By Steven Christopher McKnight
“Fare Thee Well, Basket Face” placed fifth in Southern New Hampshire University’s 2020 Fall Fiction Contest.
You see a guy at a coffee shop. He’s simple-looking. Nice hair. Good build. Impeccable forearms. His face is featureless, save for the fact that it’s made of interwoven wicker. No one seems to notice, but you do. What’s he doing in a coffee shop, you ask yourself. He’s got no mouth for coffee to go into. But you think little of it and dive back into the spreadsheets emblazoned across your laptop screen. Maybe that’s why no one else seems to notice him. They’re all preoccupied, and the man with the wicker face is just another petty absurdity that cannot be dealt with today.
You take a sip of your coffee, and wipe the corner of your mouth, your eyes still fixed on Cell G3, where you input today’s word count and watch the line graph below it curve upward a little bit. You only break focus when you notice the man with the wicker face standing above your table, a pen in his hand. He takes a new napkin from the dispenser on the table, and writes a phone number on it. You note his pecs under his shirt, not the fact that his face is a basket, and it throws you off. He places the napkin by your hand and leaves like that, leaving no trail of gawkers. The napkin is signed BF.
He texts like a dream, and you can’t help but send him your projects: essays, poems, that novel you’re querying that’s a veiled memoir about your shitty ex-boyfriends and less shitty ex-almost-boyfriends. He loves it all, says the best things about them, brings you to epiphanies you never thought were possible. You don’t meet him again for two weeks, and you almost forget his face is a basket.
But you go on a date with him, to a pumpkin patch because it’s autumn and that’s what you do in autumn. He feels familiar. You lean into him on the hayride to the patch, among families and couples and some teenage friend groups. You wonder why no one asks Basket Face, “Hey, what’s wrong with your face?” But that would be rude, and you haven’t even asked him that, so why would strangers?
He takes a strand of hay from the seat beside him, places your hand in his, ties it around your ring finger with finesse as the tractor bucks from side to side down the muddy October road. You admire his dexterity. The golden hay-ring is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen. He lets his thumb explore the back of your hand, the bones beneath your skin.
You tell your mother about every kindness Basket Face shows you, how in his apartment he’ll fry the pumpkin seeds with dill weed and olive oil and just a pinch of paprika and give you the tub of them because he can’t eat, how he’ll print out everything you send him just to hold the words in his hands, how he’ll fix up a binder of your work with every note, critique, compliment scrawled in the margins perfectly legible because he’s Basket Face and he just does that. But you’ll neglect to tell your mother that his face is a basket.
In November, you and Basket Face will walk down a forest path hand in hand, silently because Basket Face does not speak. The wind will rustle through the leafless branches, and you’ll regret not wearing a jacket like your mother told you to. Basket Face gives you his, wraps it around your shoulders tenderly, and the tears well up inside you because what have you done for him?
You’ll break up with Basket Face in the same coffee shop you met him, the same day your novel is picked up for publication. Basket Face will nod sagely, and the silence will break you a little, but your voice will hold firm. He needs someone who can make him not needless, you’ll tell him, and you think he understands, but frankly you never learned to read the woven swirl of wicker. He reaches across the table, fondles your hand, lets his thumb glide across where the hay-ring used to be. You can still feel it there, but you don’t want to.
Wordlessly, Basket Face will stand up, walk away, and your heart will say a gentle goodbye. You’ll collapse into your own hands before you can notice him approach some other woman’s table, pull out a pen, and scrawl a phone number on a pale brown napkin.
Category: Competition, Featured, Fiction, Short Story