The Swipe

I had not, I admit, gotten rid of my dating app, though Maggie had moved into my place months before. I had no intentions with that little digital matchmaker, but I swiped through every now and then, from habit. I later learned that all app makers, whether they’re selling dates or stocks or poker games, design their technology in such a way that it manipulates the user’s hormones, resulting in addictive behaviors. Not everything works on every user but swiping on women’s faces appealed to me. It held the joys of people watching, without having to be watched back.

Of course, I never exchanged notes with any other user. That would make me unfaithful to Maggie, who had been cheated on previously and had asked me, when she decided to make my house our house, to commit to the singular promise that I would never stray. “You can break up with me,” she said – we were in bed one morning after she’d stayed over. “You can lie to me about your job or money, you can forget my birthday, you can stay out late and come home wasted, but never let me catch you fooling around with another person.”

Maggie’s former fiancé had broken up a five-year engagement because he wanted to be with men. Specifically, he wanted men who styled themselves “bears.” They could be chubby or muscly but had to be hairy. Maggie, meanwhile, was skinny and large-breasted. She never went to the gym, had no interest in sports and had never heard of bears until she found them on his computer. “I thought it was nature programming,” she said. “Like my dad used to watch on Channel Thirteen.”

Point being, I did not keep the dating app for the purpose of mating, but for innocent people browsing. Still, I felt guilty about it. They say you should never do anything you wouldn’t want your girlfriend to find out about. They say, why would you do it if you know it’d bother her? I imagined trying to explain it. “Just looking at people, like sitting on a park bench,” and that sounded reasonable to me. But then I imagined her asking, “If it’s just looking at people, why is only women?” And what could I have said? That’s how I’d set up the app? I knew I was up to something innocent, but I knew I couldn’t explain it, so I kept it to myself. I’d had enough going wrong in life as it was. I needed some relaxing and inconsequential pastime.

One sleepless night, as I lay fixated on an overly personal complaint from Big Ron at work, I left Maggie upstairs and sat in the dark on our plush purple sofa and I looked at women on the app. I lingered over Loretta, whose face grabbed me. She had textured eyebrows, crafted into dark umbrellas covering deep set, ice blue eyes. Her nose sat small, but downward sloping, rather than upturned, and it was set perfectly center, creating admirable symmetry for ample and well-boned cheeks. Teeth together, lips apart, her mouth invited. I swiped left, the swipe of rejection, as always. Just looking. No harm in that. I might not have remembered the name Loretta, or thought about her face again, had life spared me an amazing occurrence. I turned off the phone and snuck back into bed. What a word, “snuck!” I went to bed, having committed no sneak-worthy offenses.

When I woke, with Maggie asleep next to me, her back turned so I could see the line of her shoulders beneath the straps of her nightie, I reached for my phone, brought it to my eyes and was told “face not recognized.” I repeated the gestures. I finally entered the code and checked my email. As usual, I’d collected newsletters, charitable pitches, and advertisements throughout the night. One email. From 6 am, came from Ron, my boss. EMERGENCY. I clicked. Our client hated the copy I’d written for their magazine advertisements. “Has this guy ever even eaten a cheeseburger?” they had demanded. I had. Many. The note seemed unnecessarily cruel, especially for the morning.

“I’ll rewrite it,” I tapped back to Ron.

Ron answered quickly. “I’ll have somebody else do it. Talk later.”

I wondered how I could squander the trust of a marketing associate at a fast-casual sandwich and burger chain. I wondered what devotion they had expected to the 80% lean/20% fat blend of ground beef, or to their signature crispy fried onions and to a barbecue sauce recipe that they traced to the Civil War, though they refused to tell me which side.

I sighed. It would be a day of failure. Ron wrote to me again. All the note said was: “Floral cheeses?!?!?!?!” I had taken a risk, sure. Weren’t all triumphs born from risk? I climbed out of bed carefully to avoid disturbing Maggie. She had worked late, showing houses in an “up and coming” neighborhood had been given the day off as a reward, though in her “eat what you kill,” line of work, day off was simply unpaid leave.

