Saving Face

April 3, 2014 | By | Comments (0)
Illustration by Jack Unruh

Illustration by Jack Unruh

I’ve been peeling labels off my mother for years. First through the words inside the books. And now from their covers.

I will always remember the first time it happened. I was signing books in a deserted hotel ballroom, deserted except for me, a few nice people handing me volumes, and two thousand pictures of my mother’s face, the elegant cover of a 300-page story I had written about her and my people. The most important thing I will ever write, and closest to my heart.

It was a beautiful book—not the inside, I mean, but the outside. The cover, which had the feel of old parchment, showed a photograph of my young mother, taken about the time I was born in ’59. Her face was serene, peaceful, and lovely. I believe my mother was, and is, the most beautiful woman on this planet. I always will. But the photograph on the cover of this book had an almost otherworldly quality about it. I have seen people stop what they were doing and walk all the way across a bookstore to pick it up and look at it, closer. (That is what authors do for fun. They hang out in bookstores and stalk people through the aisles, trying to turn them, by mind control, to the memoir aisle.)

Anyway, that day in the ballroom, I had already worn out two fine-point Sharpies and was a few hundred books into the stack when I noticed, on every single beautiful cover, my mother had been defaced.

They put stickers on books when they are signed, that say, in case anyone is confused, SIGNED BY AUTHOR. I do not know who else would have signed it, although, once or twice, when someone mistook me for another writer, I signed one of their books for meanness. I have also taken several sweet compliments intended for Rick Bass.

It was the placement that was unfortunate. On some books, they had covered up her left eye, making her look, vaguely, like a pirate. On others, it was on the right eye, which made her look no less the buccaneer. Some, and this was unfortunate, were plastered over her mouth, making her resemble the “Speak No Evil” monkey in that trilogy. The ones on her cheek made her look like an accident victim. The ones on her forehead made her look like Zelda Fitzgerald (use your imagination) or, if they happened to be round in shape, a coal miner. They have a lamp strapped to their… never mind.

I started to peel them off, then looked at the boxes and boxes of books and just sighed.

It got worse over time. I would walk into a store and see, stuck to my mother’s lovely face, 20 PERCENT OFF. The most unpleasant were the stickers that said nothing, just blue or red or yellow dots, which I’m sure meant something in secret bookstore code but made my mama look like she had measles, or a bad case of pinkeye. I cannot always peel them all off. But most of the time, I try.

My mother told me, once, that the cover sometimes makes her a little sad because, “I don’t look like that no more.” I think she does. But at least she does not walk around the house with REMAINDERED stamped across her head.

Happy birthday, Mama. I love you.

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