The Cabin at the End of the World(6)

Leonard’s turn with the flower. He plucks and asks, “How did you get that tiny white scar on your lip?”

“You can see it?”

“Barely. Only a little, when you turn a certain way.”

Wen looks down and pushes out her lips in attempt to see it. Of course it’s there. She sees it whenever she looks in the mirror, and sometimes she wants it to go away, to never be seen again, and sometimes she hopes it’ll be there forever and she traces the slash with a finger like she’s darkening a line with a pencil.

“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to make you uncomfortable. I shouldn’t have asked that. I’m sorry.”

Wen shifts and adjusts her legs, and says, “I’m okay.”

The fissure in her cleft lip went all the way up to her right nostril so the two sets of empty, dark spaces overlapped and became one. Last fall, Wen begged her dads to let her see baby photos, the youngest ones of her that they had, the ones from before the surgeries and before they adopted her. It took some convincing, but her dads eventually acquiesced. They had a set of five pictures of her lying on her back on a white blanket, awake and her balled-up fists hovering next to her unrecognizable face. Wen was unexpectedly shaken by the photos and convinced she was, for the first time, looking at her real self and this real her was gone, forgotten, banished, or worse, that imperfect unwanted child was hidden, locked away inside of her somewhere. Wen was so upset her hands shook and the tremors spread throughout her body. After her dads consoled her, she calmed down and gave them an oddly formal thank you for letting her look at the photos. She requested they be put away because she would never look at them again. But she did look at them again, and often. Her dads kept the wooden box of photos under their bed and Wen would sneak into their room to look at them whenever she could. There were more photos in the box, including pictures of her dads in China; Daddy Eric looked weird with thin, wispy hair clinging to his head—which he has since shaved bald for as long as she can remember—and Daddy Andrew looked exactly the same with his dark, long hair. There were pictures of the three of them in the orphanage, too, with one picture of her dads holding her up between them. She was the size of a loaf of bread and wrapped up tightly in a blanket, only the top of her head and her eyes peeking out at the camera. She would look at the pictures with her dads in them first, and then the photos of just her. The scary thereal-her-was-in-the-baby-photos feeling went away the more she looked. Yes, that was her little baby head with a shock of unruly black hair perched above the unmolded clay of her face. Wen traced the boundaries of skin and space of her cleft lip in the photos and then manipulated and moved her own lip around, trying to recapture what it must’ve felt like having the disconnect, owning all that empty space. Each time she slid the box back under the bed, she wondered if her biological parents gave her up to the orphanage because of how she looked. Eric and Andrew have always been open about Wen having been born in China and adopted. They have bought her many books, encourage her to learn as much about Chinese culture as she can, and this past January, they enrolled Wen in a Chinese school (in addition to her regular, everyday school) with classes on Saturday mornings to help her learn to read and write Chinese. She rarely asks her dads about her biological parents. Almost nothing is known about them; her dads were told that Wen was left anonymously at the orphanage. Daddy Andrew once speculated that her parents might’ve been too poor to properly care for her and only hoped she could have a better life elsewhere.

She says, “I had what they call a cleft lip when I was a baby. And they fixed it. It took a lot of doctors a long time to fix it.”

“They did an amazing job and your face is beautiful.”

She wishes he wouldn’t say that and so she ignores it. Maybe it’s time to get one or both of her dads. She’s not afraid or worried about Leonard, not exactly, but something is starting to feel off. She brings up one of her dads as though mentioning him is the same as calling him to come out here. “Daddy Andrew has a big scar that starts behind his ear and goes down to his neck. He keeps his hair long so you can’t see it unless he shows it to you.”

“How did he get it?”

“He got hit in the head by accident when he was a kid. Someone was swinging a baseball bat and didn’t see him standing there.”

Leonard says, “Ouch.”

Wen thinks about telling him that Daddy Eric shaves his head and sometimes he asks Wen to check his head for nicks and scars. There are never any scars like hers or Daddy Andrew’s and if she finds a little red cut, it’s always healed up and gone by the next time she looks.

She says, “It’s not fair, you know.”

“What isn’t fair?”

“You can see my scar and I can’t see anything wrong with you.”

“Just because you have a scar doesn’t mean you have something wrong with you, Wen. That’s very important. I—”

Wen sighs and interrupts. “I know. I know. That’s not what I mean.”

Leonard twists around again and stays twisted around, as though he sees something, but there’s nothing behind him other than the SUV, the driveway, and the trees. Then there’re faint sounds coming from somewhere in the woods beyond, or coming from the road. They both sit quietly and listen, and the sounds grow louder.

Leonard turns back to Wen and says, “I don’t have any scars like you or your dad, but if you could see my heart, you’d see that it’s broken.” He doesn’t have a smile on his face anymore. His face looks sad, like the real kind of sad and he even might start crying.

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