Haunting eyes on the front page of the Sunday Chronicle stared back at Angelo so darkly that he held his breath. He removed his glasses, raised the photo close to his face, studied every angle, every eerie contour. An icy uneasiness prickled his neck, and he shivered despite the humid July afternoon, thick with the fragrance of star jasmine.
Stark white with shadowy smudges, the photo depicted an uncanny landscape: a crevice that hinted at a mouth, a ridge that suggested a nose, two craters resembling eyes. He found the image both riveting and repugnant. By turns, it could have been the face of a motherless child, a soul separated from a kindred spirit, or the head of a fierce and unforgiving god.
Angelo’s wife sat across the patio table in the shade of a palm tree, bent over a copy of The Great Big Book of Crossword Puzzles from The Dollar Tree. Today she had gleefully ascended to the rank of intermediate puzzle-solver, having conquered the beginners’ section in only three days.
“They’ve found a face on Mars,” Angelo said, the thin trickle of his voice dissipating in the heat.
She glanced up. “What?”
“A face on Mars.”
He handed her the front page. Her eyes, quick and analytical, scanned the paper. Viking Orbiter I Photographs Mysterious Face on Mars, declared the headline. The article detailed how the orbiter, launched months earlier, had detected this humanlike face etched in the Martian landscape. The news was sweeping the globe, sending schoolchildren and scientists into a flurry of speculation.
She sniffed. “Some people will believe almost anything,” she said, tossing the paper back. “That’s not a face at all.”
For once, he did not immediately relent. “But it is a face. Look again.”
She peered at him coldly over her reading glasses. “It’s a trick of light and shadow. Nothing more, nothing less.”
With that, she returned to her puzzle: “Hmmm. A six-letter word meaning ‘fanciful notion’. Starts with W…Ah, yes—Whimsy!” She pumped her fist into the air like an Olympic champion and then slowly filled in the squares, naming each letter under her breath.
Angelo sighed. It was no use. As always, she had sucked the life out of the most promising moments, choosing to abide firmly in the here-and-now, refusing to venture into the sweeping sphere of possibility. He looked away, accepted his situation with a sad serenity—that whimsy was just a word to her. That for the rest of their lives together, he would see what she could not.
He turned back to the photo, raised it to eye level. The face was magnetic, its lure irresistible. It beckoned him, drew him gently beyond himself. Forgotten was the row of palms shading their garden, the lapping swimming pool, the sights and sounds of an ordinary day. The afternoon turned hazy, slipping into a blinding whiteness, earthly bonds fading away. Angelo’s body drifted, suspended by humming stars, arms and legs weightless, his face peering directly into those dark, disquieting eyes a galaxy away.
Its expression had shifted again, the lips kind and comforting, the smile of a trusted, timeless friend. A warm whisper whirled within his ear.
She cannot see, and it matters not at all.
In an instant, he swooped back to earth, his lips slipping into the same secret smile.