They See Me Now
by Gene Hines
Sheila Wellmon screamed when
Herbert Lott came out of the men’s room. “Oh, my God! Your face!” she said.
Then she put her hand to her
mouth and ran. Herbert stood in front of the door to the men’s room and watched Sheila run and scream down the hall.
. . .
Herbert Lott worked for the
International Electronics Corporation. IEC hired him a year ago, when he finished the basic electronics course at Clinch Valley
Technical and Vocational College. It was his first real job.
Herbert was a line supervisor,
an overloaded title for pushing a cart down the row of benches where employees assembled the electronic widgets that were
IEC’s stock-in-trade. Herbert placed the completed gizmos on his cart and took them into a little room where he put
them in boxes, recording on his clipboard how many of the boxes he filled every day. The gizmos had something to do with missiles
for the Navy, that’s all Herbert knew and all he needed to know. IEC paid him for counting and boxing, and that’s
what he did.
Until today. Until Sheila
Wellmon screamed as he came out of the men’s room, and ran down the hall.
Herbert had no idea what a
man was supposed to do when he comes out of the men’s room and a woman looks at him and runs off screeching. Nothing
in his experience or his training at Clinch Valley Tech had prepared him for it.
Still, there was something
about it he liked.
Herbert Lott was invisible
to women. All his life they had walked by him without the flicker of a glance in his direction. He was over six feet tall,
weighed 140 pounds, and had a cratered face that looked like a map of the surface of the moon.
Once, in high school, Herbert
walked down a hall passed a group of cheerleaders in their uniforms, with their little round butts, their smooth naked legs,
and their pom-poms, and he heard the word geek as he walked by. Sheila Wellmon was one of the round-butted cheerleaders.
But, Herbert was used to it. He could cope. And there was something about Sheila Wellmon’s screams that Herbert
Herbert stood there, outside
the men’s room and listened to Sheila’s screams all the way from the assembly room floor. He stood there until
Mr. Steinhuber, the shift supervisor, came stomping down the hall toward him, his face red with anger.
“What the hell are you--?”
Mr. Steinhuber started to say, but then stopped as if he had run into a wall. He looked at Herbert; his mouth dropped open.
“Oh, my God,”
Mr. Steinhuber said.
“What the fuck is wrong
with everybody?” was the only thing Herbert could think of to say. And, that is when He knew that something really was
It didn’t feel right.
He felt his mouth move when he spoke, but he felt it move in the wrong place. He tried to speak again, “What--?”
and that was wrong too. Then, Herbert thought he was going to throw up.
He ran back into the men’s
room. He went by the bank of mirrors on the wall above the sinks, his head down and his shoulders humped, groping for the
swinging door of the toilet stall like a man falling from an airplane grabbing for the d-ring on his parachute.
“Somebody better get
Security down here!” Mr. Steinhuber yelled from beyond the men’s room door.
Herbert sat down on the toilet.
He was trembling. He started to raise his hand to his face, but stopped. He was afraid to touch it.
Mr. Steinhuber’s voice from beyond the door. “You better come out of there, Herbert. I’ve got Security on
the way. Don’t make us come in there and get you!”
Herbert stood up and turned
around to vomit into the toilet, and, just before the slag of his half-digested breakfast cascaded into the bowl, he saw himself.
He saw his face floating in the water. “Oh, God,” he gagged and gurgled through the spew of scrambled eggs
He sat down in front of the
toilet bowl and laid his head against the stall. “Oh, sweat Lord,” he said, closing his eyes and fighting back
another tsunami of nausea.
“Herbert? What are you
doing in there, Herbert?” Mr. Steinhuber was standing in the half-opened door of the men’s room.
“Go away!” Herbert
yelled. “Please . . . just go away,” he managed to say before the next tsunami wave hit.
. . . Oh, God . . . Oh, God . . . , ran through his brain like words repeated over and over again, line after line, on
a computer screen. Oh, God . . . Oh, God . . . Oh, God . . .
What came up out of him this
time was green and black.
Mr. Steinhuber backed out
of the half-opened men’s room door yelling, “Where the hell is Security?” as the door closed behind him.
