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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

"The Mask" by Desirea Auten

This is another classmate's work, a first draft of a short story. Remember, we were given the task of writing this in less than 5 pages (we could go over by a 1/2 of a page, but that was it. Sometimes, simply changing the font would do that.)

Take a look and see what you think. The author has stated that she's open to comments - negative or positive - about the work, so let her know what works for you. She's listening.

The Mask
by Desirea Auten

Today was the day. The day she would take her life back, she thought as she looked in the mirror at her empty bruised eyes and her battered, unsmiling mouth. She put on makeup to cover the damage just as she’d learned to do in the beginning. The mask that kept the world from seeing what her life was really like.
Mask… a word that came up often in her thoughts. He was the ultimate mask wearer and he wore it well. When they met, she had been so mesmerized by his smiling eyes and full lips. The teasing grin that seemed permanently on his face had entranced her and made her believe he was going to bring her so much joy in her life. She laughed more than she had ever laughed before, laughed til her face hurt and her belly cramped. Their courtship was quick and fiery, full of sunshine, jokes, nights spent lying together sharing all their childhood memories, their hopes, their dreams. She had never opened up to someone as she had him. He knew all of her and she truly believed she knew all of him when she quickly decided to jump in and go for it and love with all her might.
They moved in together after only a few weeks. As she applied her makeup she remembered back to those first few months, the most idyll of her life. If she’s honest with herself she might have seen the signs right away, but she was so in love, she was blinded to what was happening right before her eyes. She gave up her house and moved in with him when he said he missed her too much when they were apart and his house was bigger. They could have a family there, he had said. She agreed, her one bedroom apartment was no place to try to have children and raise a family and she could look around and see children with his smiling eyes and her dark hair running around with plenty of room to play.
She worked long hours running her own shipping company and it made her heart melt when he told her he missed her being there when he woke and seeing her first thing when he came home at night. So, she gave up her career to stay home and be there for him. She figured if they were going to start a family she might as well get used to it now and prepare herself and their home for the children that would surely come now that she had time to work on making them. She spent her initial days trying to put her stamp on their home, hanging pictures, adding feminine touches to his bachelor home and trying to make it as comfortable a place as possible. That was her first mistake.
When he walked in the door the day she had spent all day arranging things, hanging pictures, lighting candles etc, she was full of joy and excitement to see the look on his face. He had told her she could do whatever she wanted to the house and she took him literally. When he walked in the door he gave her the typical hug and kiss then told her how much he had missed her that day. As he let her go and set down his briefcase on the counter he finally looked around. She waited impatiently for his reaction. Then she saw something in his eyes she had never seen before, it looked like disappointment, and anger. She waited, confused, for him to say something.
“You don’t like it?” she asked.
“What the hell did you do today?” he spat out.
“I, uh, I thought you’d like it. I was trying to make it special for both of us, our place.”
“Looks to me like you were trying to make it your place. What are you trying to do, take over my house?” He roared at her.
“No, no!” She quickly stammered, feeling lost and confused. “I really was just trying to make it nice and thought it would make you happy. I’ll change it first thing tomorrow, I’m so sorry baby!”
He seemed to visibly relax and she felt relief flood through her. “Look I’m so sorry honey. I had a god awful day and I was just a little surprised when I came home and saw all this. I am just taking my day out on you and I’m sorry. Maybe you should take some classes or something to fill up your time while I’m at work and give you something to do.” He said with a smile. “Just try to make sure they are during the day and stay away from those college boys,” he teased.
She laughed. “College boys have nothing on you, honey. That’s the last thing you need to worry about”
As they made their way to bed that evening, she saw him frown as he glanced around at the things she had done and gave herself a mental memo to change them back the next day. She couldn’t understand his reaction but maybe he was just afraid of change, so she had all the time in the world to take things slowly and make little changes instead of redoing the house all in one day. When they got to bed he was sweet and gentle as he always was and they lay in each other’s arms teasing and laughing til they started falling asleep. At that moment all was right in her world.
Applying concealer over the blackness under her eyes, she tried not to berate herself for being a fool and seeing what she should have seen then. With a sigh, she kept applying her mask and let herself get lost in her thoughts again to another time when she should have seen the light.