Baxter, our nearly bald Chihuahua mix, who used to sleep curled up on my feet but has slept outside of the bedroom door since Maggie moved in, jumped to his feet, stared me in the face and scampered backward, growling as I emerged into the hallway. I quickly pulled the bedroom door shut so that Baxter’s morning dramatics wouldn’t wake Maggie. As I approached the bathroom, Baxter turned and charged down the wooden stairs, taking two at a time. At the foot of the stairs, he stopped to trill his dissatisfaction and release a bark. Had my dog also seen my ad copy and disapproved?

“What?” I asked. “What is it?”

image c/o johnlewis.com

But Baxter turned a corner. In the bathroom, I turned to the mirror and saw my new face. My forehead, once a protruding mesa, reminiscent of a museum’s Neanderthal, now planed downward toward my eyes, which had turned from brown to blue and shed the puffiness around them. My nose has similarly moderated, giving up the profile of a founder on a coin for the ivory silhouette of a lady on a locket. It was still my head, with its tangled curls of dark brown hair atop, but it had been colonized by something beautiful. I screamed and cursed. Baxter barked. Maggie charged from the bedroom. I turned to her. We locked eyes. She screamed. I screamed. She ran down the stairs, her phone in hand.

“Wait!” I chased.

“Get away from me!

She very quickly reached the kitchen and plucked two steak knives from the butcher’s block on the counter, holding one in each hand, even twirling one. Had my girlfriend practiced mentally for some sort of home invasion?

“You don’t need those,” I said. “It’s me. It’s me.”

“I’ve already called the cops, you better get the fuck out of this house.”

Baxter circled her feet, barking at me.

“Okay, okay…” I held my hands up and backed towards the front door, knocking my wooden and glass cabinet full of cocktail glasses purloined from restaurants. “Maggie, it’s me. It’s Isaac. I don’t know what’s going on.”

With her left hand, she stabbed into the air. I opened the front door and walked out onto the raised wooden porch. Four black and white police cruisers had already gathered on the block, lights flashing, from tops, grills and read windows, but sirens quiet. They touted “Discipline, Service and Respect.”

There were two officers per car, all younger than me, festooned in tactical gear – bulky armored vests, utility bets with devices for spraying, shocking, restraining and killing, radio receivers affixed to their collarbones, all cleanly shaven with short hair, all white but the commander, who approached with two officers in tow while the rest stayed back by the cars. All also wore body cameras, the lenses affixed to their left shoulders, opposite their radios.

“Sir, come onto the grass,” said the leader, who I saw was named Officer Ramirez when he got close. I complied and Maggie appeared on the porch. “He broke into our house!” Maggie said. “He broke in, he’s wearing Isaac’s clothes, and I don’t know where my fiancé is. Trust me, I’m not crazy. My dad was a cop.”

They ordered me to raise my hands, to turn around and to kneel on the grass. “I live here,” I told the two officers who Ramirez had assigned to me. “I haven’t done anything wrong.” My feet were bare and I wore only black boxer trunks and a t-shirt from the Maple Hills Park Charity 5K from three years ago. I saw neighbors at their windows, their faces framed by the curtains they had pushed aside.

“You have ID?” said one of the officers – I couldn’t tell which as I looked down at the grass and could see only their feet and a flittering ladybug.

“I keep it in my other underwear,” I said.

“Funny,” came the response. “And the woman here is…”

“My girlfriend, Maggie. She lives here.”

“Says she’s your fiancée, not girlfriend.” I think this was the other cop. “Is she on any drugs?”

“No, officer. She worked late last night.”

“Stay here. We’ll figure this out. I’m sure it’s fine, sir.”

Meanwhile, from the porch, I heard Maggie insist to Ramirez, “That’s not Isaac.”

My knees ached, as did my hamstrings. I touched my face and felt its new dimensions – the higher cheeks, the narrowing near the chin – it was all lighter and sleeker than it had been. Ramirez and Maggie went inside, I heard the storm door clatter shut behind them.

One of the officers returned to pop quiz me about my personal details. I provided my full name, my height (5’8”) and weight (160 pounds) and hair color, birth date and Social Security number. I got my eye color wrong, as I had forgotten they had turned from brown to blue. Then I told them Maggie’s birthday and her eye color and then I described the interior of my home, including which drawer where I kept silverware and the code for the lock to the basement laundry room. I described framed photos on the walls, like Maggie and me in Cancun last year or my son Jeremy at the Model UN finals a few months back.

