Phil is about to open the medicine cabinet when he spots it in the mirror. Until now, his morning ritual moved along as it did every day, practically without him. He barely remembered the shower, giving more thought to the lottery numbers he would play that day than his hands as they moved the wash cloth over his spindly legs. Until this moment when his mind skids to a sudden stop at what it now sees in the mirror.
Just above his forehead where he used to part his hair (before he went bald in second grade), there’s a red mark, insidious, fiery, burning with unhealth. Phil let’s out an “Aaaahhh” as he takes a step back. He turns sideways, his paunch punctuating his profile. Take another look, he thinks; you must have been mistaken. His round eyes bounce from stomach to mirror. “Aaaahhhh!” It’s still there. He brings his nose closer to the mirror. He shrinks back.
He clutches both sides of the sink. He knows what these types of blemishes mean. He never gave it much thought; he wasn’t a sun worshipper. Besides, he hated the gooey sun blocks, especially when he applied it to his head. It always streaked, white and oily and made his head look like a glazed donut. Now, he is paying for his lack of concern.
He doesn’t know how, but he’s got to tell his family. His wife, Christine, is probably starting breakfast. He can hear the twins, Jennifer and Jerry, listening to Sesame Street waiting for their mom to call them to the table. Phil breathes deeply and senses their presence, tranquil, content, the kids mesmerized by Big Bird and Christine pouring cereal in time to the music on her Bose radio (forgetting about the two eggs frying into oblivion as she hums some Rolling Stones tune). Serene worlds, peaceful ones, that he is about to shatter. The thought shakes him.
His thoughts rewind to work and Phil thinks about Wiley Davis, his rival for the Marketing Director’s job. He removed the double A batteries from Wiley’s desk clock and made him late for an important meeting. He spilled a coke on Wiley’s lap just as an important client entered the room. As Wiley shook his hand, Phil stood behind him and mouthed the words, “Peed his pants” to the client. Wiley left work yesterday in time to see his car being towed from the lot (Phil reported it stolen a few minutes before).
How could he do those things to Wiley? What does the job matter now? He collapses in a heap on the shaggy white throw rug his wife bought only yesterday from Wal Mart (on sale for $3.95, thanks to cheap Chinese labor). He places his hands over the top of his head where the red mark has taken over that part of his body for now, no doubt planning a full fledged assault on the rest of him. With great effort, he stands up covering his head and eyes as he faces the mirror. He removes his hands and shakes his head. He stops suddenly.
Do I believe what I am seeing, he thinks. The red mark. It’s gone. That can’t be, these things don’t disappear. He quickly gives his head a three stooges swipe with both hands searching for the spot where the mark resided only moments ago. His eyes are suddenly attracted to his left hand where a red speck, similar in size and color to the one that he had seen on his head, appears on his palm just below the pinky. He looks at it with monkey like curiosity. He pokes at it gently with the index finger of his right hand. Once again, only harder, and this time it winds up on the tip of his finger.
Damn, he thinks. A speck. He brings his finger closer to his eye so that he can get a better look. A speck of nothing, a piece of miniature garbage that somehow found its way on to his head. Phil pauses then with one motion, wipes his index finger on the side of his underwear and reaches for the floss.
Got to hurry, he thinks, before the Stones groupie ruins the eggs and the little buggers eat what’s left of the cereal. He smiles broadly in the mirror as he thinks that maybe…just maybe… this red mark thing might work on Wiley.