He was an extremely tidy man, her, not so much. When she moved in she noticed his clothes were all organized in his closet by type of shirt, color etc and joked with him about being a little anal about organization. She was the kind of woman who came home and tossed her clothes on the floor before climbing into their giant bathtub for a soak after a long day. She had always thought too much organizing got in the way of living.
When she started being home every day, she had a little routine each day of things she would do. Tidy the house, vacuum, and do the laundry. She put her clothes on her side of the closet willy nilly. There was no order to anything on her side of the closet. It was comical to her to look at his very organized side and her chaotic messy side of the walk in closet. She thought it would be funny if he came home and found his side looking like her and hers looking like his, so she set to work to make it happen, chuckling to herself at the joke while she worked.
She organized all her clothes, separating all the pants and shirts and dresses and skirts. She lined them up by color and pointed all the collars in the same way just as his were. It was only made fun by the mischievousness she was feeling and the idea of the laugh they would have when he got home. Next came the fun part. She started putting his shirts down with his pants and switching things backwards and forwards until his side of the closet looked like hers had. She smiled and chuckled softly to herself and sat back to wait impatiently for him to come home. She busied herself making his favorite dinner and tried to force herself to stop staring at the clock every few minutes.
When she heard him pull into the garage she could barely contain her excitement. She had never been good at keeping secrets for surprises and she was determined to see this one through. He walked in without his customary smile when he saw her.
“What’s wrong baby?” She asked.
“I just had a shitty day at work and all I want to do right now is change into a t-shirt and some sweats and curl up on the couch and hold you. The lasagna smells delicious by the way.” He said with a wan smile before heading in the direction of their room.
It was at this point that she started having second thoughts about the prank she had pulled, but dismissed them almost as quickly as they came up. She figured the joke would make him laugh and maybe cheer him up a bit if nothing else. She tiptoed back towards the doorway to their room and listened for the sound of his laughter that she was sure was about to come. She hurried back to the kitchen to sit at the bar with their dinner and wait for him.
A few moments later she got her wish. He came out of the hallway and into the open area towards her and his face was redder than anything she had ever seen. For a moment she envisioned that cartoon moment when someone gets so mad they turn red and have steam come out of their ears. “Well, shit, this was not the reaction I had hoped for!” She thought to herself.
She got more and more nervous the closer he got to her. When he reached her at the bar, he finally exploded. “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?” He screamed at her. The rest of what he said was unintelligible to her. It was like white noise. All she could see was his finger poking at her face and here the yelling as white noise. Inside her head all she could think was how could it be happening like this? She had never seen him so angry before and wasn’t even sure what to do, all she knew was that she wanted to fix it and fix it quickly.
“Baby, I’m so sorry, I just thought you’d find it funny. I was obviously wrong and I will fix it after we have some dinner. Please don’t be mad baby, I know you’ve had a bad day and I really am sorry for playing a prank that upset you so much. Here, have some lasagna.” She attempted to placate him. That’s when he launched the plate of lasagna across the kitchen and into a cabinet.
“I’m going out to eat. I really hope my clothes are back the way they were when I get home.”
He slammed the door on the way out and she could hear him slamming the doors to his truck as he got in and drove away. She was left standing there staring at marinara sauce dripping down her cabinets and bit of lasagna and plate all over the place and thinking what the hell just happened here? She wasn’t sure which to fix first, the lasagna or the closet. Figuring the marinara would be harder to get off later, she hurriedly set to work cleaning that up first. It was like being in a nightmare, one she hoped she wake up from soon and laugh about while curled up in bed with her sweet, loving man. She wasn’t even sure who that man was who left their home a few minutes ago. She was pretty damn sure she never wanted to see him again though. That would be the last time she attempted to pull any childish pranks on him. She still wasn’t even sure where it had all gone so wrong.
She set out to quickly put his closet back the way it was. It seemed like it was taking longer than it did to undo it in the first place. She was going as fast as she could to get things put back in their place just the way he liked it. She was putting the last pair of pants in its place when she heard the garage door open. Not being sure what to expect, she was half tempted to hide, which struck her as a strange notion to have. When he walked in the room, she braced herself for what might come.
“Hi.” She spoke up tentatively.
