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.
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
Indifference? Absolutely not.
Bravery? Worn too
I do not answer.
Picking the right mask takes time.
It takes precision.
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
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
“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
This assignment doesn’t require precision.
“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.
Labels: Fiction, scriptic.org