'Gately that's really bad.'

'Why are you even up, don't have to work.'

'…'

'…'

'I like it when it snows real early like this. This is the best window. But you learned a lesson.'

'His name was Chuck or Chick. The one that got shot that time.'

'Did you hear that McDade person at supper? You know how some folks have one of their legs shorter than the other?'

'I don't listen to those guys' crap.'

'It was down at the far end of the table at supper. He was telling Ken and me how he had a counselor when he was in Juvenile at Jamaica Plain, he had this counselor he said she had this condition where each leg was shorter than the other.'

'…'

'…'

'I don't think I follow you, Joelle.'

'Each of the woman's legs was shorter than the other.'

'How can a leg that's shorter than the other leg have the different leg shorter than it?'

'He was having us on. He said the point was an AA point, that it defied sense and explaining and you just had to accept it on faith. That creepy Randy guy with the white wig was backing him up with a very straight face. McDade said she walked like a metronome. He was making fun of us, but I still thought it was funny.'

'Maybe tell me about this veil of yours, then, Joelle, if we're talking about defied sense.'

'Waaaay out to one side. Then waaaay out to the other side.'

'Really. Let's really interface if you're in here. How come with the veil?'

'Bridal thing.'

'…'

'Aspiring Muslim.'

'I didn't mean to pry in. You can just tell me if you don't want to talk about the veil.'

'I'm also in another fellowship, with almost four years in.'

'U.H.I.D.'

'It's the Union of the Hideously and Improbably Deformed. The veil is a sort of fellowship caparison.'

'What's it compared to?'

'We all wear one. Almost all of us, with some time in.'

'But if you don't mind, how come you're in it? U.H.I.D.? How're you supposed to be deformed? It's nothing that sticks way out, if I can say it. Are you, like, missing something?'

'There's a brief ceremony. It's a bit like giving out chips over at the Better Late Than Never meeting, for Varying Lengths. The new U.H.I.D.s stand and receive the veil and don the veil and stand there and recite that the veil they've donned is a Type and a Symbol, and that they are choosing freely to be bound to wear it always—a day at a time—both in light and darkness, both in solitude and before others' gaze, and as with strangers so with familiar friends, even Daddies. That no mortal eye will see it withdrawn. That they hereby declare openly that they wish to hide from all sight. Unquote.'

'…'

'I've also got a membership card that spells out everything you could ever want to know, and more.'

'Except I've asked Pat and Tommy S. and still the thing I don't get is why join a fellowship just to hide? I can see if somebody is like—you know, hideously—and they've been hiding away in the dark all their life, and they want to Come In and join a fellowship where everybody's equal and everybody can Identify because they all spent their whole life hiding also, and you join a fellowship so you can step out of the dark and into the group and get support and finally show yourself minus eyes or with three ti—arms or whatever and be accepted by people that know just what it's like, and like in AA they say they'll love you till you can like love yourself and accept yourself, so you don't care what people see or think anymore, and you can finally step out of the cage and quit hiding.'

'That's AA?'

'Kind of, a little bit, I think.'

'Well Mr. Gately what people don't get about being hideously or improbably deformed is that the urge to hide is offset by a gigantic sense of shame about your urge to hide. You're at a graduate wine-tasting party and improbably deformed and you're the object of stares that the people try to conceal because they're ashamed of wanting to stare, and you want nothing more than to hide from the covert stares, to erase your difference, to crawl under the tablecloth or put your face under your arm, or you pray for a power failure and for this kind of utter liberating equalizing darkness to descend so you can be reduced to nothing but a voice among other voices, invisible, equal, no different, hidden.'

'Is this like the thing they talked about people hating their faces on videophones?'

'But Don you're still a human being, you still want to live, you crave connection and society, you know intellectually that you're not less worthy of connection and society than anyone else simply because of how you appear, you know that hiding yourself away out of fear of gazes is really giving in to a shame that is not required and that will keep you from all the kind of life you deserve as much as the next girl, you know that you can't help how you look but that you are supposed to be able to help how much you care about how you look. You're supposed to be strong enough to exert some control over how much you want to hide, and you're so desperate to feel some kind of control that you settle for the appearance of control.'

'Your voice gets different when you talk about this shit.'

'What you do is you hide your deep need to hide, and you do this out of the need to appear to other people as if you have the strength to not care how you appear to others. You stick your hideous face right in there into the wine-tasting crowd's visual meatgrinder, you smile so wide it hurts and put out your hand and and are extra gregarious and outgoing and exert yourself to appear totally unaware of the facial struggles of people who are trying not to wince or stare or give away the fact that they can see that you're hideously, improbably deformed. You feign acceptance of your deformity. You take your desire to hide and conceal it under a mask of acceptance.'

