A brand-new video adventure, APIARY MIXTAPE is an intimate look into Philly’s teeming literary families. Writers invite us in to the places they find inspiration; we record their poems, stories, and thoughts on craft and community.
Follow us from living rooms to swingsets, riverbanks to rooftops. We’re on a quest to record Philly and the words it carries in its dusty concrete bones.
This week: Writer Chris Davis talks about how his time living in Chiapas, Mexico inspired his unusual love story, “How Pedro Got a Face.”
This series is created by Nick Forrest.
Read “How Pedro Got a Face” after the jump.
How Pedro Got a Face
Pedro was one of 12 brothers. Pedro did not have a face and he spent most of his time not thinking about it, and instead working at a restaurant late into the night. In the restaurant he would cut things like mushrooms, sausages, onions, tomatoes, chilies, and peppers.
Many people in town had mutilated faces or deep scars, but they all at least had some form of noses, eyes, and a mouth, or at least one of the three. They all had part of a face, at minimum. And as everyone knows even a part of something can be good enough to get you through life.
However Pedro did not have a face. Instead of a nose he had a small bump that looked like a pimple, and instead of a mouth he had a hand-drawn black line, and instead of eyes he had two pencil X marks. Sort of like this:
Children did not make fun of Pedro because their mothers told them if they did they would lose their faces too. His mother never treated him any differently either, nor his father, in fact they only remembered Pedro’s face when they looked at one of the two family pictures they had stored away in a drawer; and they never said anything about it afterwards.
Pedro never noticed his condition either; he had never seen a mirror and as he couldn’t really see, so there was no way for him to understand the exact nature of his condition. He didn’t eat all that much and when he did he just smeared the food where his mouth might have been and it seemed to satisfy any hunger, though later he would wipe the crumbs away. He had no vices and never liked to be around smoke as it made him feel queasy in his stomach.
Pedro grew into a very average man with a stomach that had a little bit of a paunch but was also skinny. He was not handsome nor was he ugly and for the most part the days flew by through a cutting of tomatoes, onions, and cooking food. On the late nights he would fall asleep with his hand touching where his nose might have been, pressing the flesh gently in, wondering why everything was so mysterious. Of course that all changed when a girl walked in. Her name was Flores and though Pedro could not see, could not touch or smell her, he felt her presence when she entered the restaurant.
The restaurant was not open yet. He had forgotten that he had left the door open just a jar, but he definitely did not expect anybody but a curious tourist to enter. It would be another hour until the rest of the staff arrived. Flores had opened the door and called out to see if anyone was there. She wanted to use the bathroom.
It was the three cups of coffee at the café. That was what ailed her as she walked around in circles thinking she would surely wet herself. Then she saw the door to a restaurant slightly open, and inside a sign for the bathrooms. Without another word, she rushed in to the lavatory.
Pedro didn’t know what to do. A girl had never used a bathroom in his presence before and it excited him for some reason. He instinctually touched where his mouth would have been, a habit he had when he became excited. Flores emerged from the bathroom and turned off the light.
Later people would ask Flores if it did not bother her that Pedro did not have a face. But she always brushed the question aside and changed the subject after an awkward pause.
The truth was that Flores hadn’t noticed at first, and by then it was too late.
“Is it ok if I use your bathroom? I’m sorry…I really had to go.”
Pedro stood, his dark brown skin a clear contrast to her lily white.
“I’m sorry…I’m probably bothering you…do you work here…or do you have anything else you have to do…?”
Pedro could not respond, and it was not because he had no mouth, for even if he had a mouth he would not have had the words. He could not exactly see Flores but he felt this presence, and he felt these vibrations shaking him.
“Well I better get going,” Flores said as she made her way slowly to the door.
“It was nice meeting you,” she smiled.
Pedro felt the presence disappearing from the room, and with it a void opening up inside of his chest, that feeling of having everything and then returning back to nothing; knowing that you will want everything again, and again.
Right before Flores was about to leave she heard what sounded like a stampede of elephants; she thought for a moment about the animals in town and wondered if in fact it was a run-away horse from the country. When she turned around she saw Pedro stamping his feet angrily onto the floor.