Herbert took hard shallow
breaths, and then he started to cry. In between the breaths, his body jerked with sobs. He wanted to pray, but all he could
do was whisper “Sweet mother of God” in between the sobs. He sat there, in front of the toilet bowl, back against
the stall, and alternately gulped for air, cried, and prayed – “S-s-sweat-mo-mo-mother-G-G-G-God . . .”
Then, the door to the men’s
room slammed open.
Steinhuber said. “Where are you, Herbert? Come on out. You know we got to do something about this. We can’t have
you running around loose, scaring the bejeebies out of everybody, can we? Come on out, Herbert. Be a good boy. We ain’t
gonna hurt you.”
Herbert pushed himself up
from the floor, one hand on the toilet for balance, and his back against the metal stall.
“Come on out of there,
Herbert. We hear you in there,” Mr. Steinhuber said. “Come on out of—”
When Herbert came out of the
stall Mr. Steinhuber shut up and the two rent-a-cops on either side of him turned and ran, fighting to get their middle-aged
potbellies around each other through the men’s room door.
“Oh my God,” Mr.
Steinhuber said again, and then he ran back through the door after the rent-a-cops.
When Herbert looked up, to
watch Mr. Steinhuber run away, he saw himself in one of the mirrors, shinning on the wall above a bone-white sink. He saw
his face again, just as he saw it before, floating in the toilet bowl. Only, in the crystal clarity of the mirror, it was
worse, much worse.
His face was upside down.
His eyes were where his mouth
should be; his mouth was a gaping red gash at the top of his head, with his nose upended beneath it. His ears were pointed
at the top and rounded at the bottom.
Herbert sank to the floor,
to his hands and knees. He trembled and whimpered like a dog. He rolled over on his side, drew his knees up to his chest,
and wrapped his arms around them in a tight ball.
Then he put one hand to his
face. The fingers jerked back when, instead of feeling his lips in their usual place, they poked him in the eye.
The men’s room door
slammed open again. Mr. Steinhuber and four security officers came in and stood over Herbert, curled up on the floor.
Herbert wrapped his arms around
his head, hiding his face.
“Holy shit,” a
security officer said.
“Don’t let anybody
in here,” Mr. Steinhuber said.
They waited until an ambulance
and some real cops came and they put Herbert on a stretcher, with a sheet draped over his head, and rolled him down the long
corridor between the men’s room and the assembly room floor, and out the back doors to the parking lot. Herbert couldn’t
see all his fellow workers at IEC, standing by their benches, watching the white lumps of his sheet-covered body go by. But
he could hear their silence; the only sound was the trundling of the stretcher’s wheels, as they watched him, like watching
the hearse pass in a funeral procession.
Sheila Wellmon was watching
too, her wide eyes following the white-cocooned Herbert as he rolled by. She had her hand in front of her mouth again.
Out in the parking lot, Herbert
pulled the sheet down from his face, it was hard enough adjusting to breathing with your nose upside down, let alone with
a sheet over it, and two women screamed in unison before the attendants could get the sheet back over his head.
They put Herbert in an ambulance
and drove away, with one police car in front and another behind, blue and red lights flashing like a circus.
“Where we going?”
Herbert said, the sheet puffing up into little hills over his misplaced mouth.
the ambulance attendant said.
the ambulance attendant pulled the sheet back from Herbert’s face, “—going?”
“Jeez, would you take
a look at that,” the ambulance attendant said, dropping the sheet back over Herbert’s face.
As the ambulance drove on,
Herbert thought about his mother. This will kill her, he thought.
He remembered the last time
he saw his mother. He could still hear her screaming, “Oh! . . . Oh! . . . Oh! . . .” in rapid fire, like a machinegun,
when she caught him with Lottie Mae Ferber – Herbert’s first and, so far, only piece of ass.
cute in a geeky sort of way,” Lottie Mae told Herbert one day in the snack bar at Clinch Valley Tech. Lottie Mae Ferber
was a razor-thin blonde with a couple of small red zits on her forehead, but she was the first woman – other than his
mother — who paid Herbert any attention at all. She was the first woman who ever looked at Herbert, instead of
through him, and he took it for all it was worth. He would get what he could before he turned invisible again.
