Behind the Mask

“It must be somewhere, the original harmony, / somewhere in great nature, hidden.” – Juhan Liiv, “Music” (Translated from the Estonian by H.L. Hix & Jüri Talvet)

You put on the silver mask.  Its cool edges mold to the temples, the cheeks, the jaw.  Through the almond-shaped eyes you see the form of your beloved lying on the couch.  He is asleep.


His long lithe body is restful in sleep.  When he is awake he is all tension, all wired muscles and taut limbs.  When he is awake you fear he will leave you.  But he is asleep now.  Now is your chance.

You go to the kitchen, still wearing the silver mask, still seeing through the almond eyes.  The poison is there.  You got the poison from the old witch on the corner who reads palms and does Tarot cards.  She gave you the perfect purple pill and told you to dissolve it in a glass of wine.  You pour a glass of Merlot and you drop the pill into it.  You take the wine out to the living room and set his glass on the coffee table.

You feel the strict rigid edges of the mask bite into your skin.  You’ve waited for this moment, and now it is nearly here.  Your beloved will never belong to another.  Never.

The Fog of War

It was fog of war again.

Bree saw them coming, or rather, felt the attackers coming, through the sickly yellow fog that drifted toward them across the lake.  Her people’s village at the edge of the lake was on the most desirable spot, where the rich Salin river poured into the lake, bringing fish and water game of all kinds.  They had successfully defended the village against assault by neighboring tribes for many years.  But lately the deadly fog of war had been used against them, something procured from the new dark magician in the south, no doubt.

They had been successful against all previous attacks.  But Bree saw that coming to an end.

This time they would lose everything.

As the village seer, she reported her sight to the elders.  They refused to believe her, giving orders for the village to prepare for battle.

There was much at stake, Bree knew.  She had also seen that the elders would not believe her, but she had reported her sight anyway.

She only took a few things with her in her pony-drawn sledge when she left.  She went toward the south.  She would find out more about this new magician for herself.

The Doll in the Suitcase

It was the princess’s time to journey.  Locked in a carriage of plain design, she hurtled along the muddy roads to the place of her destination.

No maidservants, absent a footman, with only a driver on top and a change of horses at the midpoint.  She could not be seen.

Only the prince, her intended spouse, had the gift of sight where she was concerned.  The change of horses made, the endpoint of her journey reached, she rushed up the staircase when the lock was opened, yet unseen but full of life.  The driver stabled the horses.

The princess met the prince in the highest room of the tallest parapet of the pale castle.  He was painting her portrait as she burst into the room.  As the portrait was finished, she became seen, and she was never unseen again.


a breath of fresh air by Caroline is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Creative Commons License
a breath of fresh air by Caroline is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

She sat in the chair by the wall, thinking of the artichoke she had prepared last night.  The fleshy leaves, spine-tipped, the soft concealed heart.  One by one they had peeled the leaves of the artichoke away, dipped them in hot butter, scraped away the flesh with their teeth, smiling, laughing, even, at the events of the day, hers at the art gallery on campus, his in the Dean’s office, the “foolery of academia,” as he called it.

But then he went home to his wife.

She sat, alone, by the shadowy wall, pink morning lighting the window box geraniums.

She kept only the heart.

Time in the Valiant Station Wagon

White Station Wagons, Valiant and Holden by JOHN LLOYD is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Creative Commons License
White Station Wagons, Valiant and Holden by JOHN LLOYD is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Christie’s dad always said he won the Plymouth Valiant station wagon in a lottery, but Christie knew better.  She’d seen him count out bills to the man in the used car lot, who’d handed him the keys to the car and then laughed as they drove away.  She’d seen her father lie before, so none of it was new to her.

