by Nina Kiriki Hoffman
I love October. That's when I can wear the mask and people ask the right kinds of questions, like who made it, where'd I get it, and what it's supposed to be.
The answers vary according to my mood. I never tell the truth--an ancestor made it, it's come down from mother to oldest daughter for more than two hundred years, and it's not what it looks like but what it does that matters.
If I wear the mask other times of year, people ask, "What is that ugly thing, and why is it on your face?" I've come up with answers: "It's better than my real face," or "I'm having a bad face day," or, "It's a face-hugging alien and it's sucking out my brain. Back off before it jumps to your face." If I say things like that, though, folks think I'm peculiar.
The inside of the mask is hairy, like the outside of a coconut shell. It smells like the beach--salt air, tanning oil. Once I put it on, I don't notice the rough surface, and the smell is faint. Green crystal ovals cover the eyeholes. They're what I love about the mask. When I look through the eyes, the world's transformed. Intangible beings drift here and there. Plants have extra shadows made of light. Animals trail second selves.
And people? People wear their first faces over their second ones, the faces they really are, not the faces they want you to see.
Many of my relationships change in October, altered by what I see.
I wore the mask to the office Halloween party. The other secretary, Helen, who was dressed as a sexy red devil woman, said, "Penny, again? This is the third year in a row you've worn the same thing! Penny Dreadful! I hate looking at that awful, twisted face! Why don't you get a new costume?" Her first face was pinched, narrow-eyed and sharp-nosed, unlike her gentle, rounded second face, but it wore an extra-wide smile when she thought something was funny. I liked Helen.
I modeled my new tiger-and-jungle tattoo sleeves, and the giant bejeweled spider ring. "These are new."
"Steps in the right direction," said Helen, "but still with the same black wispy witch costume? And that horrible matted-hair wig?" She wrinkled her nose.
I shrugged. "Where's the boss?"
She pointed a red-claw-tipped finger. "Came as a demon this year, so it's like every day in the office. He brought a new girlfriend."