So, there they were, fucking
on the mattress on the floor of his apartment, the bed coverings scattered as if a bomb had exploded, and Herbert’s
white butt hovering in the air.
His mother screamed, just
about the same time Herbert saw his mother and screamed too. They sounded like two banshees calling to one another.
But this is worse, Herbert
thought. This will probably kill her.
First, they took Herbert to
the emergency room at the hospital. They wheeled him in, the sheet still covering his face, put him into a cubicle, and closed
He waited. His breath was
hot under the sheet. He tried not to start crying again.
A doctor came in wearing a
white coat and carrying a clipboard. The doctor pulled the sheet away, looked, and dropped the sheet back onto Herbert’s
Herbert heard the curtain
slide back when the doctor left, and he knew that he was alone – no Sheila Wellmon, no Mr. Steinhuber, no rent-a-cops,
no ambulance attendants, no Lottie Mae Ferber, and no mamma – just him and his upside down face. He cried again, but
he didn’t try to pray anymore.
Then they came and pushed
Herbert into an elevator.
“I got to look,”
a young female voice said.
“No, better not,”
a male voice said.
Herbert could hear the swish
and electronic whine of the elevator between the two voices.
the male voice said again.
“Oh, come on, everybody
else has,” the female voice said.
“You can look if you
want to,” Herbert said.
What was the use? He was all
cried out and couldn’t fight it anymore. Let the whole world have a peak at the freak. “Have a look,” he
The female voice yelped like
a puppy and the elevator shook when the owner of the voice jumped back away from the gurney and up against the elevator wall.
The male voice laughed.
The elevator stopped with
a little bump, the doors swished open, and they pulled Herbert out into a long hallway.
“Where we going?”
Herbert said, from under the sheet.
The male and female voices
The wheels of the gurney trolled
down the hallway, sending little massaging vibrations up into Herbert’s back.
The gurney stopped. The male
and female voices said nothing. They waited. Every breath Herbert sucked through the sheet and into his upside down nose sounded
like a wave breaking on the beach. A door opened. The gurney moved. The gurney stopped. A door closed.
Herbert took the sheet from
his face. He raised his head to look around.
“Oh, my God!”
At first, Herbert thought
he was in a chapel. There were seats lined in rows like pews in a church, but up front, where the altar should be, he saw
a woman wearing a black robe and sitting behind a desk on a platform. But Herbert knew that sometimes preachers wore black
robes, so he still wasn’t sure where he was.
It took twenty-two minutes.
The doctor from the emergency
room came and waived a piece of paper in front of the lady in the black robe and said that Herbert was a threat to the community
and had to be put away, committed to the state mental hospital. “You want your children to see something like that,
your honor?” the doctor said.
Sheila Wellmon and Mr. Steinhuber
were there too and Sheila told how she screamed and ran down the hall when she saw Herbert come out of the men’s room.
Mr. Steinhuber said, “He scared the bejeebies out of everybody, your honor.”
They recovered Herbert’s
face with the sheet, put him back into the ambulance and drove him away again.
“Oh, don’t you
worry,” the ambulance attendant said, and smiled at Herbert. “You’ll like Broughtman Hospital. Lots of nice
people, big grassy lawn with little white tables with umbrellas over them to keep the sun out of your eyes. And you’ll
have your own private room, too. You’ll like it,” he said.
The ambulance rolled down
the street, stopping and going at traffic lights – no escorting cops this time – fast and slow, rocking Herbert
back and forth a little.
Herbert thought about Sheila
Wellmon. He thought about how pale and white her face was when she saw him come out of the men’s room. How big and round
her eyes were, and how her hand trembled when she put it in front of her mouth.
and he felt the smile spread all over the top of his face. “They see me now,” he said.
Gene Hines is a
legal aid attorney in Asheville, NC, representing victims of domestic violence and claimants for unemployment benefits. His
stories have appeared in Black Petals, the e-zine Combat, and Catfish Stew, the 2006 anthology
of the South Carolina Writers' Workshop. Stories are currently scheduled to be published in The Story Teller, Wanderings,
Black Petals, The Petigru Review, the 2007 anthology of the South Carolina Writers' Workshop, and the journal of the
North Carolina Bar Association.