Xenology: The Changeling

Names are not to be trusted. A baby named Patrick grows up to be that damn kid Pat who plays in traffic, and is later buried as Ole Pattie, the eccentric townie who took a little too much time off from his heroin habit to remember how tolerance worked when he picked up the needle again.

This is to say nothing of the government-binding practice of legal name changing, or the game and art of taking or leaving a name upon entering a marriage compact, like so many pennies in a sloping dish on a 7-Eleven counter.

Names are too subjective, too malleable. I’ve always placed my trust in faces. But this late-night bowling alley job has shown me how faces can shift too.

I have seen heads hop freely between shoulders until the day they are caught and rebuked. A certain face can be pruned and dusted and reshaped into something that never resembled itself. Some faces make it a point to say as little as possible, in the hopes that no one will ever be able to single them out from the backdrop of the other thousands that one might encounter on a typical earthy night outside.

I don’t know her name. I might ask, but I worry that her face isn’t her own. She is actress, scout, diplomat, and master of the art of the errant tress. (That is, she knows exactly how much stray hair to leave hanging over her forehead to achieve the necessary erotic effect when she reaches up and brushes it back behind her ear.)

She comes in every week and the ritual is always the same. She’ll nod at me and I’ll return with a bow and head over behind the counter to play my part.

The ritual starts with her explanation of how she is on a bowling league that meets every Tuesday or maybe every Thursday. She has no proof of her claim, but I never push the matter. I put her down for the discounted league rate—fifty cents under the standard rate per game.

When our performance arrives at the subject of shoe rental, the routine diverges slightly. She would like to have those for free. When her league meets to bowl on Tuesdays or perhaps Thursdays, her shoes are always free. Why shouldn’t they be free now? Sometimes, she has a pair at home, and she simply forgot to bring them when she headed out the door this time. I make a proper show of letting her win, defeated by her logic of the day, and agree not to charge her for the rental. The prices are too high around here anyway, and I firmly believe any immediate loss of profit will be returned fivefold in repeat customer business satisfaction.

The going rate negotiated, she smiles and leaves, returning moments later on the arm of an unfamiliar man.

It is the newness of this man’s brick chin, the unmistakable curve of the bicep up to his bare shoulder that his tribal tattoo follows, and the number on the back of his freshly pressed sports jersey, that reassure me that I have never seen this fellow in my life.

Her face is always the same, but his never is.

And that puts the doubt in me. Is this lady, the summoner of this exquisite Batmanesque chin, really the same human I performed the sacred rite of bargaining with last week?

Or has her face switched too?

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