Pores – H Kapp-Klote
Whatever it was, it was disgusting– and growing. Since he had moved three months earlier, it had evolved from a few red splotches on the side of his neck, a testament to the importance of moisturizing evenly, to a swollen, angry beehive protruding from the entire left side of his face. Convex, three-dimensional, putrid: four different dermatologists in the area had been left stammering at the canvas of sickly shades slowly consuming his face. Pallid white pus lurked just under the surface of red swollen welts, ready to burst at the slightest pressure from turning his neck the wrong way, or laying his head on the pillow at night.
And it was still spreading.
The various creams, antibiotics, and injections prescribed before his health insurance ran out had barely slowed the zits’ sustained march across his face. The daily cayenne pepper tea, or the thrice daily tincture of apple cider vinegar and iodine, or even the raw, sugar-free, gluten-free, meat-free diet that made all his meals leaf piles of variable consistency, had cleared his wallet without clearing his face.
Like a cresting tidal wave, the pestilence spread, turning his neck, then his cheek, then across his nose to the remaining cheek into a hamster larvae pink bulge of meat, bearing little resemblance to the former shape of his head.
He didn’t know many people in the city, and his facial deterioration alarmed few at first. The woman at the corner store looked twice as she scanned his Hot Pockets and purple Vitamin Water. He went to dinner at his uncle’s who commented as he left, “And you really should get that looked at again, son.” But then he noticed bigger changes: not in his face, but in the faces of others. Like the plague itself, their responses grew broader, more concrete. Women on the bus nudging their knees away from his while their children stared, gnawing on their fingers solemnly.
He bought several types of pancake makeup, spending one of his last paychecks on a special brand made to cover tattoos. He woke up at 4:30 a.m. every morning to begin the cover-up ritual, a process that took 4 hours but only stayed in place for 3. He would catch the bus looking lumpy, but all one color. By his 10-minute coffee break, the foundation would begin to crack, creating little dinosaur eggs of pimple bursting through the painstakingly applied powder, determined to breathe. By 4:15 p.m., the volcanoes claimed victory, bulging triumphantly, their firetruck chroma more vibrant than ever.
It was the bus ride home at 6:15 p.m. that was the real challenge, after even the faintest hint of concealor had long ago disappeared. By 7:03 p.m., still stuck on their endless commute home, the other passengers’ studied avoidance of eye contact turned into long, revolted stares, the sneaking glances transformed into determined, angry sneers.
As the staring increased, so did the impulse to pick, to scratch, to itch, making the pustules bigger, fatter, a more putrid shade of firetruck. His eyes, in their sockets, were the only concave appendage he had left, the only organ that did not protrude, somehow, from the rest of him, a blueish red mass.
It was on the 741 bus, rush hour in December, that he started to realize that something was really wrong. A well-dressed old woman sat down right next to him, rosary in one hand, King James in the other. She sat down right next to him, without cringing at their proximity, and placed her hand on his knee, looking straight into his face. He couldn’t even do that in the mirror anymore. He almost wept: it was the first time someone, anyone, had touched him in so long, let alone so easily, so casually. He looked into her eyes, and she smiled, her eyes crinkling. “You are disgusting,” she said, one hand still clutching her rosary. “God forgive you.”
He stopped going out, of course. He got rid of his bathroom mirror and the tiny mirror magnet on his refrigerator, the only ones left in the house. He used his final paycheck to buy cans of beans, sacks of rice, things that would keep for a long time. He asked his uncle to bring him food for a few weeks, but then left his uncle knocking for hours, week after week. He never came to the door, so the food, and his uncle, stopped coming. He’d paid 6 months rent up front, so the landlord never came by either—previously a nuisance, now a relief.
His heat, gas, and electricity bills sat on his dining room table until, one by one, they were all turned off. Thankfully, the water stayed on—soaking in the bathtub was one of the only ways to alleviate the itching. He had no real end game, no long term plan.
He just kept his fingers crossed, but not too tightly: the welts had started to spread to his hands as well.
It started to convulse. Some nights he would lie awake at night, poking and scratching and scraping the redness, and when he had popped each pustule, he was covered in white pus and a sheen of grease and perspiration, unable to tell what came out of his pores versus what came out of his own exertion; he would collapse, exhausted, feeling the warmth of the redness convulsing across his face. On particularly sleep-deprived nights he could feel it dancing, rejoicing, sliding back and forth across his skin in the trail of welts and pus and misshaped carmine bulbs. It was delighted to claim the skin of his face for its own, setting off pulsing red and white fireworks of joy. Delirious, he tried to remember a time he was as happy as the whelk on his face, a time he had felt some measure of ownership of his body, and his place in the world. Even in recalling his pre-pustule life, he found no equivalent experience, no moment that sparked such feelings of freedom and glee. Each day when dawn broke, he drifted off without an answer.
Eventually, it seemed easier to sleep during the day—he had fewer painful encounters with his reflection, and the daylight angered the redness, provoking a sting like day-old sunburn. His new lifestyle’s similarity to vampire mythology appealed to him, though vampires were pale, sexual, and imminently handsome. There were no vampires with a face like raw hamburger meat.
“I vant to suck your blood!” he said as he laughed to himself one day, waking as the sun went down. The redness throbbed agreeably.
It seemed a little presumptuous of him to survive the invasion of Earth, a social outcast with a garish pore invasion along for the ride. But his pseudo-vampiric lifestyle protected him from the worst of the attacks: he lived in a basement and kept a wet towel covering his head day and night to ease the itching. The night that the first gas attack crept through the cracks in his doors and windows, he was wide awake, submerged in the bathtub and breathing through a thick coating of terrycloth. It was dumb luck that taking refuge underground and protecting your nose and mouth were the best way to protect against incessant poison gas.
After his Wi-Fi stopped working, he listened to the few broadcasters left on his shitty AM radio, a florescent yellow Christmas present from his grandmother in 2013. “Stay inside, whatever you do,” said the radio announcer, who coughed once, then again, then again, each time wetter, filled with more fluid. “They’re coming. oh god, they’re coming.” The coughing started again and went on and on until it stopped. Then there was only static for a long time.
He waited because there wasn’t much else to do, besides scratch.
Eventually, there was a loud BANG and a cloud of black smoke at his door. A figure stepped out of the smoke: it was hard to say what the figure looked like, beyond like a Martian. The gun in their hand, for all its space machinery, was still unmistakably a weapon. And though he couldn’t quite tell if the Martian had hands, the gun was definitely pointed straight at him. He tried not to make any sudden moments, even to pick at his lumps.
The Martian looked at him, then lowered their gun—without any mouth, eyebrows, or eyes recognizable to him, he couldn’t tell what emotion, if any, they felt in viewing him. He felt as though he should be more afraid, but the redness pulsed soothingly, a numbing lullaby.
The Martian pulled out a small metal device, and hummed quietly to it, a three-note tune. The machine purred. “Cómo se ven todos los seres humanos como usted?”
He could only stare blankly. The Martian hummed another three notes. The machine purred again.
“We have never seen a human before. Did all humans look this way?”
“Yes, of course.” he said.