Unmasked

 

 

Iguana

 

The mask was broken into three large pieces, laying on the tile floor.

Earlier…

Muzzy from sex, she murmured to her partner, “Are you ever going to show me your face?”

“Does it matter so much? A face to put with the body you’ve been touching, caressing?”

“What you look like doesn’t matter, no. But we just made love – ”

“No, we didn’t,” her partner countered. “We had sex. Amazing sex, but we just met… it’s not love.”

Earlier…

A hand tapped her shoulder, and she whirled around, coming face to face with a person wearing a painted mask. It was a deep pink, almost magenta, and a green iguana, done in bas relief, was draped across the top edge. Her own mask, made of cloth and feathers, suddenly seemed inadequate.

“Sorry, did I bump into you?”

“No… would you like to?”

“Bump into you?”

“I think most people call it ‘dancing.'”

“Sure.” She took the Iguana’s hand and led the way to the dance floor.

Later…

They’d been dancing for hours, it seemed. Masked faces  – ceramic, cloth, even latex – surrounded them, and the tables were few and far between, but they found a two-top in the corner by the window, overlooking the surf below.

“Beer or cocktail?” The Iguana asked.

“Cocktail,” she said. “Something with rum in it.”

“Do you trust me?”

Hell no, but I don’t trust myself either.

“To order, sure.”

Iguana ordered two combinations of rum and fruit juice then leaned back in the chair, rocking it so the back rested against the wall. “You’re a good dancer.”

“You’re not bad yourself.”

“I teach ballroom sometimes, as a side gig.”

“What’s your main gig?”

“I paint.”

She nodded. It wasn’t surprising; half the population of the tiny beach town painted. Or sculpted. Or sketched.

“I write,” she said.

“Have I read your writing?”

“Maybe. You read much horror?”

“Sometimes.”

The drinks came, sweet with that warming rush of alcohol. They both used straws, but Iguana gave away their gender when they tilted their head back and revealed the Adam’s apple bobbing there. “Would I know your work?”

“You’re looking at it.”

“It’s beautiful.”

“Thank you.”

Later…

They’d closed out the party, and moved to her house. They’d exchanged names by then. But he’d requested, “Let’s keep our masks on. If we get along, we’ll see each other again… and then we’ll take them off.”

She’d agreed. Why not? It sounded like a fun game.

Later…

The masks had come off in the morning. She’d been relieved… her skin needed to breathe. He’d seemed tentative. “I’m not so good looking,” he admitted.

“I’m sure you’re fine,” she told him. He removed the mask, and he was right. He wasn’t much to look at, but he wasn’t horribly disfigured either. His nose had a lump, as if it had been broken at some point. She reached out to caress his stubbled cheek. “Kiss me.”

They’d had sex, but they hadn’t yet kissed.

His lips tasted faintly of mango and rum, and a little like almonds.

“Are you sorry?”

“Not a bit.”

 

Later…

They were in and out of each other’s houses for days, weeks, after their first encounter. They made love in the afternoons and cooked eggs at midnight. She wrote, naked, in his bed, or hers. He painted masks in her living room and came to bed with splattered skin.

Later…

“I have to tell you something…” he said. “I had a wife… a kid… they died in a car accident on the way to my gallery opening. It’s ten years tomorrow.”

“I’m so sorry.”

He came to her, drunk, the next night. She knew he was using alcohol to soothe his grief, but it also brought out a rougher part of him. Their joining wasn’t tender, but primal.

Afterwards, she asked him to tell her the whole story.

“I can’t,” he said. “I can’t…” and he cried.

Later…

Six months of  mostly good times, but his story niggled at her brain. She googled and googled again. She found a seed, a trail, the truth.

They’d died in a car wreck alright, but he’d been the driver.

“You could have trusted me with this,” she said, confronting him.

“I wanted to escape it,” he said. “I should go.”

“Stay…”

Later…

The sky was barely pinkening into dawn, but she woke up anyway, sensing a change. His side of the bed was cold. She pulled on a long t-shirt and padded through the house. His paints, his easels, his splattered shoes – all gone.

She heard a noise and moved toward the front door. He was leaving in the dark, carrying a box. As she watched, something fell from the box and fell to the floor. But he didn’t stop. The door banged shut behind him.

She turned on the light and saw it.

The iguana mask was the one that had fallen.

The mask was broken into three large pieces, laying on the tile floor.

 

Written for Brief #8 of Like the Prose 2021: Begin at the end.

 

CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 Unmasked by Melissa Bartell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.