“horrible” 12/14/2006


I was walking around campus on an absolutely sparkling December day.  I had to make my way to the bus stop, as I had to go to work, but I ran into my friend Karl, who had just finished a math class.  He looked terrified: his eyes were wide and his face was twitching–in fact, as I looked at his face more closely, it was perpetually contorting and seizing, and his nose wouldn’t stay put in the middle of his face.  Instead, it floated around, circling his mouth a few times before turning upside down.  Then, it took a little excursion to his right ear, where it took a little sniff, the snub quivering a bit and the nostrils contracting inwards.  It seemed to be interested in some odd scent in the air, and for a moment I thought I could smell something too–perhaps a sweet, icy scent.  But I began to doubt myself, and indeed then I didn’t think I could smell anything at all, save for the cold air, which sailed into my lungs with each breath.

Karl’s mouth was turning like a pinwheel, and his lips kept bursting  in the cold air and then repairing themselves just as quickly.  They seemed to bleed, with red, steaming blood oozing and slipping from cracks in his flesh; but then the cuts would disappear as if an invisible surgeon were suturing them with infinite speed.  The frigid wind ruffled his hair, and his blond bangs flew in every direction–but every so often a clump or two would stand straight up on his head, seemingly ready to strike at me like a cobra.  Then they would relax and fall back into place, forgetting what they were doing.

“Karl, you look terrible,” I said.  His eyes shifted places, the left moving upwards and out of the way of the right, which took its place.  Then the left shot straight down and over to the right’s previous position.  I gave him a puzzled look.

“I had a horrible math test,” he said, but the words came out backwards–and then they froze!  A few of them fell onto the ground and shattered like icicles.  I became slightly disoriented and bent down, trying to pick up a few of the pieces.  I got a few whole words, but “horrible” was impossible: the best I could get was “ribble,” the rest having been smashed beyond repair.

“My girlfriend just broke up with me,” he continued.  I looked up at him before trying once again to find the rest of “horrible.”  I now had “orhible,” which was nowhere near “horrible,” if anyone has ever tried to put together a shattered word.  I was quite enthralled in the process, and soon I had “rorblehi” before accidentally losing the “i” and the little “b,” leaving me with “rorleh.”  I contemplated giving up.

“It’s easy to fuck it up,” I said, and Karl looked at me.  He bent down to my level–and his pin-wheeling mouth, shifting eyes, and adventurous nose all became perfectly still for one long second, and we looked each other in the eyes, our gaze held like the resonance of a mighty church bell fading slowly, impossibly slowly.

“I know,” he said.  Then, Karl shot me a wicked smile, and I was taken aback with his happy sarcasm.

“Isn’t it weird how my face keeps doing this?” he said, beaming.  I looked at him, and his nose now appeared to be dancing, leaping off his face (nearly halfway to my own!) and then jiggling around above his mouth (at least now it was in the correct position).

“Yeah, but help me find the rest of ‘horrible,’ ok?”

Within a few seconds Karl had found and arranged the rest of the word in his hand.  It greatly impressed me how quickly he was able to accomplish this goal.  He grabbed me with his other hand and pulled me up, and I nearly had to leap to my feet.  A cold, blue tinted breeze brushed against my cheeks, and I could feel myself blushing.

“By the way,” I said, “how are you doing otherwise?  I haven’t seen you in a while.”

Karl paused for a moment, and his nose, eyes, and mouth all slowed down their movements for a moment, as if they too were lost in thought, or at least were responding to Karl’s own thoughtfulness, which he showed merely by pausing, as naturally I couldn’t read his face.

“Horrible,” he stated simply, after a second.  “Simply horrible.”

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