Written by Matt Carlin
There was nothing wrong with the mask; rather there was something wrong with my face.
The discovery was made innocently enough during the haunting season of Halloween. Invited to a costume party, I had no outfit to wear, or idea for one. My partner was already decided about hers—a folkloric character from the islands of her origin. She played with costumes and paints to make it herself, and made quite merry about the whole venture. Nights after work preceding the party I would walk home not to a plentiful feast on our kitchen table, but rather an arts and crafts bazaar.
One night over some near warm pasta I surveyed the contents of the table while she washed off her creativity in the bath. Among the items were feathers and paints of all sorts; clay and fabric, thread and needle. There was also some form of moldable plastic if one wished to mold a mask designed especially for him or herself.
“What are you going to be? Have you decided?” she asked behind me, applying a towel to her hair.
“I don’t know…I was thinking…”
“Well: that’s a start,” she said. With the party this weekend and my less than enthusiastic nature about the whole thing, my indecision and inertia had come to irritate her. After all, she was making quite merry.
“Wouldn’t it be funny…I mean, I don’t really have any solid plans, but wouldn’t it be a bit of fun to make a mask of my face?”
“Go as yourself?” she asked.
“It could be funny, couldn’t it?”
She thought a moment. Knowing her face well enough to make a mask of it myself, I could tell she was stuck between my idea being one of comedic brilliance and one of total stupidity. Eventually, the former won out.
“It would be original. Maybe funny. ‘What are you supposed to be?’ they’d ask.”
“‘ Me,’ I’d say.”
Now she laughed and this all but sealed the deal as a valid one. “It’d be fun to make at least. I think I have everything we would need.”
It was decided then.
The next day we set to it right after work. I showered, shaved, and wiped any debris or imperfections from my face. She covered my upper body with a towel and had already prepared the slop that would be my mask in a bowl nearby.
The application was a cool, cleansing feeling. As the liquid hardened around my features, I could feel the mask conform around me—even my pores seemed to open as their porous contents wished to reach out and leave me for my likeness.
The process was messy, but went off rather well, taking even less time than I had anticipated. When all was said and done, and what we did formed and decided, we two looked at the me we had made.
“Is that me?” I asked, as I looked upon what seemed to be a white mask of…well, anybody.
She studied it a moment; felt it with her hands. “That’s you, alright. There’s your nose. Even the way your eyes go just…” and she made a sliding motion with her hand, suggesting my eyes did something I hadn’t known they do.
“It just seems so…generic.” My goldmine of laughter looked a simple jester’s mask and I was a bit underwhelmed with the results of our efforts. Or was I that plain?
“Well, you’re not done yet!” she cheered me on. “Now’s the fun part. That’s just the shape. Paint on your ol’ bushy eyebrows and your freckles just there.” She pointed at my cheek. “The shape, it is right. I can see you in it.”
She set me up in a little alcove with all the tools I might need, even furry fabric akin to my hair was at my disposal to turn this mask into a mirror of myself.
I was afraid to begin, for fear of messing up what we’d thus far accomplished. I was not quite the artist.
To assist my venture, my partner had given me a slight square bathroom mirror. It rotated on a base with one side a simple reflection as is, and one side that same reflection only magnified. I’ve never found a use for this magnified perspective, other than for a glance at the grotesque. But I always did flip to see.
Resettling the mirror on the appropriately sized image, I sat before myself, looking for quite some time.
Two eyes. Two ears. A nose. Lips. Slight bags under the eyes, perhaps (I often worked late). I was just a guy. Just a face. Nothing unique about it: my skin tone even the culturally accepted norm.
What had I envisioned? What had I expected: My face so unique in the annals of faces that a truly unique and one-of-a-kind mask could be rendered from it?
I sat quite too long doing nothing.
I couldn’t call it a trance; I wasn’t thinking. It was nothing. A total void.
A rustling from back towards the bedroom shook me free of this. She would soon come to investigate the nothing I had done.
I turned towards the mirror, searched out my freckles. A few. Very slight. Brown. No, maybe with a tinge of red. I searched amongst my supplies. Little dipping paints in a box and some fine-tip paintbrushes. I dabbed some maroon with crimson.
It of course came out all wrong. The freckles were too evident against the ivory of the mask. Too large: an enflamed caricature of the freckles residing on my face. These were too much—somehow painful; a pox.
I looked at the white mask, now dotted. I tried to smudge them out, but they had already decided to remain.
Sitting back in my seat, I had come to a cross roads. I had drawn first blood; it had not worked. And this was what I had wrought.
I quickly grew tired of this endeavor as eleven o’clock neared. The only thing I could think to do was make a pleasant joke of the whole thing.
I dab glue above the eyelids. We’ll give him quite the bushy eyebrows. Some dark, dark below the eyes, for he is quite tired; he has worked quite hard.
It wasn’t long before midnight when my visage—exaggerated in every detail—was complete. Or at least I was done with it.
It was a party. There would be drinks. This would do.
Maybe I could say I was Dr. Jekyll and now I was Mr. Hyde.
“How’d you turn out?” my partner asked, as we set about for bed.
“It’s well…it’s a mask.”
“Let me see,” she said, intrigued.
I grabbed the mask from the alcove. We hadn’t yet drilled holes, nor attached string, so I held it to my face upon entering the bedroom. Her face betrayed an expression I must admit I could not place.
“You’ll be the hit of the party,” she said.