Pedro pounded the floor like the pizza he made for the restaurant. He made sure every inch was touched, starting with the outer circle then working his way in. He stamped and pressed, the floor buckled beneath him, the tables in the restaurant shook and the wine glasses wobbled but Pedro continued his strange dance. All he knew was that for some reason it was working; that perhaps the presence would stay.
Flores had no fear of anything but she was surprised when she went over to Pedro and touched his hand. So much electricity.
The touch shocked Flores to the bone. She held his small brown hand as he heaved and puffed, and eventually managed to calm down. She had still not noticed that Pedro did not have a face, and she didn’t bother to check. Instead she took his hand and walked out of the restaurant.
Down to the river nearby and they sat down as the hawkers waved their menus in the air and people tried to sell them trinkets. She held his hand.
There Flores and Pedro sat watching the river. The white girl with a the brown man who had no face. Their shoulders did not touch and they did not embrace. It was just the one hand. For Pedro it was his left hand and for Flores her right.
Pedro felt the hand lift him up and up he went. Flores walked along side the river now, they passed two dead dogs that lay side by side, they passed an old man sleeping against a hollow tree, they passed the high grass and the low grass until they reached the end of the trail.
Here there was a small stagnant pool that was run off from the river. The muddy tracks of crocodiles could be seen, and occasionally they would sunbathe in this spot, but for now there were no crocodiles, not even a bird; the place was deserted. Flores brought Pedro’s hand down to her stomach and they laid down in the grass, the stagnant pool next to them.
“I want to have children.”
“I want to have children with you.”
He felt the hand pressing his even harder now, it almost hurt. He did not hear the words she said, he had no idea what this thing was or is, but he did notice as his pants slid off and fell into the pool of stagnant water. Then his shirt, unbuttoned carefully, was tossed into the pool as well. He lay there nude.
Pedro had never before been nude in front of a woman. He had, as far as he could remember, always worn his clothes. He did not take them off at night and he did not take them off during the day.
But now here he was, at the end of a trail, lying naked. He began to scream.
He began to scream.
“What are you saying?”
He was yelling now. He was yelling though he did not know what yelling was.
“I can’t understand you.”
It was then that Flores saw it. Pedro had no face. Christ. Would that mean her children would have no face too? People would talk. She would be the mother of the children that had no faces and then what…no one wanted that.
“Spit it out,” but just as she said it she noticed the hand-drawn line on Pedro’s face crack. It was the slightest crack and in fact she thought perhaps it was a cold sore. She kept listening and listening to the yelling and the screams. At first she thought it became from the trees, or the river, or the blades of grass.
She looked into his mouth and saw an entire world of emptiness. She saw 12 little balls floating around a long black tongue, like a serpent, the tongue lashed back and forth hitting the balls along the roof of the mouth. It looked like it was trying to get out. It kept whipping against what appeared to be sewn shut, pushing against the little crack that had let the light in. The balls bounced everywhere.
She took a deep breath. It was time to go in.
Flores had never entered anyone’s mouth before. Yes she had kissed mouths before but she had never physically entered, and going inside was a daunting task. Fortunately Pedro was missing two teeth and it made entering all the easier, as she was able to just slip through. She did not know why she had decided to enter, only that at the time she felt like it was the right thing to do.
Pedro’s mouth was much smaller than she thought. She imagined mouths to be big like endless universes, or the sky filled with its stars, but here there was nothing but a big black tongue, teeth, and these twelve bouncing balls. Flores did not know what to do. She had not been trained in opening mouths before, but it was clear that Pedro wanted to say something and she was determined to give him the chance.
Occasionally deafening sound waves of screams, yells, misunderstandings, struck her ears. It was disorientating at first, that with the tongue lashing everywhere. A few times she even had to duck in order to avoid being hit. If Pedro wanted to say something he was sure giving it an effort.
The tongue flapped wildly, slapping against the roofs and the walls.
“Will you calm down!”
Flores ducked as the tongue swept above her. If she did not act quickly it was clear that Pedro might eat her. She waited patiently as the tongue passed over her again, and when she felt the right time she grabbed it.
Have you ever grabbed a tongue? It is like grabbing a snake but worse, for a snake while slippery has scales. A tongue has no scales. It is nothing more than open muscle that has no grip. So as many times as you grab the tongue it will always slip through your fingers; that is why it’s a tongue and not a leg or an arm, it is meant to evade.