'Use less words.'

'In other words you hide your hiding. And you do this out of shame, Don: you're ashamed of the fact that you want to hide from sight. You're ashamed of your uncontrolled craving for shadow. U.H.I.D.'s First Step is admission of powerlessness over the need to hide. U.H.I.D. allows members to be open about their essential need for concealment. In other words we don the veil. We don the veil and wear the veil proudly and stand very straight and walk briskly wherever we wish, veiled and hidden, and but now completely up-front and unashamed about the fact that how we appear to others affects us deeply, about the fact that we want to be shielded from all sight. U.H.I.D. supports us in our decision to hide openly.'

'You seem like you drift in and out of different ways of talking. Sometimes it's like you don't want me to follow.'

'Well I've got a brand-new life, just out of the wrapper, which you all say'll take some time to fit.'

'So they teach you how to accept your nonacceptance, the Union, you're saying.'

'You followed very well. You didn't need fewer words at all. If you don't mind my saying so, my sense is that you think you're not bright but you're not.'

'Not bright?'

'I put that poorly. You're not not bright. As in you're incorrect in thinking you have nothing upstairs.'

'It's a self-esteem issue, then, you're seeing in me after like three days here, then. I feel low esteem about how I think I'm not bright enough for some people.'

'Which is fine, U.H.I.D. would say, to illustrate the U.H.I.D. take versus an apparently more AA take. U.H.I.D.'d say it's fine to feel inadequate and ashamed because you're not as bright as some others, but that the cycle becomes annular and insidious if you begin to be ashamed of the fact that being unbright shames you, if you try to hide the fact that you feel mentally inadequate, and so go around making jokes about your own dullness and acting as if it didn't bother you at all, pretending you didn't care whether others perceived you as unbright or not.'

'That makes the front of my head hurt, trying to follow this.'

'Well you've been up all night.'

'Then now I have to go to my other fucking job.'

'You're way brighter than you think, Don G., although I doubt anything anyone else says can get in there to the gnawed ragged place where you're afraid you're slow and dull.'

'And what makes you think I think I'm not bright, unless it's you're saying it's obvious to anybody I'm not bright?'

'I didn't mean to pry. Just tell me if you don't want to speak to someone you barely know about it.'

'Now you're being sarcastic on what I said before.'

'…'

'I got kicked off of football my tenth-grade year for flunking English.'

'You played American football?'

'I was good til I got kicked off. They gave me a tutor and I still flunked.'

'I used to twirl a baton at halftimes. I went to a special camp six summers running.'

'…'

'But a lot of the forms of self-hatred there is no veil for. U.H.I.D.'s taught a lot of us to be grateful that there's at least a veil for our form.'

'So the veil's a way to not hide it.'

'To hide openly, is more like it.'

'…'

'I'm already seeing it's very different from the drug-recovery agenda, the AA and NA program.'

'Can I ask how you're deformed?'

'The best is when the sun's coming up right through the snow and everything looks so white.'

'…'

'I almost forgot why I came on in, that that Kate girls said Ken E. like to get killed by some son of a bitch last night at that Waltham NA thing and they want somebody to tell Johnette not to make them go back again if they don't want.'

'…'

'…'

'One is Kate and Ken can talk for themselves with Johnette and I don't need to pry in and you sure don't need to pry in and rescue nobody else. Two is you're all of a sudden talking different again, and when you were talking about the veil you didn't sound like you to me. And three is don't think I can't see you're coming out sideways all over the place about when I asked can I ask what deformity you're not hiding the fact that you're hiding under that thing. The Staff part of me wants to say if you don't want to answer it just say so, but don't try to go around the side and think you can distract me into forgetting I asked it.'

'The U.H.I.D. in me would say you're trapped in shame about the shame, in response, and that the shame-circle keeps you from really being present for your Staff job, Don. You're more bugged by the possibility that I'm treating you as unbright and distractible than you are about a resident's inability to come right out and openly exercise her right to refuse to answer an incredibly private and drug-unrelated question.'

'And now she's back to talking like a fucking English teacher again. But ignore that. That's not the point. Look at how you're trying to get out dialogue all distracted up in shame and me again instead of saying Yes or No to me asking Will you tell me what you're missing behind that veil.'