“Oh my love! I’ve had a terrible day and taken it out on you, again. It’s true, I prefer my clothes organized. They are easier to find that way when I need something. But, I obviously overreacted to your little prank. I’m really sorry for how I behaved,, I must have scared you.” He said with remorse.
“I promise I won’t do something like that again baby. I never realized how much it would upset you and I’m so sorry. I fixed it all back to the way it was.”
“That’s my girl, that’s exactly what I wanted to hear from you. You are so smart and perfect. I just drove around and didn’t end up eating, so I’m starved and looking forward to that lasagna you made. Will you get me a plate?”
“Sure, of course I will. I love you babe.”
“I love you more.” He said with so much love in his eyes, for a moment she thought she really had dreamt it all.
When they went to bed that evening, he made the sweetest, most passionate love to her ever. As she lay there in his arms, her thoughts again wandered to what happened and was still trying to come to terms with the man she saw then compared to the one whose arms she was laying in right now basking in the afterglow of their love.
She looked down at the array of cosmetics before her on the counter, yellow for the redness in her face, green for the dark under her eyes, and the layers of foundation and powders designed to cover the flaws and felt exhausted, yet oddly energized at the thought of what lay before her. She was going to put an end to all this madness. Never again would she feel the pain he’d inflicted on her. It was time for a little justice to be dealt out, and it would be dealt by her hand.
The first time he actually hit her, she could remember how shocked she felt before the pain exploded in her face and her vision clouded. He had turned around and done it so quickly she didn’t even have time to process what was happening and thought it surely must have been an accident. She could see the shock register on his face too, and was even more convinced it was an accident and he was surely about to apologize and beg forgiveness. She was wrong.
“You shouldn’t have made me do that! Why can’t you just listen? I work every day while you stay at home and flirt with college boys and I can’t even come home and find things the way I like them. Why weren’t the dishes done and put away? How hard is it to wash those 3 bowls in the sink and put them away, how hard?” He screamed at her.
“I, uh, I…” She stammered.
“Don’t bother trying to make excuses. I read the things on your phone, I saw you were planning to meet up with that guy from your study group. Did you spend all day talking to him again? Did you really think I wouldn’t find out or that I’d let you cheat on me like my ex-wife did?” He roared.
“You don’t understand!” she pleaded, “It’s not like that. We all have to meet up to finish this project. I had to ask where he lived because we are meeting up there. The entire study group, not just me.”
Her eye was already starting to swell and she couldn’t see very well out of it. She was worried there might be damage to it and didn’t know what to do. For the first time in her life, she was at a loss. Why hadn’t she called the cops? Was this really her voice pleading with the man who just hit her?
“You better put something on that eye.” He said with a calmness she couldn’t believe he was even feeling after what he had just done to her. “I guess we had a misunderstanding, next time I hope you’ll tell me everything before I have to find it out myself and it gets this far.”
As in the times past he was loving and gentle with her more than ever that night, but this time she lay there and tried not to cry, wondering just what was happening to her and when her life and gotten this out of control.
Makeup done, she looked in the mirror at the final product. She looked overdone, but still quite pretty and was satisfied by what she saw. She wanted him to see what he was leaving behind and that she was strong and beautiful and had the will to live.
His favorite dinner was on the table that night when he got home. He rushed over to give her a kiss and sit at the table across from her.
As he ate they made small talk about his day and asked about hers and what she had done. She related some small anecdotes and watched for the signs that the poison she had put in his lasagna were taking effect. She smiled when she saw him look up at her with horror in his eyes. This was the moment she had been waiting for.
“What have you done? How…” he moaned as his head collapsed in the plate of lasagna.
“Never again will you touch me or hurt me, never.” She said with satisfaction knowing he couldn’t hear her since he was dead, but it felt good to say it anyway. She sat there for a few more moments before getting up and grabbing the phone.
“Hello, I’ve just killed my husband.” She said calmly to the 911 operator. “I’ll be waiting for you to show up.”
Then she sat back and enjoyed the last few moments of her freedom before the cops got there and thought about how worth it it all was. She would gladly do the punishment for what she had done knowing that she would never again have to feel his hands on her or the fear anymore. She smiled to herself, yes, it was all worth it.

copyright - All rights to the work posted on this site are retained by Cass Van Gelder. If you'd like to use some of my work, please ask. To do so, the permissions must be spelled out in writing...from me...I meant it. I have mean cats; don't make me use them.

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