A collection of wooden pieces resembling human faces may be placed in a box, extracted and laid out on a windowsill, then meticulously counted and caressed, or else scattered on the floor in anger. Bits of wood resembling human faces could be sticks that drifted ashore or were found in a forest among dead branches or in one’s backyard, next to the gates, or the dustbin, or the neighbour’s car. Fragments of physiognomy contained in her own collection were not immediately obvious, slight stains representing wrinkles and tightly shut eyelids, the depressions of sunken cheeks. Yet, she always knew which stick or piece of bark to pluck out when the feeling took her.
She had already gathered three hundred forty such pieces, including five which were broken, two of imposing proportions and one which was a gift from me. We usually tried to ignore her weird tendencies, keeping to the belief that they were only temporary. One day, however, I found something which completely grabbed my attention, although there was nothing I wanted more than to just move on. It was a small fragment of branch which glared at me with our father’s frigid stare. There was something more to it than just the reflection of his face. It was him, his fear of the world and of his own daughters, his horrid habits and his grief – all that embodied in this tiny piece of wood. When I gave it to my sister, it seemed that any day now a change would come, that maybe we would start treating her seriously, protecting her from all the people she was afraid of, or maybe it was them who feared her and only because she was shy, unattractive and she only had eyes for her pathetic little collection.
Unfortunately, a little later, something yet more unexpected happened. It started with an outburst of father’s anger, something which was far from rare, as it happens, though this time his rage surpassed all limits, outgrew its usual form. Reasons do not matter. I never fathomed them anyway. What matters is the moment when, held back only by her intimidating silence, he burst into the room, took the cardboard box from the drawer and cast it into the fireplace, the flames crackling jauntily.
The cardboard started to smoulder and so did the wooden entrails. I looked at my sister. Her eyes were set on the flames, pain and silent screaming frozen across her face. It looked as if all her beloved wooden faces had risen from the flames to lend her impassive countenance all their power of expression. This lasted only for a moment. Immediately after that, my sister’s body fell limply to the floor. Father and I exchanged glances, the fire swathing us with its warmth, then we put the swooned body to bed and returned to our ordinary lives. She stayed there for a very long while, as fragile as a wounded nestling.
The next day, nobody mentioned the incident. There was nothing to revisit anyway. My sister got up and joined us for breakfast, something indefinable lurking in her eyes, something we did not even attempt to fathom. It was not resentment, rather a question mark, skittish fear worse than most serious accusation. That gaze was tormenting us, driving us to distraction, sticking in our gullets and stopping us from making even the faintest sound. It exhausted us.
Fortunately, father soon enough came up with an idea and everything was arranged in no time. Her suitcase was packed, leaving drawers and shelves empty. It turned out we had some distant relatives he could call on, hundreds of miles from our town. Fortunately, everything went quickly and without a hitch.
There was only one thing that kept nagging me. Her collection of wooden pieces, all resembling human faces, did not burn to the last, some charred remains still resting in the fireplace as dormant as our guilty consciences. I couldn’t stand the mood in the end and, driven by some strange external coercion, I reached down, picked up a few wooden remains and tossed them into my pocket. They felt very heavy.
translated by Aleksandra Najda
Joanna Kornelia Flisek Born in ’91. Has not been published yet, but has filled a few notebooks with her words. One was quite thick. She is fascinated by the theatre of animated form and Bruno Schulz’s prose. Writes a blog asiafy.wordpress.com.
Joanna Kornelia Flisek Rocznik ‘91. Jeszcze nigdzie nie publikowała, ale zapisała już dużo zeszytów. Jeden był naprawdę bardzo gruby. Fascynuje ją teatr animowanej formy i proza Brunona Schulza. Prowadzi bloga asiafy.wordpress.com.