"My Face That Was" originally appeared in Issue 13 of Tahoma Literary Review
My Face That Was
By Kathleene Donahoo
I look up, and there she is, and I look down.
Down at the milk and slide it quick over the glass panel so the red eye blinks at me, blinks that she’s here for me. On purpose. Not by chance.
Eggs, blink. Soup, blink. Ham, blink. She’s still standing over there by the cookies. Staring.
I look down, at Swiss cheese, brown bread, prune juice. An old man’s food: the hands lifting bottles from the shopping cart are gnarled like Clyde’s back on the porch at Haven House. Clyde on the porch all day, rolling dice with his gnarled hands, telling me to trust the numbers. Clyde’s never been able to work like me.
You give me hope, our case manager said last week. The star of Haven House! Six years bagging, ten months cashiering. Keep it up, and you can live on your own. You’d like that? Oh yes. No way I’ll still be in Haven at Clyde’s age.
Trust the numbers. I’m thirty-two; that would make her sixteen.
There are laws now—they can come find you, my friend Ella has told me. Ella, who had eight or nine herself before her tubes were tied.
None of Ella’s have come, and I only had the one. So chances are that I’m mistaken. What would she want with me? Do I dare look again?
My eyes meet hers, and I’m looking into my own face, my face that was. In the wavery mirror at Aunt Nan’s that night, getting ready to meet Joe. Aunt Nan’s voice in my ears—she couldn’t handle me anymore, didn’t want me anymore. But Joe did. The last time—his beery tongue in my mouth and his fingers everywhere—he’d said he wanted me. Next time, he’d said. Be ready. So in that mirror I brushed my hair and lined my eyes and glossed my lips. I smiled at myself.
Reprinted with the author's permission.
“My Face that Was” originated with news accounts of adopted children searching for their biological parents, which led me to wonder what a first encounter might mean for both parties. I imagined a woman who faced significant obstacles, while making slow but steady progress in her life. Would a surprise meeting with her daughter be a setback, or a step forward? In the story I placed her on the threshold of this encounter, in a moment that is fraught and uncertain. What lies ahead, and are either of them ready?
Kathleene Donahoo’s fiction has appeared in anthologies and journals, including Bellevue Literary Review, Carolina Quarterly, Connecticut Review, and North American Review. She lives with her husband in the Bay Area.