Flores grabbed the tongue for what seemed like a good second, for one second she had it within her grasp but then it flipped her high into the air and slammed her against the roof, puncturing her back. She landed back down on the tongue as it swept in the other direction, a soft reassuring bounce, but then she was slammed against the front of his teeth.
Pedro groaned and Flores broke her arm. She laid against the front of his teeth feeling herself sliding but not knowing where she was going. She tried to grab onto anything she could but nothing would hold, it was one slippery slope downwards.
She wanted to scream but felt herself swallow in the middle, she wanted to cry but she did not have the time; sliding down into the belly happens so fast one has scarcely a moment to think, and Flores did not have that moment to think; no her moments of thought were quickly leaving her, evaporating like the clouds on a summer day, she was disappearing.
Just as she slid past the tonsils, as everything she felt and loved had left her and she became nothing more than a piece of food she felt something push her from behind. More and more she felt buoyed into the air like a balloon, she drifted up and up and looked behind her.
“I love you.”
Ah she had never heard it before.
“I love you I love you I love you,”
The words pushed around her like a cushion she felt surrounded.
“I love you I love you I loveyou IloveyouIloveyouIloveyou”
The words lifted her into the air, pushing her punctured back and broken arm up up and away, the mouth forever sealed now began to open, with rusty chapped lips bleeding before her like a bloody waterfall. She felt herself carried away like a bride on a wedding day and when she came to her senses she was lying in a stagnant pool of water with Pedro dying before her.
His mouth bled and it bled, it was an 8 inch open wound and quarts and quarts of blood flowed forth, staining the dirt and the blades of grass. Pedro screamed as Flores looked on horrified.
Everything he was, was coming out and it wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t just blood but teeth and bone and muscle and 24 years of life. The words she had heard inside his mouth were now suffocated by the blood, Flores quickly gathered herself.
“We’re taking you to a hospital.”
And with that unnatural strength that a woman can have in crisis, Flores lifted Pedro’s body into her arms and began to march back to town, all the while he coughing up quarts of blood that dripped a trail behind.
The hospital was full of people but they all stepped aside when they saw the pale woman carrying Pedro in. Everyone in town knew Pedro did not have a face, so they were surprised to see what looked like a mouth full of blood.
The doctors rushed in, white tails dragging behind them, they took one look at Pedro and pronounced,
“He was alive a second ago.”
“That’s the definition of dead ma’am.”
“Alive a second ago.”
“Please take a look. Please.”
“Ma’am we have a patient room full of people dying. We don’t have time to try and save
someone who is already dead.”
“I’ll pay. A thousand pesos.”
“Two thousand. Let’s go.”
The doctors hurriedly rushed Pedro into the emergency room, people rushed to and fro, injecting needles into his veins, prying his mouth open with bars, swabbing and clotting to stop the bleeding. But Pedro bled on.
“He really seems dead.”
“Please just make sure.”
They looked at him, Pedro was not bloated and his face had become white, his lips were blue and his eyes were sunken in. They looked at each other and each grabbed their knives.
“What are you going to do?
“We are going to find out if he’s dead or alive.”
They plunged the knives into Pedro’s chest and cut in a little circle, just like carving a pumpkin, they targeted the heart and cut it out. They looked in.
Inside Pedro’s chest was a long lane of muscles tied together nervously, they worked their way between the muscles digging deeper and deeper, trying to find something more than shreds. A cry was heard.
“What the hell was that?” Flores demanded.
The doctors looked at each other and then to her… “We don’t know.”
They reached in further, until their hands were nearly touching Pedro’s back, they felt a small ball of some sort and one of the doctors managed to pull it out. It was a baby.
Without a face.
“We found a baby ma’am.”
“Give it to me.”
Flores looked down at the baby without a face and sighed. She took her fingers and pressed them in where the eyes should be until she felt a gooey pop and her fingers sunk in. She pulled the flesh towards her, molding it into a small nose, and then finally she used a bobby pin to cut open a mouth. The doctors stood aghast watching as the white lady appeared to disfigure the small child.
“Do you want to sign the registration papers?”
Flores nodded and took the baby into her arms, which really wasn’t much of a baby more of a lump of flesh. She named the lump Pedro. And that’s how Pedro got a face.-