Ramirez joined the officer questioning me, who reported: “He got his eye color wrong but he knows everything else about Isaac Weiss, his house, his dog and his fiancée. He knows his mother’s maiden name. I bet he knows his ATM pin and if I tracked down his high school prom date, he’d get that right, too.”

Ramirez held my driver’s license next to my face. “And yet… different face.”

“He does look better in person,” said the other officer.“I don’t think we can pin this on DMV photography,” said Ramirez.

“What law have I broken? I’m late for work and I can already tell this is going to be a sucky day. I haven’t done anything, and my knees hurt.”

The officer reporting to Rodriguez grabbed my upper right arm and pulled me to standing. I brushed myself off. “I know things only I can know,” I said. “On Saturday, Maggie and I had dinner at Trixie Wong’s, and she paid with an air miles Visa. How would I know that?”

“You could work at the restaurant,” said Ramirez.

“But I don’t. You’re just making stuff up. It is not illegal to wake up with a different face.”

“Yeah, well, it wouldn’t be illegal to for your, uh, fingertips to glow like, uh, glow worms. I’d still investigate if they did.”

“You are going to make me lose my job.”

“What kind of job.”

“Marketing.”

“What does that even mean?”

“It mean I’m in trouble because our client hated my ideas about floral cheeses.”

“Floral cheeses,” he wrinkled his mouth and nose. “Ugh. Nobody wants to eat that.”

“No. Nobody knows they want to eat that. Except in Europe, where they do.”

“You don’t look like Isaac,” Ramirez insisted. “Not a bit. Even your phone agrees. But we can’t arrest a guy on the word of a smartphone. Not usually.”

“You could arrest me,” I said. “I mean, you can arrest me for anything, right? On a whim, even? That’s what cops can do. But then what? You bring me to the station and you take my fingerprints and they don’t match anything because I’ve never committed a crime. I’m not the crime type. I’m more of a tattletale, really. In high school, Jimmy Bivins filled the principal’s gas tank with sugar and I saw him do it and I told.”

“You went to high school with Jimmy Bivins? He runs the Precinct! Hey, Joey… this is the guy who ratted out Chief Bivins in high school. That’s why the Chief became a cop! Call the Precinct and ask him if Isaac Shimkin is the one who ratted him out.”

The officer named Joey summoned headquarters from his car. Maggie finally approached me, two more officers following closely. She said nothing. She put both her hands on my cheeks, pulled me towards her and kissed me for a long time. I closed my eyes, forgot our audience, and kissed back enthusiastically. She finally released me, took a step back, wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and said, “That’s Isaac.”

“That’s him?” said Ramirez.

“Tongue like a banana slug.”

“You’ve kissed a slug?”

Maggie nodded. “I’m sorry,” she told them. “I just freaked out.”

From the car, Joey called. “That’s the guy! Chief says the story checks.”

Ramirez considered all of this. “A man has a right to wake up with a different face, I suppose. But we’ll send somebody by to check on you in a few days.”

“Thank you,” said Maggie.

The police lingered. Maggie signed a statement. Maggie had brought my phone, which rang. I answered it, with nodded permission from Ramirez. It was Ron, who demanded, “Are you coming into today, or what?” Time had elapsed strangely during the entire encounter with the police, and I hadn’t realized we were pushing ten.

“I’m, uh, not myself,” I said. But Maggie shook her head at me.

“Not yourself? The client is coming in. They want you to explain your work.”

“I thought they just hated it.”

“Yes, pal, but I convinced them that you could explain yourself. They’ll be here in an hour, and you need to explain to them what they’ve missed and why it should have been their idea in the first place.”

“But there’s something wrong with my face, Ron.”

“Is it gross?”

“No. No, it isn’t gross.”

“Then get in here. See you in twenty minutes.”

Maggie hugged me, kissed me, and said, “We’re going to get you dressed and I will drive you to work.”

“With my face like this?”

“It’s not bad,” she said. “You look really, really good, actually.”

