Worn Too Many


I dress with care: White cotton skirt.  Blue shirt, crisp linen.  My fingers work the buttons slowly.  Precision is important. 

I hear my children playing outside.  Their laughter still startles me.  I cross the room and part the sheer curtains my mother made fifteen years ago, when I was still supposed to be living in this house.  My father is in the backyard, pushing Curtis on the swing set while Lizzie pokes around in the strawberries, looking for one last treat.

I drop the curtains.  I polish my toenails—strawberry red.  Fingernails, too.

I arrange my hair so that it falls forward.

Justin told me he liked that, once upon a time, the way my hair hid my face from other men. 

As best as I can, I make up my face.

A quiet knock; nearly tentative.  The door swings open silently.  My mother hovers there.  She wearies a dishcloth between her hands.  “Nearly done, dear?” 

I nod, slip my feet into leather sandals.  Nearly done.

She’s perfected the art of silence, my mother.  She vanishes quietly down the hall.

I go to the closet and confront myself in the full-length mirror.  Wonder which mask I should wear for the occasion.

Happiness?  No.

Indifference? Absolutely not.

Bravery?  Worn too many times.

“Theresa?”

I do not answer.  Picking the right mask takes time.  It takes precision.

Optimism? No.

Independence? Perhaps.

Superiority? No.

I consider the mask of confidence.  Slip it onto my face for a moment.  Give myself a smile.

Yes, confidence will  do nicely today.

I anchor my mask in place with hope and good intention and a bit of luck taken from the red rabbit’s foot Justin placed in my hands just after I received news of my deployment.  I rub at the foot; press my finger into each of its tiny toenails.  I wonder what became of the rabbit whose leg was amputated to bring me good fortune.

They tell me forgetting is a blessing.  I’m not so sure.  I forget everything except waking up in a hospital bed, clean white cotton sheets smelling of bleach and fear and desperation tucked around me, a red rabbit’s foot clenched in my right hand.

Justin entered; gave me a sterile smile.  He nodded at my hand.  “I see the rabbit’s foot didn’t work.”

My mother stood then.  Justin looked surprised to see her.  “She came back, Justin.  Alive.”

“Yes, but…”  His eyes lingered upon my face.  He turned and left.

I was served with divorce papers two days later.  He wanted full custody of the children.

“Theresa, we must go.”

I follow my mother down the stairs.  My father and children are waiting there.  Dad takes my hand, squeezes it gently.  “Good luck,” he says. 

The cab is waiting at the curb.  I follow my mother into the backseat, turn my body to the left.

I can feel the driver’s eyes settle upon me at every traffic light.  I lift my chin, tilt my face to the front, tuck my 
hair behind my left ear. 

His eyes widen.  His mask slips.  I read surprise on his face, yes.  But mostly, I see disgust before he pushes his mask back into place.

He doesn’t see the tears behind my mask.  I will not show him.

Justin beats us to the court.  He wears a brand new suit.  A new tie.  He doesn’t bring his latest girlfriend.
Everyone speaks from behind pretty masks. 

Justin’s attorney tells the judge I’ve been away from the children far too long.

I no longer can relate to them.

Justin’s attorney looks at me.  “Frankly, Judge, the children are frightened of Ms. Toutelle.”

My mother stands, fists clenched.  “Justin has been cheating on my daughter since they were married.  That’s no environment to raise a child in.”

The judge looks at me, focuses his eyes on the right side of my face.  “You were involved in detonations?”

“Yes.”

“That takes a lot of courage.”

“It takes precision.”

“Thank you for your service.”

I nod and rub my rabbit’s foot.

The judge awards my husband full custody.

I get to see them on the third Wednesday of every month.  Supervised.

* * *

“Lizzie, is that a new hairstyle?”  My mother asks, on the third Wednesday of the month.  We are seated at dinner: Fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn, blueberry pie.  We’ve fallen into the habit of buying affection from the children—special meals; toys they don’t need; a horse in the back yard that is ridden on the third Wednesday of every month.

Still, I feel Lizzie distancing.  She’s gotten taller in the past two years.  More mature.  Sullen.  She wears her hair the way I used to.

“Daddy likes it this way.  He says no one else can look at my face that way.”  She drops her fork then and begins to cry.

My mother looks at me, wide-eyed.  She covers her mouth with both hands.

