Suggestions for Your Life
Christopher Wallace


When the metal figure was made, there was no model for it.
The whole thing came about in a factory in 1926 when the little figurines were popular. They continued to be so in that hemisphere, at roughly those coordinates, but their draw waned in places where boys grew up a little and Mae West eventually caught attention, where jazz rumbled into the mainstream. The toy came about as a precursor, like a tiny mock-up preparing the world for someone similar -- you. This figure resembles you, but you are no soldier, nothing like it. Someone sees the figure and tells you to imagine your face on something older than yourself, something with a deeper history than your own. Because your face is on this soldier.
An elderly woman carved the original, first from a block of wax. Her hands were made for the stuff. The workers were given certain specifications to follow: height, build, type of clothing, weapon, and stance, but the face was up to her. Many of those carving at that time passed this opportunity by. They would simply wipe vague lines across the brow and above the chin, but she drew features, as delicately as if shaping the world, and it paid off for it became your face. Your nose and eyes, and when you see it what will your reaction be? This soldier seems to hold the exact weight of your body but expresses most distinctly your face, the tilt of the eyebrow, the roll of the chin, the alignment of the ears and cheekbones.
The first one to play with the thing was a six-year-old boy who tried to tear the saber off. It could not be removed. The blade was one with the left arm.


In a place where they grow tropical houseplants like weeds in fields and send them to America, a man noticed an interesting pattern of rust on the bed of his pickup truck, a blue '86 Chevy originally purchased in Austin, Texas, and no one knew how it came to a town in Central America, but the farmer had owned it for six years. The rust grew that entire time like the truck was melting. A neighbor encouraged him to take a photograph of the corroded metal before it changed any further, so he did. After a year of circulating in local Catholic papers, the likeness of Jesus' face made its way like the tropical houseplants to North America where it was published but quickly dismissed as simply rust, not a face. After all, there was not even a crown of thorns.
You see the image on the cover of a paper in the checkout line, and you do not see Jesus. What you do see is yourself, and the man behind you squints a little and looks hard at you because he must see the resemblance, too. That is too much for you. You buy the paper, and go straight home and begin to review your finances.
Two months later you are in Costa Rica on a farm near an active volcano named Mount Arénal. Birds scream at you, and it is so humid you cannot breathe properly. You feel sick as if you have swallowed too much of the ocean. The farmer, who says to call him Walter, invites you in for coffee. You tell him you would rather just have a look at the truck. He used to charge an admission fee, but does not now. He says to not be disappointed. Coffee, he asks again. You say, no, and Walter shrugs. You get into a newer pickup truck, one that has very little rust, and the two of you drive down a hill to a clearing where a blue '86 Chevy truck is parked. You look at the truck panel that has dissolved almost entirely into brown rust since the photograph was taken. Now there is no one's face at all.


In Gabriel García Márquez's Love in the Time of Cholera, the lovesick Florentino Ariza purchases a mirror at great expense because within it he briefly saw the reflection of the woman with whom, it seemed, he would never be. Florentino Ariza hangs the mirror in his home, but García Márquez does not tell the whole story.
This is the rest of the tale. Florentino Ariza spends the next six months staring into the mirror, certain that the silver backing has within its memory the image of the desired woman. He is obsessed, of course, with recalling her face clearly. He eats his meals, usually coconut rice and black coffee, before his own reflection. He wants to see in his balding scalp her feminine locks, so he stares at the acute lines of his nose, seeking the image of her powdered, softer curvature. He looks at this for six months, every night when he returns from his office by the port. At work he does not think of the mirror, but controls his thoughts and redirects them to the business of riverboats, and he is more productive than he has been in years. He has many lovers from whom he withholds his attentions during this time. Indeed, he denies himself certain attentions and becomes more of a capitalist monk than the amorous poet he has always been. His entire life is work, denial, and this damn mirror.
Relief does not come until he breaks this cycle one night and returns to the restaurant where he purchased the mirror. He sits at a small table and hurriedly eats dinner. He feels guilty and does not finish his second cup of coffee. At home, he sits before the mirror in the darkness. He knows that he will see nothing in the glass and so is afraid to light the oil lamp. Like a true romantic, his tears clear his conscience and shield him from the inevitable disappointment, and he lights the lamp. This time, though, he sees her. She is clear and right before him in the glass. She is a fifty-year-old, bald man with false teeth and the drab suit of an infatuated bachelor. This is how he sees her. Florentino Ariza has found her momentarily, and he loves her as much as he is repelled by her. She is his lover as much as he is his own reflection.
He watches the image throughout the night and in the morning sees only himself again, but the mirror has fulfilled his expectations. Over the next few years, he looks at it occasionally, and tells himself that he still sees her, but it is different. When he is seventy, he offers it to an employee of the riverboat company. She thanks him and passes it on to her brother. It travels from place to place, satisfying people along the way. You see it at an antique store and want to purchase it but cannot justify spending the money, even when you see what you see in the glass.