“You should probably see a doctor,” Rodriquez volunteered.

“You think, officer?”

“Honestly, I don’t know what to think.”

Maggie took me inside. She sat me on the couch and brought Baxter with her. Baxter, at first, barked and tried to scurry away from me, but in her trusting hands, he finally climbed onto my lap, sniffed my midsection, decided that familiarity persisted, and then hopped off the couch to pursue whatever business Baxter pursued during the day – a combination of water slurping, food munching, napping, fly hunting, and chew toys.

“Feeling okay?”

“It’s so weird. But I feel fine. Like I’ve had this face all my life.”

“Pinstripe suit today,” she said. “Solid shirt, light, solid tie, power. Go take a shower.”

In the shower I reached for the soap but stopped myself. I chose her gently exfoliating facial wash with peach and pomegranate. The new face deserved more delicate treatment. When I had dried off, Maggie helped me into my suit, tying the tie for me into an expert double Windsor.

She drove me in her car, a white sedan with satellite radio. When we arrived at the office park I said, “Sorry about all of this.”

“You look great.”

“But I kiss like a banana slug.”

“It’s not so bad when you look so good.”

In the office, Ron’s three hundred pounds greeted me by the empty reception desk. Ron had played college football and maintained his size, though not the form. He pawed at my shoulders and almost hurled me into office bullpen, where my co-workers tapped keyboards, chatted into headsets and stared at paper cups of beige breakroom coffee.

“You made it! Looking good, too. What did you say about your face? Looks great! What did you use? Antioxidants? Tell me it was dark chocolate and black coffee, pal. I’ve always wanted to believe in miracles. You’re going to give me that secret, Isaac. I am going to get that secret.”

“What are you wanting from me, Ron?”

“Either make the client happy or take the heat. Either way.”

I futzed on the computer while I waited for the Armageddon “meating.” Which is what the client, a fast casual restaurant chain called Roswell’s named its professional gatherings. I had no explanation for “floral cheeses” other than wanting to use a new adjective with a client that had distilled its entire identity, including a corporate history that dated back to a “mess hall thirty klicks east of Saigon,” to the words “beefy,” and “juicy,” and “broiled.” Also, I knew they were lying about their corporate origins. The Army cook draftee had long left the company and anything that far east of Saigon would have been underwater. I’d checked. Still, I had sinned as a marketer by trying something new. The job, as I’d learned it, was to dish up the old but to make it seem new.

It was a virtual meating. Ron and I sat in a small conference room with our clients on flatscreen. Their attendees, scattered geographically, appeared as individually framed faces while Big Ron and I shared virtual space. The clients were represented by Monica the Marketing Coordinator, Clarissa the Corporate Communications Director, Darcy the Marketing Communications Coordinator and Elvin the Director of Messaging.

“First we just want to say,” said Darcy, with a flip to get her straight brown hair from her eyes, “how much we appreciate your efforts.”

“But we’re not sure it’s on message,” said Elvin. He was black, with closely cut hair, a trimmed goatee, and a bright white shirt with “Big Burger” cufflinks. “Beefy. Juicy. Broiled. Beefy. Juicy. Broiled. From you, I get ‘unctious,’ and I wonder what our customers would think of that.”

“Cheese,” I began, but Big Ron held his hand as if trying to stop me from bolting from my chair.

“No, I get it,” said Elvin. “Cheese can be a ‘big words,’ kind of food.

“But not our cheese,” Clarissa interjected. “Our cheese is gooey, messy, drippy and one time it scalded that lady in Albuquerque, so we never bring up how hot it gets. This is all in the style guide.”

“This is my fault,” I said. Ron allowed this.

“Isaac can handle meat,” said Ron. “He sees his error. Now he’s ready to go back to his desk and really get his hands dirty.”

“But maybe…” Elvin leaned towards his camera. “Are we being closed-minded?”

Yes, I thought. “Of course not,” said Big Ron.

“Are you an influencer?” asked Darcy. “Like, online? Like, people do what you do, to be more like you? You look like an influencer.” Then, almost as an aside to her team she added, “It’s around the eyes,” and she gestured around her eyes, which were raccooned from tanning bed use. “I bet he never eats at Roswell’s.”

