Masked

This week, Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog invites writing about masks we’ve encountered or worn, literal or figurative, maybe one from long ago…

Winter morning. In my pajamas on the cold kitchen floor, Onyx and Bagel jumping on me with joy. Half-dachshunds, brothers who look nothing alike. Onyx, black and tan (muddled markings; his whole head is tan) is the stronger of the two. A combination of rubber ball and coiled spring, he can jump high enough to give me a kiss even when I’m standing—if I lean over just a little. It’s a feat; at thirteen I’m growing tall. Bagel, long-haired, red piebald, snowy white chest, coloring that reminds me of Lassie, is the happiest dog on Earth except for when it thunders and he runs to hide behind the commode. My sister sits by the wall on top of the vent, her skinny eleven-year-old body drawn into a tight ball, pajama bottoms ballooning and fluttering in the rush of heated air. She doesn’t want to be up, doesn’t want to go to school, is too grumpy for more than a furtive dog-greeting. She’ll play when she’s ready. I embrace the wriggling, wagging, warm bodies, giggling, when I hear footsteps in the hall…Daddy’s familiar stride on the hardwood, in shoes that he polishes every night with a tin and stained cloth until the glossy surfaces reflect like black mirrors…

Suddenly the dogs shoot to the gate (or what we call the gate: a gray particleboard once used under a twin bed mattress when Mama was recovering from back surgery, we slide it back and forth) in the wide kitchen doorway. Barking, ferocious; I have never heard them—or any dog—make such violent noise. They charge the gate, lunging, sounding ready to attack…

There stands Daddy. His face is gone. Instead, there’s huge, opaque goggle-eyes, a distorted nose, pulled and hanging, elephant-like, no sign of human skin or hair; olive-gray visage, that of an ominous specter…

He’s wearing a gas mask.

I had never heard of a strike, picket lines, or unions before. I couldn’t understand why someone would be called a scab for going to work but it did make sense that people who protect said scabs would be scathingly called “Band-Aids”… I knew police were involved, somehow, but the picture in my mind was as muddled as Onyx’s markings, without defining details.

My father wore the same uniform as police but he wasn’t an officer. He was a company security guard. A protector of the gates. Duty-minded. Responsible. The parent who got up with me at night when I had asthma attacks, who would later co-sign my first college loan with the stern admonishment that I’d better pay it back because he couldn’t (I did).

He would die in uniform, but not for many more years, in an attack waged by his own heart, myocardial infarction, three days before retiring, while on his way to work.

The dogs are going crazy. I stare at the mask and the only word that comes to mind is ‘monster’it isn’t right, it isn’t right, that such things should have to exist because of what people do to each other, that Daddy should need this macabre (newly-learned word) apparatus for his own protection—he removes it. He doesn’t mean to scare. “Gracious,” he says to Onyx and Bagel, chuckling, “what fierce watchdogs.” They cease barking and resume wagging the second his human face is restored. They return, pressing their little bodies against me. I can feel them trembling.

Or maybe that’s me, as Daddy goes about preparing for another day.

Lead photo: Insights Unspoken. CC BY-SA

*******

History, as we know, repeats itself in infinite ways. I inadvertently stumbled into this historical gas mask hall of horrors…or maybe it’s a hall of mirrors…

Checking rubber faces for gas masks. State Library of Victoria Collection, circa 1941. CC BY

Soldier and horse. Reeve17408. CC BY

I’ve joined an open community of writers over at Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog. If you write (or want to write) just for the magic of it, consider this your invitation to join us.

13 thoughts on “Masked

    • Thanks, Elsie, and it occurs to me (after much trying to recall) that my dad put the mask on at home because one of us me? Mom, sister?) asked him to – he wasn’t just wearing it nonchalantly around the house. That’s definitely a revision to make. The dogs went crazy, though, just the same.

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  1. What a vivid, beautifully written memory. Thanks for sharing it. I’m trying to think if I have any mask memories, before the last few months, that is. I can’t think of any–but maybe some will emerge from the dark recesses.

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    • Thank you, Susan …as to dark recesses: I hadn’t thought about my father’s shoes and the smell of that polish for years, until this writing. How grateful I am to hear his steps and smell the polish again…

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  2. Oh, Fran, another piece to treasure. I love the image of your sister, “…pajama bottoms ballooning and fluttering in the rush of heated air.” And this one too, with its appeal to hearing: “Daddy’s familiar stride on the hardwood, in shoes that he polishes every night with a tin and stained cloth until the glossy surfaces reflect like black mirrors…”

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    • Thank you, Ramona – remembering brought back the sounds, and one memory leads to another… those shoes, the smell of that polish… I am thankful I haven’t forgotten, that writing this brought it back to the surface.

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  3. Fran, that mask is so scary; you must have been terrified. Your images and descriptions were so vivid I felt like I was watching a home movie of your childhood, or I was there with you! Great writing! These lines are powerful and universal “only word that comes to mind is ‘monster’— it isn’t right, it isn’t right, that such things should have to exist because of what people do to each other, that Daddy should need this macabre.” Powerful ending that leads back to these lines and tell us so much about you. Isn’t it amazing when you think of a specific time in your childhood memories that your sense of smell, hearing, touch and then vision are so tangible? Thank you for sharing a memory; I enjoyed it! Writing about memories are therapeutic.

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