I drive to my old home; Walk to the front door; Ring my old doorbell.

Justin answers.

This assignment doesn’t require precision.

Only anonymity.

* * *

“Nearly ready, Theresa?”  My mother hovers at the door.  “The limousine is here.”

“Nearly.”  I slip into a conservative black dress, appropriately somber.  I consider myself in the mirror.  This time, I’ll wear a mask of sadness.  

But underneath it, I’ll smile.


For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, FlamingNyx gave me this prompt: Write a story about someone deciding which mask to wear for the day. I gave Kat this prompt: You step out of the front door and your entire world has changed. Tell us how and why.

This post was also linked up with: Yeah, Write.

read to be read at yeahwrite.me

Labels: ,

Writing in the Margins, Bursting at the Seams: Worn Too Many

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Worn Too Many


I dress with care: White cotton skirt.  Blue shirt, crisp linen.  My fingers work the buttons slowly.  Precision is important. 

I hear my children playing outside.  Their laughter still startles me.  I cross the room and part the sheer curtains my mother made fifteen years ago, when I was still supposed to be living in this house.  My father is in the backyard, pushing Curtis on the swing set while Lizzie pokes around in the strawberries, looking for one last treat.

I drop the curtains.  I polish my toenails—strawberry red.  Fingernails, too.

I arrange my hair so that it falls forward.

Justin told me he liked that, once upon a time, the way my hair hid my face from other men. 

As best as I can, I make up my face.

A quiet knock; nearly tentative.  The door swings open silently.  My mother hovers there.  She wearies a dishcloth between her hands.  “Nearly done, dear?” 

I nod, slip my feet into leather sandals.  Nearly done.

She’s perfected the art of silence, my mother.  She vanishes quietly down the hall.

I go to the closet and confront myself in the full-length mirror.  Wonder which mask I should wear for the occasion.

Happiness?  No.

Indifference? Absolutely not.

Bravery?  Worn too many times.

“Theresa?”

I do not answer.  Picking the right mask takes time.  It takes precision.

Optimism? No.

Independence? Perhaps.

Superiority? No.

I consider the mask of confidence.  Slip it onto my face for a moment.  Give myself a smile.

Yes, confidence will  do nicely today.

I anchor my mask in place with hope and good intention and a bit of luck taken from the red rabbit’s foot Justin placed in my hands just after I received news of my deployment.  I rub at the foot; press my finger into each of its tiny toenails.  I wonder what became of the rabbit whose leg was amputated to bring me good fortune.

They tell me forgetting is a blessing.  I’m not so sure.  I forget everything except waking up in a hospital bed, clean white cotton sheets smelling of bleach and fear and desperation tucked around me, a red rabbit’s foot clenched in my right hand.

Justin entered; gave me a sterile smile.  He nodded at my hand.  “I see the rabbit’s foot didn’t work.”

My mother stood then.  Justin looked surprised to see her.  “She came back, Justin.  Alive.”

“Yes, but…”  His eyes lingered upon my face.  He turned and left.

I was served with divorce papers two days later.  He wanted full custody of the children.

“Theresa, we must go.”

I follow my mother down the stairs.  My father and children are waiting there.  Dad takes my hand, squeezes it gently.  “Good luck,” he says. 

The cab is waiting at the curb.  I follow my mother into the backseat, turn my body to the left.

I can feel the driver’s eyes settle upon me at every traffic light.  I lift my chin, tilt my face to the front, tuck my 
hair behind my left ear. 

His eyes widen.  His mask slips.  I read surprise on his face, yes.  But mostly, I see disgust before he pushes his mask back into place.

He doesn’t see the tears behind my mask.  I will not show him.

Justin beats us to the court.  He wears a brand new suit.  A new tie.  He doesn’t bring his latest girlfriend.
Everyone speaks from behind pretty masks. 

Justin’s attorney tells the judge I’ve been away from the children far too long.

I no longer can relate to them.

Justin’s attorney looks at me.  “Frankly, Judge, the children are frightened of Ms. Toutelle.”

My mother stands, fists clenched.  “Justin has been cheating on my daughter since they were married.  That’s no environment to raise a child in.”

The judge looks at me, focuses his eyes on the right side of my face.  “You were involved in detonations?”

“Yes.”

“That takes a lot of courage.”

“It takes precision.”

“Thank you for your service.”

