Photography © Chad Parenteau

 

Mask Tales

 

Whispers of Subversion

After one year in my flat, I felt like a usurped prince in a tower, annoyed by his incarceration, yet anticipating a revolution that would restore him to his throne. Things would change. At least if the prince of my imagination had his way. But seated in a hot chair by the cold window, I possessed little power despite the projections. Call me despot, call me truth seeker, I wanted to know what had really transpired down there. I had watched the news on the television for the first month, but when I lost my cable I did not turn to the Internet and social media to keep informed. Rather, I depended on bird augury and horoscopes from old newspapers. Ineffective, you say? Compare and contrast, friend — what you know, what you think you know. All the women I once knew would not talk to me after the first month. I was never told why. Perhaps I had said things in the past now deemed offensive. Or I had performed certain acts — gestures, flinches, leanings — now deemed a wanton pillaging of beauty and selfhood. I admit to nothing. My memory, impaired as it is, will not yield. Whether that is good or bad is not for me to adduce at this moment. When you torch the palace, people will question your motives. When you hack up the landlord, people will say you were mad, savage, lacking empathy. Perhaps it is possible to revive oneself through cruelty. But in the end, I was only cruel to myself. From my eyes sprang tears. I wept for myself and wept for the poor wretches below burning their masks and chanting for an end to the government.

 

Residuals

Spring rains had kept me shut inside for two weeks, but with a break in the weather I sought to replenish my exhausted food supplies and take in some fresh air. My affection for the outdoors diminished the moment I left my flat. Spring has its felicities, most certain. The fleeting charm of its spring shoots and blooms weren’t lost on me as I struggled not to lose my shoes on the muddied shortcut to the main street. Others, wiser and more cunning, had maneuvered around mud traps I overlooked, distracted as I was by the flora flanking the trail. The trees could’ve been maples, they could’ve been elms, what difference? I yanked my feet out of the mud, one at a time. My Timberlands were ruined. Also, I wrenched my left knee, and found myself limping along, gnashing my teeth, and wishing I’d remained couch-locked, watching TV. After a solid year of practice, loafing had become my forte. What had others been doing with themselves? Many, clearly, had developed expertise at eating. People wore vast masks to cover their expanded faces. Sweatpants and elephant pants now were commonplace. I’d gained no weight during the past year. Indeed I’d lost a few pounds, judging from the looseness of my jeans. The muscles of my buttocks and thighs must have atrophied. The lockdown had punished my machine. It needed a tune up. I sluggishly sprinted back to my flat. After a rest, I did calisthenics on my living room floor. Within seconds I was winded. I rolled a joint and smoked it on my balcony. The weed went right to my head, a feeling I enjoy. But sometimes vertigo sets in and I’m forced to lie down until the vertigo forces me to rise again. Sometimes a good retching will rectify that problem. I noticed a man in the seniors building across the street watering a slim plant on his fifth floor balcony. Optimistic, I thought, for a multitude of reasons. I live on the eighth floor. He looked up and made a fist. I didn’t gesture back. He was wearing a mask. I was not. Then he said something harsh, but I couldn’t make it out. I turned my back to him and looked at my grim reflection in the balcony window.

 

Functions of a Mask

Nothing masked the smile in someone’s eyes. This was interesting. Albeit the smiles were rare. Most people looked aggrieved, alarmed, bombarded. That is, their eyes did. Their eyes spoke loudly, savagely. Their eyes protested, condemned, and sought vengeance. They raised their brows and lowered them with menace. They wept tears, sweat, and blood.

“What the hell are you looking at?”

“I’m just walking here.”

“Yeah, well walk somewhere else before I punch your lights out.”

I took to walking swiftly with my eyes aimed straight ahead, ignoring any sotto voce slurs or condemnations, all too common pre-contagion, still peppering the fabric of encounter. Something in my person angers others or invites their darts of diminishment.

“You got a problem, asshole?”

“No problem at all, man. I’m just walking.”

“Go fuck yourself.”

Not to grouse. I don’t think it’s personal. And I give as I receive. But I have grown weary of these undeclared hostilities. No longer can I abide them, nor should I.

The mask offered some degree of cover. The onslaughts diminished.

“I’m just walking here.”

“Who the fuck asked?”

In retrospect, it must have been my mouth that gave them problems, these people — the uneven teeth, angry lips, razor tongue. I have never been afraid to voice my thoughts, to speak my truth as I perceived it; yet lately I have nothing more to add to everything already said. I cannot but repeat myself and others.

The knowledge that I cannot but repeat myself and others makes it difficult to start and impossible to finish.

 

The New Discord

Oh my God, I heard a woman cry out in the street. I rose from my bed and looked out the window. A blonde woman stood by a white Mercedes pointing to a man who had fallen in front of it. The man looked old and wasn’t moving. He was masked. Someone call an ambulance! the blonde cried. Also masked, but her words still rang clearly through the street. She didn’t attempt mouth-to-mouth on the man, or CPR. Perhaps she wasn’t trained to do so. But more likely, given the reality, she feared infection and thus excluded it as a possibility. Other people hurried by, tugging their masks tight. No one wanted any part of this business. The blonde woman cried out a few more times, then slowly backpedalled away, leaving the man where she found him. No crime in that. She had alerted the public and had avoided getting herself or the fallen man sick. Perhaps the fallen man was already sick and this was the fallout. The poison remains in the system long after the fever abates, I have read. Will our old discord be restored when everyone has taken their turn at the wheel? Or will we reinvent the wheel?

 

Sal Difalco is a satirist who lives in Toronto.

Chad Parenteau is Associate Editor of Oddball Magazine.