Friday, October 15, 2010

The Mask

How long had he sat there? A part of him wondered, the part with the brain and the logic and the rules he had been taught as a child. He should have been warm, fed, in bed with a beautiful wife and anticipating the coming of another work day. He should have had all that, and his parents still believed it was possible. They shook their heads with sorrow everyday when his name came up and the vision of their son, lonely and without children, came to their minds.
He should have been all that they had taught him to be, but he was not. He sat nearly naked in the dark night except for shoes covering his feet and a simple paper-mache black mask on his face.
On the dark fall night, the winds blew past him like the names of old lovers, coming and twisting their way around him until they had seen every inch of him, and then they drifted down the hill, towards other trees and bushes, and perhaps other men like him, lonely and childless, waiting naked under the moonlight.
How long had he sat? His stubborn mind wondered. He was used to that mind with all its trickery, its firm grasp on his body throwing rusty old thoughts into his meditation, reminding him of his poor parents waiting for grandchildren. That mind constantly adding some stones to the soup, but it had to come along on whatever journey he chose. So there he was, sitting on top of the hill, exposed but for his feet and face, with his brain nearly intact.
He had stopped feeling his skin hours ago. His toes, despite their humble covering, had lost their feeling before the sun even set. Perhaps they were purple now. He didn’t dare look, he would not move. He didn’t want to see what the moon and night had done to him, what harm his own insistence would cause to his vulnerable body. He had accepted that his body might be a casualty, there must always be a sacrifice, and maybe the fleshy body would have to suffer a bit more.
He had decided to come to the hill against all logic, against any impulse his body still had for survival. The instinct was dwindling each day, for there were other concerns. He had come, without clothes, food, water, no weapons or blanket to shelter him from the bitter cold. Here, dark was not only the absence of light, but the eye of fear. His own fear. The night was the place where doors were opened and all that he had thought about and heard and dreamed were there, ready, waiting for one close look before he would surely go mad.
He had brought one thing, the one thing he needed for protection against the night demons and the tunnels that came pouring out of him, wriggling free from his ears and heart, dripping from the open wounds in his anus and penis. The fears dripped out like dancing eels, finding their way into the black night and then twisting back, infecting him once again with the same thoughts and worries, the recognizable monstrosities he had come to know, for they were him as much as his fingers, as much as his skin. They showed themselves with a rancid smile, grinning, exposing their razor teeth and black tongues.
He had brought his mask, his one defense. It was firmly on his face, covering his nose, cheeks and forehead like a lover’s strong hand. And though he sat and saw his own fears spilling forth in the night, he was protected from them, just barely, with just a whisper of fabric.
Under the moon, protected now, he could be who he was not. He could be stronger than the man he knew by daylight. He could be a man without cowardice, facing death not with a beggar’s plea, but staring into the eyes of the void, searching for the gnosis he felt glittering. With the mask, he could be the king with his sword, he could find the inner will to sit straight through cold and pain, looking into the shattered gifts of generations.
He knew the power of the mask, and with this new face, he looked up at the moon, spitting on all that would laugh him into the river. He sat, alone in the cold of a black evening, wearing nothing but shoes and another face, and he could be what he was, and what he did not allow himself to be. He could be this now, for now he was the other. He was the man with hidden eyes and a forgotten nose. He was the man in the mask.

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