By Jamie Cooper

Copyright © 2019

He had a mask for every occasion. A mask that matched his favorite jeans. A mask that fooled his boss into believing he was hard at work. The masks he made hung along a clothesline in his basement workshop. Vacation Mask. Mask of Fatherly Concern. He made a mask he showed the neighbors when they remodeled their kitchen. A mask that communicated his undivided attention to his wife’s complaints about her co-workers. He produced a series of masks reserved entirely for his wife: Mask of Romance and Seduction, Copulation Mask, Mask of Unwavering Devotion. The unused masks hung slack and empty in the dim basement light until it was time for him to show them to the world. Workday Mask. Mask of Small Talk in an Elevator. Polite Laughter Mask. Mask of Longing and Despair. He made a mask he wore to the altar for communion, and a separate mask he showed the lord in private.

When the recession hit, he could no longer afford the raw materials needed to manufacture new masks, so he took to re-using old masks for a while, but if you looked closely you could see they were chipped and frayed and peeling at the edges, their colors faded and smeared in places, the skin loose and saggy-looking. Then, he got the bright idea that he could re-appropriate masks that were originally intended for other occasions. He brought his Dinner Mask to work for lunch and vice versa, and once he tried to swap out his Mask of Concern for the Defecation Mask he usually left hanging from the shower rod.

As the recession dragged on and his few remaining functional masks fell further into disrepair, he devised a desperate plan to create an all-purpose mask, one that projected the sort of milquetoast affability that would render him agreeable to the general public. So he locked himself in the basement and worked around the clock for days, using only the spare materials he had lying around: an old ball of twine, tufts of animal fur, a dried up wad of chewing gum.

It was a modest mask, but it was made with great care. And for a while, it held up admirably and served its purpose well. But eventually, he started leaving the mask lying around the house, where it would gather dust and grease stains and the dog would chew on it when no one was looking. In time, it looked beaten and sun-bleached and its expression had warped into a sort of deranged rictus of a smile. At night when he was asleep, his wife would retrieve the mask from his bedside and wipe it carefully with a wet rag and spruce it up as best she could and return it to his nightstand, where in the morning he would fumble for it in the dark and pull it carelessly back over his skull and go out of his way to avoid mirrors everywhere he went.

Jamie Cooper is a 2004 graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His work has appeared in TYPO, the Colorado Review, Parthenon West, and elsewhere. He teaches English and writes about the NBA for UPROXX Sports. He lives in Portland, OR. 

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