Saturday, January 17, 2009

The mask

Twinkling lights in charmed profusion
adorn your columned portico;
your valet takes my key.
More lights beckon
from the two-story tree
beyond the vestibule;
your butler helps me from my coat.

Adjusting the mask I wade into the fray,
Carefully mouth appropriate phrases --
Yes, shopping is so trying this time of year;
No, I didn’t make it to the Messiah;
I’m not sure yet where I’m spending Christmas;
So many invitations, you know --

I smile and nod,
Gracious and elegant,
Sampling hors d’oeuvres
juggling a glass of Dom Perignon,
(’99; such a good year);

Smiling and nodding
Til I think the mask
Might permanently fuse onto my face.

(Too bad they don’t give academy awards
For best performance at an office party…
One of the pretty young fillies –
We still have them, despite the bailout –
would win:
They always do.)

Spilling over with holiday spirits,
your personal assistant
invites me to a movie,
and though I decline,
she drunkenly persists:

“Why not?”
I’m a little tired.

“The night is young!”
But I have an early day tomorrow;
So much work to do.

“Don’t be a spoilsport!”
Given the current economy,
It would probably be wisest for me
To save my money...

And over the edge she goes:
“Excuse me?
When was money ever a problem for women like you?

“I know you,” she continues:
“You live in a house just like this one;
You got it in the divorce
From your ex-husband, who makes six figures easy
And sends you alimony like clockwork
To keep you from spilling all his secrets.

“You’re just too good to associate with the likes of me, aren’t you?”
she says, and storms away,
a trail of rum-scented venom in her wake.


I retrieve my jaw from my chest,
Hand my champagne to the nearest maid,
Tuck a cookie in my pocket;
bid my host adieu.


Climbing the stairs to my third-floor flat
-- those last few steps grow steeper every year --
I’m grateful there is no-one here
to comment on my tears.

Fumbling for the key
I step into the cold:
no tiny lights to brighten up this gloom;
No beckoning tree.

My cookie looks lost
In the empty fridge.

Plugging in the electric kettle,
I step out of my champagne velvet skirt
And wrap my Christian Louboutins,
return them to their box.

Shrugging into father’s flannel robe,
and mother’s ancient slippers,
I wrap their quilt around my shoulders,
and stretch out on the shabby couch that doubles as my bed;
trace again the water stains
That mark the ceiling overhead.

All this time,
I think,
closing my eyes, flexing my tired feet,
All this time I worried
They’d see right through my mask.

And now I see
It’s sadder when they don’t.

Alone, untended in the kitchen,
The teapot squeals in morbid defiance
Till all the water burns away.

* * *

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