I nod and rub my rabbit’s foot.

The judge awards my husband full custody.

I get to see them on the third Wednesday of every month.  Supervised.

* * *

“Lizzie, is that a new hairstyle?”  My mother asks, on the third Wednesday of the month.  We are seated at dinner: Fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn, blueberry pie.  We’ve fallen into the habit of buying affection from the children—special meals; toys they don’t need; a horse in the back yard that is ridden on the third Wednesday of every month.

Still, I feel Lizzie distancing.  She’s gotten taller in the past two years.  More mature.  Sullen.  She wears her hair the way I used to.

“Daddy likes it this way.  He says no one else can look at my face that way.”  She drops her fork then and begins to cry.

My mother looks at me, wide-eyed.  She covers her mouth with both hands.

I drive to my old home; Walk to the front door; Ring my old doorbell.

Justin answers.

This assignment doesn’t require precision.

Only anonymity.

* * *

“Nearly ready, Theresa?”  My mother hovers at the door.  “The limousine is here.”

“Nearly.”  I slip into a conservative black dress, appropriately somber.  I consider myself in the mirror.  This time, I’ll wear a mask of sadness.  

But underneath it, I’ll smile.


For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, FlamingNyx gave me this prompt: Write a story about someone deciding which mask to wear for the day. I gave Kat this prompt: You step out of the front door and your entire world has changed. Tell us how and why.

This post was also linked up with: Yeah, Write.

read to be read at yeahwrite.me

Labels: ,

17 Comments:

At July 11, 2012 at 1:52 PM , Anonymous Leslie Collins said...

Love it! Through use of "mask". Well done!

 
At July 11, 2012 at 2:33 PM , Anonymous Eric said...

Okay, okay ... I didn't see the face deformity coming and got the mask thing on a new level at that point ... but what happened to Lizzie?! Wow! That shocked me! This is one superior piece of writing.

 
At July 12, 2012 at 7:57 AM , Anonymous Andrea said...

Great use of the prompt! Love the details. Definitely love her last assignment! Good for her!

 
At July 12, 2012 at 12:01 PM , Anonymous FlamingNyx said...

Wow. This is a brilliant response to the prompt. I love the different ways you use the mask.

 
At July 13, 2012 at 6:06 PM , Anonymous Wendryn Barnhart said...

Impressive!

 
At July 14, 2012 at 6:26 AM , Anonymous Tara R. said...

Amazing response to the prompt, so powerful.

 
At July 15, 2012 at 12:00 PM , Anonymous Annabelle said...

Compelling. I really enjoyed reading this one.

 
At July 15, 2012 at 4:28 PM , Anonymous jaum said...

Great story

 
At July 16, 2012 at 6:32 AM , Anonymous Sisterhood of Moms said...

Very compelling story. I love the details and how you mete them out slowly. I love the narrator who is at once vulnerable and strong. Want to read more. Erin

 
At July 16, 2012 at 6:40 AM , Anonymous Kerstin Auer said...

Wow. Gripping and compelling, I held my breath a couple of times while I read it. Loved the ending. She did what she had to do.

 
At July 16, 2012 at 7:18 AM , Anonymous Kristin Alexander said...

This was brilliant. I wasn't sure whether it was fiction or nonfiction until I got to the very end.

 
At July 16, 2012 at 5:45 PM , Anonymous Jill said...

I'm crying. Amazingly written. Beautiful.

 
At July 17, 2012 at 8:57 PM , Anonymous SisterhoodoftheSensibleMoms said...

That was chilling. Well paced and told. Ellen

 
At July 18, 2012 at 10:28 AM , Anonymous Dawn Beronilla said...

Holy crap.
That was amazing! It was not what I was expecting to read at all, and I found myself completely enthralled.
You managed to stir a lot of emotion with this piece, and I think that takes a lot of effort on your part.
Great story!

 
At July 18, 2012 at 11:01 AM , Anonymous Stacie @ Snaps and Bits said...

Wow, amazing. I'm just goofing off having fun on my blog. This is some real writing!

 
At July 19, 2012 at 12:54 AM , Anonymous jamie said...

Love this, Kelly. So wonderfully written and you managed to hold me till the very end, and yet still expecting more.

 
At July 19, 2012 at 8:13 PM , Anonymous Joseph Cereola said...

That made me recall all the pain form my divorce.

 

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