“Do you eat at Roswell’s?” Elvin asked.

I nodded that I had never sat in one of their booths or felt the cool plexiglass table tops that protected the discarded patches, keys, license plates and gears of bygone country-road Americana.

“It’s not that I’m a snob,” I managed.

“No, no,” said Elvin. “We just don’t offer the floral cheeses that a man such as yourself seeks from a restaurant experience. You can make a burger at home and a damned good one. You go out, you want something you can’t do, and a giant, battered onion won’t do the job. Don’t be embarrassed. It’s all right. We should be embarrassed. We know that greasy monstrosity is nothing but a bunch of onion rings that we were too lazy to pull apart.” He looked disgusted with himself and his team.

“Yeah, we’ve known this a long time,” said Clarissa. “The shareholders like it.”

“Tell me about the cheese,” said Elvin. “Tell me what you think.”

“You sell fat sandwiches,” I said. “Beefy beef. Gooey cheese. That’s fat and fat.”

“We have plant-based options,” Darcy interjected.

“Salt,” I said. “Salt and fake blood. Like baby food for a vampire.”

“Honesty,” Elvin clapped his hands together, his cufflinks jingled.

“Yeah, Isaac. You’re being harsh, don’t you think?” Ron had rejoined the conversation, annoyed that he could not project my vector.

“You said it, Elvin. Cheese is the topic that Roswell can exploit to make itself seem sophisticated, worldly, and special. Floral cheeses appeal to a refined palate. Cheese ceases to become a garnish and becomes an aspiration.”

After, Ron celebrated with me in his office. He opened special tequila at 11 am to toast my vision, my courage, and salesmanship. Big Ron has never praised my salesmanship before, though I’d long known it was the human quality he ranked as important.

In the men’s room, sweating from alcohol so early in the day, I examined my face in the silver-framed mirror as water from the shallow sink ran onto my pants near my crotch. The face persuaded. It captivated with odd beauty, with its combination of hard lines at the cheeks and chin and relaxed lips that gave the impression of calm water. The water seeping into my pants, that was Isaac, the bumbler, unlucky in money and love, but the new face drew a different reaction from the world – deference from the client, camaraderie with the boss, even the acquiescence of the police and Maggie’s quick turn to total support. I touched the face. I touched my face.

Later in the day, my mother called. She used the face-to-face talking feature, though I ask her often not to do that to me at work. I took the call from my cubicle, looking at my Ma’s little white face, framed by tightly curled gray hair.

“You look so healthy,” she said. Generally, she would say I looked unwell and ask me about allergies to cats and pollen that had not affected me since grade school.

“Don’t I look different to you, Ma?”

“So handsome,” she said.

“It’s like I have a whole new face, Ma. Look at me.”

“You’ve always been so handsome,” she said. “When are you coming to Florida?”

“You don’t think I have a whole new face?”

“I think you either lost weight or finally got your allergies under control like I’ve been telling you to. Whatever, it suits you. Don’t change the subject from Florida. We specifically moved here so that you wouldn’t have to choose between visiting us and going on vacations.”

After the conversation with my mother, I told Big Ron I wasn’t feeling well and that I needed to leave early. “Not feeling well?” Ron examined my eyes, as if he could diagnose me that way. “You had a big morning. Maybe you just need more tequila.”

“I want to see a doctor, Ron.”

“But you look great.”

I had not seen my primary care physician in years. Even once established in his practice, patients needed to reserve appointments as if he were a Michelin-starred restaurant in a global city served only by a shopping mall food court. Instead, I visited a discount urgent care center attached to a pharmacy chain. The doctor was young, gaunt, and introduced himself as Charlie, which was fine with me, as I couldn’t imagine using honorifics with a guy who, aside from the white coat, looked like he’d want to play video games with my teenaged son.

“Vitals are good,” said Charlie. “Describe those symptoms again?”

“I woke up with somebody else’s face.”

“Yes, you told me,” he said. “But you don’t have an infection and your heart rate’s fine.”

I showed him my license. I even held it up alongside my face for him.

“That is a bad picture,” he said. “DMV lighting.”

I showed him pictures of myself from my phone, taken just days earlier, with good lighting.