The Price family spent plenty of time in that station wagon.  Christie and her younger brother Tom rode in the back seat with all the camping stuff, as their mom and dad took turns driving, from Oklahoma to Texas to Arizona and back to Louisiana, always in search of a job.  Christie’s mom said it was for construction jobs, but Christie overheard enough arguing in the rare late-night motel stays, when they weren’t camping, to know her dad’s work wasn’t construction.  It was gambling.  Poker tables, “I never do blackjack,” he’d say, as if trying to convince her mom poker was somehow honorable.  Christie could tell her mom wasn’t convinced; otherwise why would she keep saying those things about her dad getting construction jobs?

When Christie was in fourth grade, she finally got to stay most of a school year in the same town, in the same school.  It was hard being the new kid, but it beat having to start over mid-year in some new school, where everyone already knew everyone else.  At ten she had already been the new kid mid-year too many times.  So, on the afternoon in late April when her mom met Christie and her brother at school, Christie knew what was coming.  She felt that clenched lump in the pit of her stomach, the lump that said she and Tommy would be riding in the back of the wagon again on the way to another new city.

But when they got to the car she saw that it was packed with all their clothes, her brother’s toys, and her dolls and things.  Not with the camping stuff.

And not with her dad.

“You kids get in the car,” her mother said.

“Where are we going?” asked Christie.

Her mother opened the door.  “Get in the car, please,” she said.  She opened the driver’s door, took out the car keys, and put them in the ignition.

Christie and her brother got into the car.

Not another word was said until they were on the Interstate.  Then Christie said, “I don’t want to leave my school.”

“I know,” her mother said.  A little shiver went through Christie.  They were really going this time, going without her dad.

After a while on the highway, Christie’s mom said they were going back to Oklahoma, to stay with family “for a while.”  Christie had been born in Oklahoma.  She had cousins and aunts and uncles there.  Once every so often the Price family had gone back to visit, and Christie had played outdoors long summer nights, Kick the Can or Capture the Flag, with a whole army of cousins.  And after every visit they’d leave again in the white Plymouth Valiant, for some other place where she didn’t know a soul.

But now the Valiant was taking them back.  The clenched lump in Christie’s stomach started to ease.  It would be easier now, with no arguing between Christie’s mom and dad.  And it would be a little harder too, being the new kid in school again.

But maybe this time they would stay.


“Because so long divided from the sphere. / Restless it rolls and unsecure,” – Andrew Marvell, “On a Drop of Dew”

Just a drop.  She would have just one more drop of the clear liquid in the magician’s bag.  Surely he would not miss a single drop from the dragon-shaped vial he kept in the little side pouch of the red leather bag.

Merrialle waited until he was asleep and then she crept into his room, slipping close to the bed.  Her mistress, the innkeeper, had forbidden her to go near guests, except to bring their meals and to take away the empty trenchers after they were finished.  But she had copied the master key from Tamna’s apron pocket many weeks ago, when she had first arrived here, anticipating an opportunity such as this one.  A drop more of the magician’s elixir would do it.

And didn’t she deserve it?  At the show he put on last night before all the inn’s guests and most of the townspeople, the old man had persuaded her to come forward, and then he had made a fool of her with his words about her plainness and about the burden it was for any to set eyes on her.  Yes, she was no beauty.  But did that give him the right to humiliate her in front of everyone?  He was a magician, not a common housegirl like she.  But even a common housegirl deserved a bit of dignity, a bit of happiness.

With that one drop of the clear elixir she had changed.  She had become . . . if not beautiful, exceedingly more attractive.  She had seen it in the little mirror shard in her attic room last night, after the show was over and after Tamna had made her do all the kitchen dishes as usual.  Beauty now or no, you’ll still be doing those pots and pans before you turn in tonight, my girl, the innkeeper had said, laughing at her own joke.

One more drop would do it. To drink more than a drop was dangerous, and she knew it.  But if last night’s single drop improved her looks a little, then with another drop she would become a true beauty, and then, she might marry whom she chose, and if he were wealthy, even the better.

