She kept her face in a jar by the door.
The others she kept in the basement. Filed away, by year, by memory. The face she’d raised to her mother as a child, and had slapped for her pains. An open face, closed thereafter. The face she’d brought to school, expectant, wondering. The face she’d graduated with at thirteen, fearful of nuns, gates and most of all, knowledge. The face she’d offered to her first lover, eyes closed, hoping at last for a kiss and not a cuff. The face she’d offered to her last lover, eyes fast shut against the boredom in his eyes.
Who was it for? She looked for him out the window, in the long hours between setting out the roses in Father McKenzie’s empty church, dusting the pews at mid day, and whispering to Mary in the cold evening, too deaf to bother with a reply. She looked for him in the postman cycling – and later gunning his motor bike – to the letter box on the right side of her tiny ground floor flat, then cycling past without a glance to the letter box on the left side. She looked for him in the young men waiting on corners to whistle at the bare-stomached, grinning girls, and to spit curse words at the old women pushing their wheeled shopping carts. She looked for him in the eyes of the young mothers and their pink and blue labelled, blank-eyed babies.
She looked for him in Father McKenzie.
“Have you got enough socks for winter, Father?”
“Yes, thank you Lily.”
She knew he hadn’t, saw his skinny ankles under the long black gown, blue-white with cold in the dull English weather, felt an odd, proprietary tenderness for him. She stayed up late making thick woollen ones out of purple wool from the thrift shop. He didn’t wear them.
She saw him in her dreams. Dreaming, she walked to the corner shop and bought a can of baked beans and some dried food for the cat. Dreaming, she knelt in the church and repeated prayers that had lost their meaning. Dreaming, she laid her body on chill sheets and turned out the light. Dreaming, he came to her.
“You’ve waited all this time,” he said, drawing his hand down over the face that she kept for the darkness. “Haven’t you given up yet?”
Awake, she was afraid, and struggled.
“Don’t fight me. Lily. What a passionate, graceful name you have. All the love that’s locked away in that name, Lily – you can let it go now. After all this time, you can feel safe.”
She looked into his night-dark face, fingers interlaced with his, and took a long, deep breath.
Father McKenzie wiped the dirt from his hands as he walked from the grave.
No one was saved.