If the words you say to others were written on your skin for all to see, how would you feel? Would you change your words? If every word you uttered, and every action you took was a prayer to your Deity outside your places of worship, would you notice how you choose to treat and use others?
…Or would you simply wear bigger masks?
“Matthew Jacob, put on your mask, it’s time for EveningRites.”
His mother’s voice was sharp, and could cut through absolutely anything.
Where had he left that mask? They each had a collection, of course, but he had one particular favorite, at the moment. It was gold, and it had a faint, superior smile. It made him feel so far away from people and their feelings when he wore it.
He gritted his teeth, his stomach tightening in alarm, fear, anger, excitement? He wasn’t sure, but mother’s voice broke through his skin and caused him to feel … unsafe.
She was standing in the foyer, mask already firmly in place. His mother’s mask was beautiful, in his eyes. Placid smile, glossy pink lips, like a porcelain doll. One day, I’ll marry the girl who wears a mask just like that, he thought dreamily to himself, looking up, up, up at his mother’s bright hair. The curve of her smooth, unruffled, always-softly-smiling mask shifted toward him, and the icy blue eyes behind the mask narrowed, but before she could whiplash that voice again, he called out, “here it is, Mother, I am ready,”
Slightly out of breath, prickles of sweat starting under his arms, he slipped the mask over his forehead, and muttered, “Sarah must have been borrowing it again,” as his mother smoothed his hair down. He shuddered as her long fingernails combed his scalp. Sarah had never, to his knowledge, actually borrowed any of his masks. But she was a dreamy child, and a wonderful built-in shield. She was too young to go to EveningRites, so goodness knows where she was – probably had her nose buried in a book, again.
He had figured out quite early in life that he could dodge aside and throw Sarah’s name in when he had done something, and sometimes Sarah would get in trouble. That made his insides shiver in – joy? Fear? A hidden feeling he couldn’t name.
When Sarah was born, he hated her. He hated all the attention that laughing, crying, rosy little face took away from him. Babies didn’t wear masks, so they always drew attention with their shockingly bare faces. He remembered the emotions flowing across her face like water, and shuddered.
So this was just paying back a debt, he thought – she took the good love and attention then; she could be given attention for free, now. His mask shifted slightly as he smiled behind it. If he had only known, his face took on exactly the same look as the gilded plaster mask he wore.
Everyone in Roma heights was rich. Or at least, that’s how it had to appear on the Holy Days, regardless of how it was really, in the evenings when they’d go home, close their doors to the outside world, and hang up the day’s masks to be cleaned.
It was an act of respect to wear the masks to the places of worship. He’d rarely seen someone’s bare face- not even in his home.
He came from one of the most prominent Roma heights families – or so his mother proclaimed in the dinner speech, every night around the table, when they had changed into their half-masks so they could eat. They had to set an example, and stand up in front so that other families could have a Way to aspire to. Feeling looked up to, feeling like others were watching him and admiring him, was one of Matthew Jacob’s favorite things.
The preacher’s mask tonight was a beatific smile. Matthew’s shoulders relaxed the usual tension they held when he walked in the large arched doorways of the house of worship. Tonight would not be a punishment night. Thank goodness. Tonight would be Greatness night: his favorite.
All around him, masks nodded to masks. Eyes glanced up and down, narrowing in judgment of their neighbor’s clothing, demeanor, anything else they could quickly gather up for gossip around their dinner tables, and then settled into their seats with creaking of wood and rustling of papers.
“We are the Ones, and we are Great,”
The preacher began. A pleased sigh rippled through the congregation.
“We are all so loving.”
“Mmmhmm,” he heard a murmur beside him, and he turned. There was a mask similar to his mother’s, only it seemed to be worn by a young girl. Maybe about his age. Lovely yellow, yellow hair. He turned to face forward again, and nodded his head when the preacher said,
“We are just so very blessed.”
“We are blessed, so blessed,” they all repeated, smug smiles settling in behind their masks.
“It is said, we must never judge another, and we adhere to that,” he went on, his rich, persuasive tone filling every corner of the high-ceilinged room.
Matthew’s eyes settled on the beautiful colors of the stained glass, as he murmured along, “we never do judge. How kind we are.”
“We tell the truth.” Matthew nodded, the warmth of feeling good and Holy about himself blooming in his chest. Ah, so good.
“We love others.” Yes, he loved others. Certainly he did. If others had pale skin. If others were rich.
“We keep our word.” He gritted his teeth, but then told himself that he did keep his word, when other people deserved it.
“We are Holy, chosen, loved, blessed”. Yes, yes yes.
“We are forgiven.”
There, that was what he’d been waiting for. He was forgiven, he was absolved. He didn’t bear the responsibility. He let Sarah, and Alicia, and all the bewildered, hurt faces, slide out of his consciousness and become Sky Daddy’s responsibility to carry.
Oh. His life was so good. SkyLord was so infinitely good to him.
All who were privileged to sit in this room were so fortunate. They belonged here. They, and only they, were absolved, cleansed, pure.
Of course they didn’t judge, but the people outside were not good enough for this.
They turned to each other after the service was over and bowed their heads slightly, smiling behind their masks, purified again for another week.
to be continued, maybe (unless I get tired of this tedious, blah world…)