The magician’s bag was under the bed.  Quietly she ducked down and noiselessly felt for the side pouch from which she would lift the dragon vial.

Her fingers closed around the dragon shape of the vial, the pewter surface cool to the touch.  She only had to withdraw the vial from the pouch.

At the touch of the dragon, though, something in her brain changed.  Wait.  Steal from a magician?  This was not like her.  Something told her she was a person who did not steal, a person completely different from the housegirl she seemed to be.

At the touch of the dragon it all came back to her.  All in a rush.

She had been a beauty, once.  She had worn fine garments and she had read books.  She had been learned, once.  She had governed a vast realm of her own.

She released the vial and drew her hand back quickly.  What was this?  She was now nothing but a scullery maid.  But once she had been much more.

And this magician had something to do with it all.

Slowly Marialle backed away from the sleeping magician.  She drew her knife, the knife she had used just this afternoon to dress Tamna’s chickens for the evening meal.  She stole close again, and, lifting the knife to the sleeping man’s throat, she said, “Wake up, old man.  It’s time for some answers.  Lie to me, and your throat will be cut in an instant.”

“You wouldn’t want to kill your rescuer,” came the magician’s voice.

“Rescuer?” she growled.  “Do not deceive me!”

“Twas I pulled you out of the crowd, twas I who gave you that drop from the vial,” he pointed out.  “All to get you here out of the way so I could -”

“So that you could do away with me before the truth is known!  Hah!”  She tightened the blade against his throat.

“No, your majesty,” the magician said, in a dark whisper.  “To effect your rescue.  You have been missing these past five months.”

“Missing?”  Her mind whirled.  Should she trust him?  Should she believe his words?

“What choice do you have, majesty,” he asked, as if reading her mind.  “Yes, you have no reason to trust me.  But I think you will not wish to stay here, a scullery maid?”

She knew he was right.  “No.”

“Put the knife away.  I will not harm you.”

She hesitated.  “If you are lying-”

“I am not.  I swear it.”

Huh.  A magician with scruples.  Will there be another such wonder in the world?

She released him, but, wary still, went to the door and watched him carefully.  Still, she did not see the signs he made with his hands, and before she knew it, she was a small mouse, scurrying around on the filthy wooden floor of the magician’s room.

“Now then,” the magician said, scooping her up, “that’s better.”  His voice took on a cajoling tone as he held her firmly in his palm, level with his face, speaking to her.  “Please calm yourself, majesty.  This mouse form I have given you is only for ease of transport.  I would never be able to secret you from this place without a bit of subterfuge.”  He seemed to read the message in her mouse eyes, as he continued, “You are perfectly safe in this form.  There is a compartment in my bag specially designed for a form like yours.  And soon you will be . . . back in the palace.”

She tried to speak, but only mouse squeaks came from her mouth.  It was humiliating, a double humiliation, to be in the form of a mouse and to be unable to communicate in human language.

Still, there was nothing to be done.  And as he tucked her into the small compartment he had spoken of, in the base of his magician’s bag, along with some grain to eat, a small mouse-sized pouch of water and a mouse-bed of straw, she saw that she had no choice but to go along with him.  She could only hope that he would turn her back into her human form – her proper human form – at the end of their journey.

And in the meantime she would never have to wash dishes or prepare meals for Tamna and the inn’s guests again.

The Unfinished Gesture

Blank Moleskine Pages by Sembazuru is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Creative Commons License
Blank Moleskine Pages by Sembazuru is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

“When I came to my mother’s house /
the day after she had died /
it was already a museum of her /
unfinished gestures.” – George Bilgere, “Blank”

This post inspired by, and in homage to, George Bilgere’s poem.

My grandmother had left all her gestures piled up under the kitchen sink.  When we came to clean out her house after the funeral, we found them.  They sat in a neat pile, where she had last used them, in the old white wash tub that used to hold ice on barbeque days and snow on winter nights.

About this post:  We all inherit something from our families-