“So, you’re here because you woke up handsome?”

Finally, he shrugged and wrote me a prescription for antibiotics, ending our visit with, “But I don’t think they’ll make you ugly, if that’s what you’re after!”

I went home. Maggie was still at work, showing houses all afternoon. I played fetch with Baxter and enjoyed the backyard in the early evening sun. I went to the fish market and bought salmon and then the wine shop and bought a minerally white and I microwaved frozen spinach to make a meal for Maggie’s return that felt like a date at my own dining room table, with the week’s mail pushed off to the edge where my son used to sit, back during that life. We had a date at home. We watched a funny movie. We giggled. We went to bed together, without our phones, if you know what I mean.

Things turned quickly happy in my life, and I grew so accustomed to my new face that I stopped categorizing it as new.

My son Toby didn’t see my face until I showed up to watch his traveling baseball team, The Raiders, play the last of their regular season games at Oakhurst Field. I showed up to every one of his home games, generally sitting in the bleachers as far from his mother Sally as possible. You know, I tried with Toby. I saved for his college, I went to the games, but too much had gone on in that marriage. I don’t think he liked me and I don’t think I blamed him. Sometimes things can’t be reset, right?

Toby would not grow into a loser like his Dad, I knew that. Toby had inherited his mother’s bright and welcoming face and that would be a key asset. Also, he grew quickly and on a field with teenagers looked as if he’d wandered from a major league stadium onto a field with grade schoolers playing t-ball. I took a seat high on the rickety bleachers, away from others and watched Toby mess around with his friends in the dugout.

Sally stood from her seat three rows from the field and climbed up towards me. My heart raced as I imagined she must have something terrible to say to me and I tried to imagine what I might have done that would have caused my ex-wife to have to speak to me. Generally, these conversations involved Toby’s expenses (braces, tutors), changes in visitation schedules, or just Sally remembering that I’d been a horrible husband, though it had been a long time since she’d cared about that, having married a financial person named Stewart.

“I just have to say that you look really good,” she said.

“Thanks,” I said. “I guess it’s different.”

“Good for you,” she said. Then, we had nothing else to say but it seemed awkward for either of us to leave, so we just sat there. Soon, Toby stepped up to bat and two pitches into that he knocked a line drive between center and right fields that went off like a backfiring bread truck.

“He did not get that from me,” I said.

“Me neither,” said Sally. “We’re both physically hopeless, but he got the genes from someplace.”

After the game, which the Raiders won easily, I gave Toby a big hug and told him how proud I was of his work. He asked me to stay for a minute and retrieved the canvas bag where he stored his glove, hat and aluminum bat. He took out his phone and then transferred a large file to me called Xanax Panax.

“It’s my music,” he said. “I don’t want to play baseball. I want to make this. Let me know what you think?”

Toby had not, as a rule, cared much about what I thought. I promised to listen to it and to email him right away. At home, I listened to the file with Maggie. I loved it – noisy guitar riffs on top of electronica, with Toby’s own vocals which he pulled into an effective, teenage whine. I wrote him a letter about how happy I was that he had shared it with me and how I’d always wanted to make something like that but had never had the courage to try, much less to share the results.

“I’m just worried you’re counting on baseball to pay for my college,” Toby replied.

“Follow your bliss,” I wrote back. “We’ll figure it out.”

Then Elvin and the Roswell team came into town and they rented the suite for a televised basketball game. They invited me, Big Ron and Big Ron’s family, and Toby and Maggie. I’d never entered the stadium through the special, quiet, VIP entrance before, much less with my son and girlfriend in attendance. The suite was an apartment with a full of view of the court below. It had a little porch out front and screens throughout so people could watch the game inside while fixing drinks or snacking on charcuterie, maki rolls and spicy fried chicken sandwiches.

“What do you think of the cheese plate?” Elvin asked. “All floral varietals.”

Of course, our team won. We celebrated together and the television cameras panned to us, the fashionable people in the expensive suite. We were all on TV together. I saw it on the news the next morning. We looked fabulous.

Soon after, as I left work, I heard a woman calling my name. I turned and even from eight cars away I recognized my old face, affixed to the head of a tall brunette with straight hair down to her shoulders and a pear-shaped body. This person, I knew, had owned the face I wore and now she wore my castaway visage.