'Oh you're good at hiding Mr. G, you're good. The minute we start to poke at any inadequacies you're ashamed of, see, you drop behind your own protective mask of House Staff and start probing areas that you know I can't bring myself to be open about—since you got me to tell you all about U.H.I.D.'s philosophy of hiding—so that your own sense of inadequacy gets either buried or used as a backlight to illuminate my own inability to be open and straightforward. The best defense is a good offense isn't it Mr. Football Player.'

'Aspirin-time, now, with all the words. You win. Go watch the snow come down someplace else.'

'The thing is, Mr. Staff, I've already just completely opened up about my shame and my inability to be open and straightforward about this. You're exposing something I've already held up to view. It's your shame about being ashamed of what you're afraid might be seen as a lack of brightness that's getting to stay buried under this dead horse of my deformity that you're trying to whip.'

'And then meantime you still didn't say a straight-on Yes or No to Can I ask what's up behind there, are you cross-eyed or have a like beard, or do you have like really bad skin under there even though your skin everyplace that isn't hidden looks—'

'Looks what? My unhidden skin is what?'

'See, this is you keep trying to sidetrack instead of just saying No to Can I ask. Just say No. Try it. It's OK. Nothing bad'll happen. Just try it straight out.'

'Perfect. You were going to say every visible expanse of my skin is just drop-dead creamy perfect.'

'Jesus, why am I even here? Why don't you just interface with yourself if you think you know all my issues and shames and everything I'm going to say? Why not take the suggestion to say No? Why come in here? Did I come to you, to talk? Was I just sitting in here trying to keep awake and do the Log and getting ready to go mop shit with a shoe-freak and did or didn't you waltz on in and sit down and come to me?'

'Don, I'm perfect. I'm so beautiful I drive anybody with a nervous system out of their fucking mind. Once they've seen me they can't think of anything else and don't want to look at anything else and stop carrying out normal responsibilities and believe that if they can only have me right there with them at all times everything will be all right. Everything. Like I'm the solution to their deep slavering need to be jowl to check with perfection.'

'Now with the sarcasm.'

'I am so beautiful I am deformed.'

'Now with the nonrespectful acting-out of treating me like I'm stupid for trying to get her to walk through her fear to give a straight-out No, which she isn't willing.'

'I am deformed with beauty.'

'You want to see my professional Staff face here's my Staff face. I nod and smile, I treat you like somebody I have to humor by nodding and smiling, and behind the face I'm going with my finger around and around my temple like What a fucking yutz, like Where's the net.'

'Believe what you want. I'm powerless over what you believe, I know.'

'See the professional Staffer writing in the Meds Log: “Six extra-strong kind of aspirin for Staff after sarcasm and sideways refusal to walk through fears and sarcastic acting out by newcomer who thinks she knows everybody else's issues.'

'What position did you play?'

'…that the Staffer wonders how come she's here in treatment then, if she knows so much.'

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The box remained empty until the end of the performance. Nevertheless, there was reasonable hope that, having been unable to attend the concert, for reasons she would explain, she’ll be waiting for him outside, at the stage door. She wasn’t there. And since the fate of hopes is always to breed more hopes, which is why, despite so many disappointments, they have not died out in the world, she might be waiting for him outside his building with a smile on her lips and the letter in her hand, Here you are, as promised. She wasn’t there either. The cellist went into his apartment like an old-fashioned, first-generation automaton, the sort that had to ask one leg to move in order to move the other one. He pushed away the dog who had come to greet him, put his cello down in the first convenient place and went and lay on his bed. Now will you learn your lesson, you idiot, you’ve behaved like a complete imbecile, you gave the meanings you wanted to words which, in the end, meant something else entirely, meanings that you don’t know and never will know, you believed in smiles that were nothing but deliberate muscular contractions, you forgot that you’re really five hundred years old, even though the years very kindly reminded you of this, and now here you are, washed up, lying on the bed where you were hoping to welcome her, while she’s laughing at the foolish figure you cut and at your ineradicable stupidity. His master’s rebuff forgotten, the dog came over to the bed to console him. He put his front paws on the mattress and pulled himself up to the height of his master’s left hand, which lay there like something futile and vain, and gently rested his head on it. He could have licked it and licked it again, as is the way with ordinary dogs, but nature had, for once, revealed her benevolent side and reserved for him a very special sensitivity, one that allowed him even to invent different gestures to express emotions that are always the same and always unique. The cellist turned toward the dog, and adjusted his position so that his head was only a few inches from the dog’s head, and there they stayed, looking at each other, saying, with no need for words, When I think about it, I have no idea who you are, but that’s not important, what matters is that we care about each other.