Paper over the cracks

By J Cassidy


I’ve had this mask for years and years, so long now that’s it’s as much me as my hair or fingernails. It’s colourful paper with shapely eyes and not constricting around the nose. I wish the mouth were a little more smiling but I don’t mind so much because I smile with my words. Sometimes I don’t smile at all and no one ever notices because it’s hidden away and my voice drips honey while my expression is full of scorn. So it was when I was at a rather posh masked ball, talking to a particularly bothersome fool of a man who didn’t know when too much was too much. I think the Knight may have noticed I was insincere in telling the fool that it wasn’t him, it was me, and that made my heart flutter.
“She’s with me,” the Knight said and the fool departed, leaving behind some colourful words.
“Thanks,” I said with a real smile and found it a great shame the Knight would never see it. I accepted his invitation to dance but held myself stiff so as not to give the wrong idea. Dancing was nice but if you weren’t careful your toes got trodden on and my feet were an aching mess after the last partner. Thank goodness my dress covered my defiled shoes. Much to my surprise the Knight was a careful and thoughtful dancer, complemented with conversation that sparkled and I found myself smiling more and more. Soon, we were the only couple on the floor and the lights were dimmed as we swirled around to gasps and jealous glares of couples who couldn’t match our perfection. My heart hammered as my Knight leaned in for the kiss, a hand on the edge of the mask as he prepared to remove it.
“No.” I shook my head. The scars were deep and red and ugly, cracks in my flesh that were taking too long to heal. My Knight let his hand drop but kept dancing though I could see confusion in his eyes. I knew the scars wouldn’t matter to him; he had plenty of his own. But I wasn’t ready for him to see me.
“I will wait,” he assured me as my spine stiffened and pecked my paper cheek with a smile. I smiled a smile that I couldn’t show him, safe beneath my mask.

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