The Renovation

The Renovation

James R. Gapinski

MeghanIrwin_The Renovation (2).jpg

There’s a face behind our sink. Scratch that. There’s a face behind the tile above our sink. I hope that makes sense. It’s hard to describe, really. We chiseled away that old tile, we chipped off countless layers of caked-on grime, and there’s this face. Plain as day. Or maybe not plain as day. It’s been overcast lately. Plain as a well-lit, two-bedroom colonial. There it is. A human face. Scratch that. It’s a head. Sort of. It’s got dimension to it. It’s not like that shroud of Turin thing. This is a legit face or head or whatever. It has texture. It has smile lines. Crow’s feet. Moles. There are a shit-ton of moles—maybe some are melanoma. This face is so lifelike, it’s scary. The dude even blinked a few times. He doesn’t talk, though.

We’re not sure what to do about the face, so we continue our renovations elsewhere, mostly ignoring the face. We rip out the cabinets and replace the trim and change the leaky fixtures and avoid eye contact with the face. We’re not heartless, though. We occasionally offer the face sips of water and bites of food, but he never wants any, so we keep to our tasks. We talk in hushed tones even though I don’t think the face-person can hear us—his ears are mostly still covered in plaster.

This is a legit face or head or whatever. It has texture. It has smile lines. Crow’s feet. Moles.

We research the previous owners and learn nothing. Scratch that. We learn something. We learn that this house was owned by a widow. We learn that she was involved in the Underground Railroad. Actually, that gives the wrong impression. I should clarify. This widow was involved in stopping the Underground Railroad. She ratted out all the abolitionists in town. So, we did learn that a Civil War–era jackass used to live here. But we didn’t learn anything that has to do with this face.

We take photographs of the face and pass them around town. The flyers start out rather plainly: Have you seen this man? and Do you know this man? Eventually, our captions grow more desperate: Why the fuck is this man in our wall? and Is this man even a man? and Is he alive? and Is this some kind of sick joke?

Is this some kind of sick joke?

We’ve avoided the inevitable long enough. We pace back and forth in front of the face for hours. We take turns holding the sledgehammer. The rest of our renovations are completely done. The countertops sparkle. The new fridge vibrates gently. The cabinets glide open and closed revealing several lazy Susans and adjustable shelves and special hook thingies for wine glasses. It’s all so perfect.

But the crumbling, naked plaster above our sink lingers. This is the last thing standing in the way of our perfect kitchen. Once we’ve achieved this kitchenly perfection, everything else will fall into place. I will cook eggs for breakfast. You will bake tarts for dessert. We’ll host fancy parties around the center island. We’ll laugh into our martini glasses while eating hors d’oeuvres. We’ll glue felt on the bottoms of all our kitchen chairs so we don’t scratch the new hardwood floors. We’ll wipe down the stove after every use like the manufacturer recommends. We’ll brush our teeth in the kitchen sink for good measure. But we won’t do any of those things with a face behind our sink, or behind the wall above the sink, or wherever. This kitchen is everything. This is what will make us love one another. We both sense it. Without this kitchen, we are just two strangers fucking in the dark.

We inspect the mole-covered face one last time. He still doesn’t speak. He blinks once. Nothing else. We tell each other that the face-person must be braindead. We tell each other that he won’t feel a thing. We tell each other that it’s our wall and we can demolish it if we please. We tell each other everything we want to hear.


James R. Gapinski’s fiction has appeared in The CollapsarJukedMonkeybicycleSmokeLong QuarterlyWord Riot, and other publications. He’s managing editor of The Conium Review and associate faculty at Ashford University. Find him online at and on Twitter @jamesrgapinski.

Illustration by Meghan Irwin.

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