“Do you know what I like best about myself?” she asked cheerfully with her back turned to me, cramming the remains of a third toddler up under her mask and down her gullet, slurping its little leg down like a wet spaghetti noodle, “It’s how I don’t eat children.”
She giggled as she practically skipped over to me, her hulking 9’11” frame covered in coarse black fur silhouetted against the single orange, dim lightbulb in our apartment, like the stuff of nightmares. She plopped lackidasically onto the couch beside me, which rattled and shook the floor as though we were going to go crashing through it. “You know what else I like best about me?” she asked, her smile beaming through her words, “is how not-a-monster I am.”
I rolled my eyes, turning away from her, burying my face into the daily paper, and pretended to be concentrating. “You sure do like yourself a lot,” is all I replied.
She giggled again, and stroked my arm gentley– a practised maneuver which resulted in not only not scratching me with her nine inch claws, but it was even soft and endearing. She pressed her mask-covered face up to mine and said, “Kiss me.” The words themselves may have sounded like a command, but the lack of conviction in her voice sounded so much more like a beg.
“Ugh!” I replied, shoving her fake face away from mine and tossing down my paper in disgust. “No thank you!”
She sat up on the couch and tilted her head at me, her mask now slid askew across her face– a grotesque mockery of what once was someone else’s face, but was pretty and had been carved off cleanly and fitted with some sort of semi-permanent rubber canvas which stretched neatly over her head. I have no idea how old that face was, but she maintained it immaculately. It looked nearly as new as the day she got it. Even still, I hated it.
“What’s wrong?” she probed, her voice dripping with empathy.
“Alright, enough! I’ve had enough of it, already!” I shouted, throwing my hands up in frustration. “Would you please drop the act, already?! I seriously can’t take it anymore!”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she replied with an air of masterfully-practised quizzicality. “I just want to know what’s wrong so I can be there for you, and help you get through it. That’s all . . .” she said, now taking on a tone of hurt, attempting to inflict guilt.
“That! That, right there!” I said, pointing straight at her mask, which was now contorted into some melodramatic semblance of confused despondence.
“You know,” I continued, “I understand you have to put on the mask to get through the world. People can’t handle the real you– I understand that, because you’re not the only one who feels like they have to hide. The difference between you and I is, I keep my monster caged and chained up, but yours is out running amok all the time, just pretending like she’s regular people! If you have to do that out in the world to get by– by all means: do so! I wouldn’t try to stop you! But you say you love me, and I know you want me to love you, and it’s really hard to do that when you’re wearing that damned fake mask with me all the time! You think I can’t tell? You think you’ve created some sort of ideal persona with me that you can just coast on forever, because you think I accept it for being so great?! Well guess what, honey: YOU’RE A MONSTER! I know you’re a monster, because I’M A MONSTER TOO!
When I have to deal with that stupid fake face all the time, it just makes me angrier and angrier, and my monster’s cage starts to burst at the seams as he tries to get out. Another difference between you and I: your monster is a LOT nicer than mine. Sure, sometimes mine breaks free of the cage, but I never let him off the chain, because if he got truly free, I can never come back. Do you understand that? If my monster gets loose, there is no coming back for me. Even if I could come back, I wouldn’t want to once he’s had the reigns. People don’t get to do those kinds of things and then just slip back into society like nothing happened. If I managed to come back, the most ethical thing I could possibly do at that point would be to kill myself. That’s my monster, so I can’t possibly judge yours! So do us both a favour: take off that ridiculous mask when it’s just us. Stop pretending to be something you’re not.”
She stood there staring at me for several long moments, took a deep breath and sighed, “Okay…”
“Okay!” I exclaimed with relief, expecting that she meant to acquiesce. I was mistaken.
“… so I understand why you would think that–” she began, but I cut her off, unable to be bothered to listen to yet another stream of bullshit.
“–No.” I stated flatly, “I told you, I’m done with this. Take off the mask. That’s enough.”
She began to sniffle. Her sniffles lead to tears, and her tears lead to full-on bawling and moaning. She started justifying her behaviour with some story about her childhood. I sighed and wrapped my arms around her, hugging her tight so she would know that I didn’t care that she was a monster– and as I tried to impress upon her– I just wanted her to be real with me.
She continued her story, but it was practically unintelligible through the practised sobs and over-the-top stuttering through broken breaths, repeating too many of the same syllables in an attempt to seem like she was too overwhelmed with sadness to properly tell her story. My eyelids drifted to that half-closed place peoples’ eyes reach when they know they’re being fed a stream of nonsense, and they refuse to open their mouths and swallow it.
After a few minutes of this, finally I said, “Okay, stop it. Just stop. This is exactly what I’m talking about.”
She slipped from my grasp and slammed to the floor on her ass, more like a spoilt child than a person (or monster) in gloomy desperation. Wiping the tears from her face, her tone finally came more solid, stronger, almost normal— except that her words were still nothing more than a feeble attempt to justify the melodrama.
I walked out of the room. She followed.
“You just don’t understand,” she pleaded. In my defeated frustration, I could do nothing but shake my head.
“No, I don’t think you understand,” I insisted. “I’m trying to tell you that I love you for who you really are, but when you’re barely ever that person, it’s pretty hard to say. Can’t you just be real with me? Can’t you just drop the mask and relax? I’d rather have the whole monster, than this– whatever this is– in my presence each day. You wanna go eat some babies together? That’s cool! Let’s just not pretend that that’s not what we’re doing while we’re doing it, okay? Would you do that with me?”
She sniffled a little, and nodded at me. I reached for her hand, and she took mine, claws first, easily shredding the end of my hand off, which burst into a stream of blood all over her face and our floor. I retched in agony and at the sight of my own gore– and just then the doorbell rang.
Great, I thought, Now there’s company.