The First Mask

I remember when I was young going to a masked ball.  It was captivating, magical and completely new to me.  I remember how free I was and how brave… all because I covered my face.  I danced and drank and took risks I would never had done without my face hidden.  As I said, I was young and inexperienced and had little time to prepare.  Some of my friends parents helped them make a mask for the event and they enjoyed the creative moments leading to the party as much as the ball itself whereas my parents were caught up in their own lives and I had to work it out for myself.  I knew little of the history or the etiquette and I, like  most others, had to choose a standard mask from the local joke shop.  There were not many to choose from and the quality was pretty poor so I chose a simple black ‘Zorro’  style mask.  Looking back now, I believe I chose that mask because it did not commit me to being a happy or a sad clown, death, or the devil, a plague doctor, scaramouch or anything in particular.  It was a blank.

I give thanks for that now.  Like everyone else, I had no idea that the ball would be the start of a struggle that would last for decades and for some, an eternity.

The night itself, was magical though and even though I now know the horrors that followed it, the memories of that night stay with me still and it remains one of the greatest nights in my life.  The rest of my life, after that night, changed at midnight when the mysterious cloaked man took the stage.  We thought it was part of the show of course, and the haunting music slowed and quieted as did we all when he stood on stage overlooking us all.  He wore a dark cloak that covered his head and flowed like liquid indigo to his feet, his mask, was death.  I remember now like it was yesterday, a more powerful presence I have never since met.  At the time, we were all captivated!  I was young then and did not know anything really and we were all caught up in the ball you see.  When he spoke, his deep voice reached us all and added to the mystery of the dark melody that continued to play between dances.

“If you would like the magic of this evening to last forever, you have merely to keep your masks on for a single night.  Until the sun rises my friends, until the sun rises.”

There were cheers, giggles, laughter and applause.  One or two voices demanded more details, no doubt law students we all thought, but he gave no further word and then left the stage with perfect choreography and then, as if nothing had happened, the next dance began. We whirled away with each other again, celebrating with our youthful energy, our bodies and our spirits and danced into the night.

I remember walking home with friends in costume and then bidding each goodnight as we reached our digs and then, just before falling asleep, my hand went to remove my mask and I remembered the strange promise at midnight… or was it a challenge?  My hand dropped to my side and my last thoughts as I fell asleep after the greatest night of my life was: “What the hell.”

 

Copyright Faramond Frie © 2016

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