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They See Me Now

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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 liked.

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 wrong.

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.

“Herbert!” – 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 and sausage.

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 . . . 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.

“Herbert?” Mr. 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.

“S-s-s-sweat-mo-mo-mother-of-J-J-Jesus,” Herbert 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.

“What’s that?” the ambulance attendant said.

“Where we—,” 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.

“You’re kinda 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 the curtains.

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 face.

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.

“Better not,” 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 said.

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 didn’t answer.

The wheels of the gurney trolled down the hallway, sending little massaging vibrations up into Herbert’s back.

“Where we--?”

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!” somebody said.

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.

“Where we--?” Herbert said.

“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.

Herbert smiled and he felt the smile spread all over the top of his face. “They see me now,” he said.

Copyright Gene Hines 2008

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.

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