beyond lightly wire-rimmed spectacles, nearly falling off and looking like they were clawing to stay on. His nose was red of years of colds in a cold office in a cold world. There were little bumps. “Barley…” They must have meant him. He was too nervous to correct the man.
He stood up, nodded silently — averting his eyes to the laminate floor rather than blink into even a brief contact with the man’s — and rushed past the short-sleeve white button-up through the doorway. The man motioned with his clipboard behind him.
An older man was perched on a red diner-stool in front of the reclining, black, metal, spider like Barber’s Chair. The floor was littered with debris. Burley hesitantly stepped over them. He felt like everything in the room was sacred, and that to even disturb the remnants of the Procedure would be a severe sign of disrespect. He took the seat without needing to be told to. His legs were fidgeting against the foot petals.
The older man — balding on the top, glasses magnifying his iris to the size of a gleaming orange, and nose draped over a sprawling grey moustache — picked up his popped arthritic fingers delicately and spun the chair to face the mirror. Burley did not look up into it. He already had so, for a long time, the night before. He didn’t blink; he stared at his features for so long they became not his own anymore, like a elementary school game of Bloody Mary. And so the last thing he had seen was a kind of a monster, a candle-wax face reckoning of himself, peering backwards. It had felt even more like a dream, with the weight of all of the dreams and silent ear-tunings of the other to-be military-men, sitting tucked in bed. Could they hear him? It was the lonesomeness of wanting to be truly lonely, but always having the friend of fear hanging there — that someone might wake and see what you were up to. Staring in the mirror; but, they wouldn’t know for how long. And he was sure he was not the only one who skipped sleep to take a last look.
“Well, Son,” it had a cold ring to it here, even to Burley. He had been excited for the name to be bestowed upon him. But now, coming not from his father and instead from the military man — and from every military man, to every new recruit, as was custom — it did not feel like he had expected it to. “You ready?” The man grinned with warmth, and a touch of… selfishness. It was a big moment for him. Though maybe he just liked his work.
Burley had still been holding his Bible, Notebook and Handbook. He set them down gingerly on the ledge in front of him, under the mirror. They left a white rectangle outlined on his shirt — he had pressed them so tight to his slight chubbiness that the sweat did not even have room to grip on, and had to bleed around. It was a gleaming white box in that sea of grey sweat-stain. “Yes sir.” He said it without stuttering, but only because he had practiced; had practiced since he was five years old. And read the passages, wrote the affirmations, the Drills as his dad had called them — and memorized that whole rulebook. Just like his dad had wanted. What a shame, though, that he never got to see his old man’s face.
The Barber took a syringe and plucked it into the topmost line of the boys forehead, on the crest of his face and his freshly-shaved scalp. It had happened the previous day, and slight stubs of hair still began to fade through.
“You can smile one last time… or wink at yourself,” the old man said. It felt wrong to do it now, outside, with him. Burley had the night before. He felt his face go limp. His eyelids drooped but he still had a vague control of his eyes — like in a dream. The lids were down, but not closed. They were not active, simply discharged from use. Burley could still see, for an instant, a horse-blinder view-finder right out his nose. Across and through the mirror, he could see the Barber pull out the knife and the plasticizer. His vision receded into a dark tunnel, and his consciousness finally was lost.
The Barber pulled the Knife out of the blue jar of antibiotic pesticide, to keep it clean between cuts. It was a finely polished scalpel that resembled a long and thin wire more than it did a normal blade. The shape was demanded by the nature of the Procedure.
He stabilized his shaking hand against the boy’s temple. He was now still — and held secure — by all the stirrups and stabilizers of the chair. The old man slid the needle into the boy’s forehead skin — down, down, down, until its whole five inches were shoved inside. Then he began the real work. He strung the wire along, across the edge of the forehead and scalp; down and past the ear; around the jaw line, back up the chin — and all the way on the other side. It was as if he was gliding through a block of clay with a steel-wire cutter. The cheeks and eyelids, all the contours of the boy’s face as his own, loosened, and slackened, and fell open against newly forming air bubbles. Blood began to trickle down and was caught by the absorbent neck-pillow. More of it, though, dripped off the nose and chin, and stained that perfect white box on the boy’s sweat speckled shirt. He lifted up the skin — now for the hardest part. Holding the rest in one hand like a pad of limp leather, with a quick flick he separated the last contacts of the nose, the eyelids. The blood was really coming now. He tossed the boy’s face to the floor, with the discarded others. They were left like Halloween masks, stained with blood — to yellow and brown, thin and recede until they finally withered unattached — never to be worn again on the tiled floor. After this one, the cleaning crew would come in to pick up the bio-waste and incinerate it.
He grabbed the plasticizer, a long thing resembling a caulking gun with a squeegee on the end — and quickly spread the goop across the boy’s face, or rather, the front of his skull. It came out like a tacky dental rubber, and glazed the pulsating sore of the face a porcelain white. They had gotten the formula better and better, and now it did quite a good job of forming to the rough edges of the face — of leaving openings for the nostrils (now severely recessed, much closer to the skull), the eyelids and the like. Still, globs of it bundled up in some places — like ill-mixed plaster — and the Barber had to scrap these off to get a smooth finish. When he was done it had turned out quite well — a single face all in one smooth white line.
* * *
“Mr. Traumbo stands accused of a serious offence to the very service he hopes to command. This evening: after a picture of him leaks, caked in white gum in a tasteless use of Blankface, the question remains: does he think he can still become President when he disrespects the troops he hopes to command? In a JCN exclusive, we are sitting live with Candidate Traumbo for his response.” The camera cut away from the stern and contoured brunette, into a two-shot featuring a lesser-well manicured man, “Mr. Traumbo, what made you think that portraying this clear act of Blankface was… acceptable?”
“Well Portia, it is only from an utmost respect for our troops that I wanted to appear as a Marksman character in the local Chapter’s production. It was my decision to don the makeup, not as a mockery of any de-characterization, but as just the opposite: as a characterization. These nameless, faceless,” the candidate misspoke. He glanced for an awkward moment, his eyes darting across the cameras and assistants for his own handlers, “uh, servants (no) are there for the public. They are great, true and deep men who go through a meaningful ritual for our country. The loss of their face, their identity,” again, he stumbled. How was he supposed to spin this again? “… for our nation. They do not take on the national identity. I believe they become the core of it. They are our core. They are the identity behind our very safety, our security. And it is not faceless or nameless as it as one stronger, unifying face. This is what they are meant to do. To stand stronger as one.”
“Mr. Traumbo, as you know there have been radicals on both sides of the political spectrum calling for the President himself to undergo the procedure — officially — as part of the Inauguration ceremony. While public support for this only comes in at 22%, what do you have to say as the prospective helm of the military, and for the other generals who are appointed and forego what is required of our front-line troops? How do you answer to them?”