The party was a classy one at that. Everyone participated. There were many ballroom gowns, capes, death masks and Phantoms. Numerous numbers dated the party with costumes of popular icons that would surely not endure. Only a very limited number hadn’t put either quite some thought or quite some coin into their wardrobe.
As the basis for my creation had been me, I opted to fulfill the prophecy. I had dug into my bins of old clothes for the dreariest of the dreary—my JV attire I could no longer wear with a straight face, yet could never bring myself to be rid of: tight white jeans, high tops, and a bulky artist’s sweater.
A knock on the door announced us.
The revelers were quick to notice my partner in her gothic gear. They “oohed” and “aahed” about the creative ingenuity that had went into such an outfit. While stunned with its details and beauty, no one seemed aware of the origins of the creature. This resulted in her often going into conversation of the backstory of her creation.
She was the talk of the party for some time, and we were quite comfortable in our surroundings before any eyes turned towards me.
The first was a girl—a friend of my partner I had known for some years. Her look opened into a smile and soon she was all teeth (she was some Vampiress).
“That is very clever,” she said, “That is awesome.” From these first utterances it was determined that my outfit too was a minor triumph. Through the course of the evening it received numerous accolades. Everybody seemed to dig and appreciate the man in the mask. Everybody got it, and got a kick out of it.
Not one person asked who I was supposed to be.
“We were quite the hit, I’d say,” my partner basked in our success on the journey home at night’s end.
“Yeah, they really liked your whole thing. And you got good at that story!” I said. It was true. Each account of her island boogeyman became more detailed and lurid.
“I’d say they liked yours just as much,” she offered.
“Yeah, they did, huh? I never got to tell my tale though, really.”
“Isn’t that great? They all seemed to get it. Job well done!”
“Yeah…isn’t that…kind of odd, though? It’s not exactly a spitting image.”
“Oh, I don’t know.” She just laughed.
A strange thing occurred that night before sleep. In bed, about to turn the room dark, she asked me to put the mask on for a moment. I, of course, didn’t have it nearby, but she insisted I gather it. I bid her doing, and returning, placed it on.
She gazed at me a moment or two, then simply smiled.
“Goodnight,” she said and extinguished the light.
It was a week later we met up with some friends that had been at the Halloween party. We gossiped over food and discussed our working endeavors since last parting. As the night wore on, a college chum turned to me:
“That mask you had! That was tremendous. You don’t have that on you now, do you?”
Of course I did not.
“Oh, that’s too bad. I would have loved to see it again.”
This wasn’t idle comment. When he phoned later in the week about meeting up for drinks, he ended in passing, “Oh, and bring your mask.” I thought it a joke, but he insisted on it.
Perhaps my mask had not been the hit I had thought, and they were all making fun of me? I uncertainly showed up to the pub with my mask.
A number of college pals, many of whom I had not seen for a number of years were with him. We talked and imbibed and caught up on old times. Nobody really paid me much mind. I was more a wallflower as my chums caught up and laughed.
Then my buddy silenced the group. “Did you bring it?” he asked me.
Put on the spot like that, I must have looked very much the scared rodent. Oh well, I thought. Let them laugh. Who were they anyway?
I took the mask from my rucksack and placed it on. Much to my surprise, there was no laughter or mockery. Everyone seemed amazed. In fact, from the time it went on, more people—nearly all—seemed greatly more interested in what I had to say and involved me in all future conversation.
Twice in attempting to remove the mask, folks—strangers to me even, would laugh and warmly caress me. “No, dear, leave it be.”
Not a soul seemed to find it odd: a man in a pub with a mask disguising his face.
Arriving home slightly inebriated as well as confused, I found my partner with some friends over wine and hors d’oeuvres.
“Welcome!” she said excitedly, the wine talking a bit for all of them. She glanced at my rucksack. “Is that the mask?”
I nodded it was.
“Well, do. Put it on!” she cheered.
I removed it and placed it on.
“Exquisite,” one of her friends said.
“Sit down! Can you drink with it on?”
“Why. No, not really…”
“Well. Try. Here.”
And wine was poured.
It soon enough was expected that with me went the mask. And it was queried so often, I started to forget to ask why. Everyone enjoyed the mask; and me in it.
It may be hard for you to imagine, but how long could you withstand this behavior before you might find yourself in my position? I ask you simply, before setting out to judgment.
Following a Thanksgiving party where I spent more time behind mask than not, I found myself at the alcove. The party had started just fine. Typical, and me quiet while the surroundings happened.
Someone mentioned the mask, and on it went. The party cheered and now people settled around me. “How was life?” “How was work?” they’d ask. “It’s been too long since we’ve caught up.” They echoed each other.
Distress only entered when I deigned to remove the mask. This they did not like. After a while, I stopped even trying.
At the alcove that night I sat down and flipped the mirror over. It had never been returned to the bathroom. Nothing really, had been touched since the mask was made.
I flipped the mirror to the grotesque magnified side and looked at myself. I placed on the mask. The bags beneath the eyes exploded in the magnification. The bushy eyebrows suffocated the borders of glass.
I took the drill. It was still there. I did have to fetch the screws though. I attached the screw to the drill bit.
I looked at the face in the mirror. I didn’t even bother to turn the mirror back ‘round as I placed the drill—screw attached, to my head.
By the time the second screw entered my skull plate, I can’t even say there was much pain.
featured in our winter 2018 issue