:: Article

Felix Reeve, In His Own Way

By Jordan De Visser.

Credit: Jacob Matthes

 

In much the same way as people ignore their own noses, Felix Reeve had always ignored the creeping imposition of his cheeks and ears. But whether he ignored it or not, it was a fact: he was folding in on himself.

It was only when it seemed to be getting worse that he really took notice. He was in his early thirties. One day he found that his cheeks seemed puffier, had begun to scratch against the lids of his eyes. Soon he could almost see right down the barrel of his ears. Less and less light got in.

This caused some real inconveniences for Felix R. Breezes skipped the front of him entirely. There were frequent episodes of tripping over furniture (he would later attach small flags to things around the house). At wide arterial roads, it became difficult to judge a safe window for crossing. And at parties, popular cafes, in the houses of friends, there were occasions when he would say something delicate about a person he hadn’t known was in the room.

Worst of all, perhaps, was that Felix R. was a painter of landscapes. This was his work. His adaptive method had always been to paint in three stages: a left portion, a center portion, a right portion. In a way he painted triptychs exclusively. He’d pick his frame from the middle and then work left-to-right.

Now though, a similar method would require five sections (so small was his sliver of the world). And it could be as many as eight if he was, for example, swollen from a night of drinking. The additional labour was too much, the extra materials too costly. He had no choice but to take a break. Some modest savings kept him going, and in this new downtime, the issue of his crowding features took up more and more of his attention.

 

His body was folding in along that seam that runs from between the brows, down through the medial cleft and all the way to the perineal raphe. In other words it was reversing the action of the womb: collapsing in rather than blooming outward. There had to be some hope that things could move again in the opposite direction. He went to see a doctor.

In the waiting room, his wait was excruciating: he’d failed to spot the magazines on the table beside him. Once in a while he’d steal a look at the other patients on the small blue chairs. This involved looking very deliberately in their direction, lining them up in the crosshair of his earlobes, and so he couldn’t stare for long. When he looked back down at his feet, he could feel the others staring back at him in turn.

It happened that the doctor, too, was folding in on himself. There behind the desk he was an implosion of leathered skin and unaccountable grey tufts. Neither man, for all their trying, could figure a way to get the whole of the other in their vision at one time. The office was too cramped – they couldn’t get the distance. So, inevitably, the doctor became fascinated with symptoms on the right side of Felix’s body and wholly disregarded the left.

Soothed a little, at least, by knowing he wasn’t alone, Felix Reeve sought out a support group for people who were similarly folding inwards. The meetings were held on Thursdays in the early evening, at a local library (which made him think: books). There were biscuits, cross-stitched slogans, full-colour pamphlets. Rather than standing in squared rows, the chairs were fanned out so that a maximum number of attendees could fit the speaker in their diminished field of view.

Felix R. attended only once, complaining to a friend that the testimonies were ‘navel-gazey.’

 

Hygiene became an issue. Moisture liked to gather along the fold in the middle of his body, promoting the growth of an offensive fungus. This hadn’t been a problem before, when the fold was less severe, receiving more light and air. The solution, now, was to diligently scrub the crease with soap on a toothbrush. Neglecting this for even a day or two could have terrible (and alienating) results.

 

Having paused his work, a period of anxiety without distraction followed. And pretty soon, Felix R. found himself in need of money again. So it was lucky that a friend reached out, to ask if he’d like to show work at a small exhibition. The break from painting came to a necessary if premature end. He collected his materials and took a bus, a train and a bus (his driver’s licence exam hadn’t progressed beyond the first shoulder-look) out to a lake two hours from the city.

This time he decided that – rather than painting in segments – he would paint just exactly what he saw: a small portion of a bejewelled blue river flanked by ears and cheeks and hair. By the time he lost the sun and was ready to head home, he had the foundations for a frame within a frame. He hadn’t been this excited by his own work in a long time.

But the friend didn’t see the new work in the same way. He found the flesh and moles off-putting, said he had a responsibility to the cafe (who was hosting the event free of charge) to preserve the appetites of the attendees. He gave Felix Reeve a week to do something about it.

In his home, far away from the scene itself, he painted over the bookends of his avalanching face. This involved calculations of intuition, extrapolation. The river soon extended to the left and rightmost edges of the canvas, as it had every right to. The mountains in the background continued without interruption. Evidence of a breeze through the grass was digested and performed bilaterally. Finally, the landscape was total.

 

At the exhibition – which in terms of attendance was later described carefully as ‘intimate’ – Felix R. was having new troubles with hearing. His ears were now pointing fully in at him, excluding a large chunk of the room’s sound. Directionally, he was lost. He picked a corner near his painting and sat on a stool working slowly on a gin.

The reception of his painting, though, was good. People who knew his work in threes were impressed by this new continuous frame. When he explained his method, somebody remarked that he had been ‘expertly able to subtract himself from the scene.’ He wasn’t sure why this bothered him.

In the end the painting didn’t sell. He threw it under his arm and left. Out on the street that night, he got into the backseat of a taxi – not having noticed there was already a customer inside.

 

It simply wasn’t true. At home, he set the canvas up on his coffee table and sat staring in partial dark. The person at the show had been wrong. When he scanned the sides of the painting: there he was. He could trace the conch shell lines of his ears through elevations in the terrain. The grass swelled where his cheeks had been. And where he’d painted strands of his hair, he saw subtle disruptions in the sky. Everywhere in the painting he saw the kinds of details one only notices about their own face.

 

Then one morning, Felix Reeve was in darkness. He wasn’t sure if he was awake. Some thrashing about proved that, in fact, he was – he’d been face down against the pillow. Still, something was wrong. Today he was completely folded shut. A neighbour took him to the hospital.

He couldn’t see anything at all, and couldn’t hear much besides an aquatic warble. He knew he was in a car by the vibration underneath him, and in the hospital by the feeling of a cold steel chair. Breathing became like sucking air through the pinched end of a balloon.

Assessments went on despite him, with the neighbour answering what questions she could. When a doctor finally spoke directly to Felix R., it was because two nurses (with gloves on) pried the sides of his face apart and held them open. The perspective was like being born.

The news was that the total closure of his body would be inevitable and fast. Within a few weeks, tissue would merge with tissue. There was very little data about what happened after that (patient reports, it turned out, became difficult). Experimental treatments in places like Cuba involved bone shaving, organ reshuffling, colostomy bags, liquid food, dialysis, morse code – in short, the treatment was niche.

 

Having had a few day’s practice at holding his face open, Felix Reeve decided to take the bus, the train and the bus back to the river. He found more or less the spot where he’d sat to paint, and looked out at the scene. What he discovered was that there, too, he was.

Out in the fields: his cheeks, his brows, the suggestion of his chin. It was all there, coded into the arrangement of nature. This was true even on the bus ride home, where he saw his distinct appearance in the placement of windows on buildings; the particular spread of branches on trees; the array and relation of people smoking on balconies. This impression never went away.

When he finally sealed up completely, when his ears fused and his eyeballs pressed hard against each other, when his nose cracked painfully in half, he was surprised to find that actually nothing much was all that different.

Credit: Sophie Kristjansson

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jordan De Visser is a fiction writer from Brisbane, Australia. His work has appeared in Farrago Magazine, Southerly Journal and elsewhere.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, September 29th, 2020.