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The Man Who Lost His Head
Nathan Borokovsky woke up before the sun, before the
alarm clock. He reached a sleepy hand out to silence the unnecessary alarm lest
it disturb Hannah snoring softly beside him. He went to the bathroom for his
morning ablutions. He turned on the light, looked in the mirror and almost
fainted. The man looking back at him had no head.
Nathan could feel his head with his hands. He could see
out from his eyes which reason told him must be located somewhere in his head. He just couldn’t see it. All he could see was
his body from the shoulders down. Of his head there was no sign, nothing but
the room behind him. It was a stunning revelation. He must have stood there for a good ten
minutes letting in sink in. He had a head, he just couldn’t see it.
Alarmed, Nathan shook Hannah awake. “Hannah, wake up.”
He shook her until her eyes opened. She looked confused, “What’s the matter? Is
something wrong?” she asked. She didn’t say, “What happened to your head.”
Relief flooded Nathan’s brain. If Hannah didn’t notice
his missing head then it must still be there. “How do I look?” he asked just to
make sure she was seeing him.
Hannah was mildly annoyed, “That’s what you woke me
for? You look fine. Maybe brush your hair. Come here.” He bent toward her. She
grabbed his tie and gave him a kiss. “Have a good day at work.” Since she was
awake, she put on a housecoat and went downstairs to make them both breakfast.
He was puzzled. His condition seemed to be entirely in
his head. He checked in the mirror at the foot of the stairs. He saw a headless
man looking back at him. He could clearly see the stairs behind him. He put his
hand to the back of his head and waggled his fingers. He saw them plainly in
the mirror. He fought down the urge to run back upstairs and hide. What was
happening to him? He thought about telling Hannah. She’d think he was losing
his mind and maybe he was. Who could say that this wasn’t the first sign of
some mental illness? Maybe he’d end up like his aunt Ida talking to invisible
canaries for the last years of her life. Hannah would make him call Dr. Marcus
for an appointment. Marcus would know he was crazy. Better not to tell anyone
just yet. Maybe it would go away by itself.
Nathan managed to get through breakfast. His mouth
still worked. It spoke and chewed and swallowed just like always except he knew
it wasn’t like always. How could it be? Always was when he had a head, now he
didn’t. When he was through eating he put his dishes in the sink, put on his coat,
grabbed his briefcase and went to give Hannah a kiss goodbye.
“Aren’t you forgetting something?” Hannah said handing
him his hat. “I swear you’d forget your head if it wasn’t attached to your
body.” Nathan laughed out loud at that tired old saw.
He made his way to the train station like he had done
for the last thirty years and waited in the crowd of commuters for the 6:35 to
take him to the city. He felt self-conscious on the crowded train. He felt
every eye was on him. Look at the headless man he could feel them saying but in
reality no one paid him the slightest attention. All that day at work he felt
light headed, distracted. Every time he passed a mirror or caught his
reflection in a shiny surface he would check to see if his head was there. So
far it wasn’t.
At lunch he caught glimpses of himself in store
windows. He could see his hat floating above the empty space where his head
used to be. Probably still was although he couldn’t swear to it. When he
couldn’t see his reflection, he nervously rubbed his face and scratched his
head just to reassure himself it was still there. This obsessive behavior only
served to draw more attention to him. His coworkers noticed his constant
fussing and asked if he was all right. What could he tell them? That he was
just checking to see if his head was still there? By the end of the workday, he
was a twitching, nervous wreck.
He was convinced that he was indeed losing his mind.
What if he woke up tomorrow up and couldn’t see his hands or his feet? What if
his arms disappeared, how would he work?
When he got home, he could no longer hide his condition
from his wife. She could see that he wasn’t himself. When he explained about
his missing head she was concerned and sympathetic. “Maybe you’re working too
hard. Maybe we should take a vacation. Fresh air, a change of scene might be
just what you need.”
So Nathan took a few precious vacation days off from
work and Hannah packed a suitcase. They drove to the mountains where they
rented a cabin on a lake. The setting was tranquil the cabin was quiet. Hannah
took down the only mirror and put it in the closet to prevent Nathan’s
obsessive looking. She needn’t have bothered. His reflection in the lake told
him all he needed to know. For three days they hiked and boated, played cards
and fished and, while Nathan did feel more relaxed, when they finally packed up
to leave, his head was still missing.
At Hannah’s urging, he made an appointment with Dr.
Marcus. On the day of the appointment, Nathan brushed his invisible teeth and
hair. He would have shaved his invisible
beard but shaving invisible cheeks proved risky so he let his beard grow. Dr.
Marcus listened to Nathan's story with a mixture of sympathy and professional
skepticism. The doctor checked his temperature which was normal; blood pressure
which was high; heart rate, also high.
“Are you under a lot of stress lately at home or at
work?” Dr. Marcus asked.
Nathan shook his head or at least he thought he did.
The doctor thought for a while and said, “I’m going to
prescribe a mild tranquilizer. Something to calm you down. If this doesn’t work
we’ll try something else. Now go home and relax. Your head is exactly where it
should be, believe me.” Then Dr. Marcus gave Nathan a friendly pat on the back
and showed him to the door.
For the next week or two Nathan took the tranquilizers.
And while they did have a calming effect on his body, they did not restore his
Another week passed, and by then Nathan realized that
he was getting used to not having a head or at least one he could see. Not only
was he feeling more relaxed about it, he realized it actually had a few
advantages. For one thing, he didn’t miss shaving every day. Hannah trimmed his
beard into what she said was a handsome shape. People generally liked his new
look. Being invisible to himself was liberating in other ways. By not having
the same old tired face looking back at him each morning, Nathan was free to
invent any face he wanted. He was a blank slate that could be anything he
wanted it to be— as handsome as a movie star, a rugged outdoorsman, a sensitive
poet. It had a subtle effect on how he faced the world. It gave him more
confidence. He found himself expressing his opinions more. His coworkers
noticed him for the first time and started listening to what he had to say.
Hannah noticed changes that only a wife could. He was a
better lover, more ardent more self-assured. When he faced himself in the
mirror he did not look into the same old defeated eyes of a loser. Instead he
saw nothing but potential, the raw stuff of imagination. When a man can have
any face he wants, it liberates him, lifts him from the ordinary and makes him
a man of mystery even to himself. Somehow the absence of a head became an
opportunity to re-invent himself. His anonymity gave him the courage to change.
He had to confess, not having a head was a great relief.
When Dr. Marcus called a few weeks later to check up on
him, Nathan told him, “I’m doing fine, Doc, just fine.”
“Have you found your head?” Dr. Marcus asked half
“In a manner of speaking,” Nathan replied, “In a manner of speaking.”
ccubed98 - interesting premise. metaphysical solution
I don't know I can comment in Chinese~ It means:"Your stories are good!"
Kinda reminded me of magical realism, or maybe a Twilight Zone episode. Not bad.
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