“The Mask” by Alegria Imperial


Libby has but thirty minutes to put on her make-up. She wonders now if that is possible at all. It's not ordinary make-up she has to wear, she cowers at the thought. Tonight at the masquerade ball, she should walk in as a female I Pagliacci, a most endearing clown.

Dinggggg! The fire alarm in the building suddenly pierces the evening. And bammm! The lights go off. What the... she scampers off the bedroom. Then whirls back, realizing she had on a threadbare robe. She snatches her kimono hanging by the bathroom door, rushes out of the door and before she knows it, she has joined a trembling stream of people on the corridor, shuffling on bedroom slippers to the patio.

Oh, god, she moans not out of fear for the fire, which has not manifested itself. She moans again, imagining herself shamed at the ball. But then, she leaps at the thought that she has a mask to wear, anyway! Still, thin, blonde brows, pale lids and eyes, sunken cheeks, and ever-thinning lips like hers should be camouflaged. Libby remains oblivious to the whining of the crowd and the screaming sirens. Even when the firemen pronounces, "All clear," she steps back into her silence, imagining in that private space how fast she could apply her makeup.

They are made to go back to their apartments but the lights will have to wait as the fuses will have to be checked. She moves in dark, expert hands feeling every inch of her face, lining and brushing color from memory. She tries to turn on the tiny emergency battery attached to her car keys but only a glimmer of it lights up her forefinger that turns it on. She dresses up also by memory.

In as precise as the minute hand on the wall clock ticked, Josh arrives just in time for them to whisk off. The lights come on as they step off the door. Josh looks at her and says, "That's clever, you painted on your mask! Let's go!"