“You ruined my life,” she charged towards me. “I didn’t know what happened and then I saw you, with my face, at a basketball game. You stole from me.”

“How can you steal a face?”

“Don’t play dumb with me. Maybe you were stupid with this face,” she grabbed at her own features, “But you can’t be that stupid with mine.”

“We can work this out,” I said.

“Give it back.”

“I don’t even know how I got it. You have to believe me. One day I just woke up like this.”

“And you didn’t think to go to the hospital?”

“I went to a doctor. He said I looked good.”

“You do look good. And now I’m ugly.”

“Hey, my old face was not so bad.”

But she did look ugly. While her face enhanced my appearance, mine had twisted her into a grotesquerie that would even offend in the company of garden gnomes.

“I don’t know what you think this is going to accomplish,” I got into my car and pulled the door shut. She slapped the passenger window and pressed my old face into the glass, splattering saliva on my car as she threatened to sue. I switched on the engine and waved her away. She did step back until I let the car roll slowly into reverse. When I was a few feet a way, I stopped to look back. She removed one of her high heeled shoes and threw it at the car. It bounced off the back window and landed on the asphalt with a spin.

So, this was Loretta. But that’s all I knew. She had tracked me down and knew everything about me, but I just knew a woman named Loretta, whose faced I’d swiped on an app. I resolved to forget about it, but Maggie had a conspiratorial mindset and she insisted that if Loretta had tracked me down at work that she might be capable of great violence. “She could try to cut your face off,” said Maggie, as we ate chicken cordon bleu for dinner. “She could throw acid in your face. Trust me, she’s crazy.”

“Hey, you’re the one with all the hyperviolent ideas.”

“Trust me,” she said. “If she can’t get her face back, she’ll try to destroy it. That’s how this always works. How do you think you got her face in the first place?”

“Maggie, we’ve been over this. I have no idea.”

“But you know her name is Loretta. That’s what you told me. ‘That woman Loretta came to get her face back’ is what you said. How did you know her name?”

“I don’t know.”

“Bullshit,” said Maggie. “B to the fucking shit.”

She pointedly dropped her fork onto the table and pushed her chair back. We had our first argument since my facial progression. Of course, I had messed up. She had quoted me precisely and she knew I knew Loretta from someplace and I had not been an innocent bystander to events.

That night, I slept alone on the couch. Unable to fall asleep, I visited the app and returned to Loretta’a profile, now marred by my old face. That face had caused me so much trouble. The face commanded no respect, it had earned nobody’s confidence, it had won me no breaks in life. But it was my face, the one I’d be born with and the one to which, I admitted, I owed a certain accountability. I had swiped Loretta’s face and it seemed only reasonable to me that I could now swipe back my own and set things right. But then I heard Maggie padding down the stairway, and the jingle of Baxter’s collar as he followed her.

“I don’t know what you did,” she said. She sat at the edge of the couch and pulled me feet into her lap.

“But I can let it go because I love you.”

“I didn’t do it on purpose,” I said.

“Forget it,” she said. “I love you and this is how things are now. I never wondered where your old face came from, so I won’t worry about this one, either.”

“I can change it back,” I said. “I think I know how.”

“Stop,” she said. “You don’t want to look backwards.”

“This woman with my face… she’s miserable.”

“So were you.”

“But she didn’t choose it.”

“And you did?”

She kissed me. I sat up and leaned forward. All I had to do was swipe the face again and it would all be over. I removed my phone from its protective case and then threw it hard onto the wooden floor, wrecking the display. Maggie climbed onto my lap, straddled my hips and we kissed deeply.

The next morning, I picked the shattered, inoperable phone from the floor. I showered and examined myself in the mirror. There were a couple of cracks in my new face. But nothing I couldn’t live with.

Michael Gural-Maiello is a journalist, essayist, playwright and author who held editorial positions at Forbes for ten years and has also written for The New York Times, Esquire, Rolling Stone, McSweeney’s, Reuters, The Daily Beast, Weekly Humorist, Splitsider, The Awl and more. Substack at: https://middlebrowmusings.substack.com

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