It’s Always the Eyes – A Short Story, Kind’ve
This is a short story, except nothing really happens in it, so I guess it’s not really a story. It’s something, anyway, whatever it is. I wrote it, so it’s not mine anymore, and reading it makes it yours. Sorry about that.
All I know is I must be a real joy to work with.
It’s Always the Eyes
I hate my mask.
I wonder sometimes if Batman looks at his mask and hates it the way I do my own. Spider-Man has to, especially since his covers his whole face and must be a bitch to breathe through. I wear a scarf or ski mask over my nose and the thing becomes a used Kleenex in 5 seconds, only it’s stuck to my face and getting wetter and grosser by the second. Of course, they wear their masks so Aunt May doesn’t get thrown off a bridge, to save their Loved Ones from the trouble they give to the bad guys. Plus, they aren’t real. Superheroes, I mean.
I’m not a superhero. Nor am I a supervillian, which is kind of a pity really because I know if I had super powers I’d be the bad guy. Doing good deeds might be great for karma and fuzzy feelings, but neither one of those things are good at paying for the mortgage or food or an oil change. I’d knock over armored cars. I guess that says something about me. At least I can admit it.
Anyway, about my mask.
Like I said, I hate it. It’s old. The surface is cracked and worn, especially around the eyes and mouth, and time has made it discolored in places, especially under the eyes. It’s ugly as shit. The teeth are yellowing and cracked and crowded in on each other so they sit at weird angles. I hate seeing it, which is why I always put it on in the dark. I hate looking at it, hate how it feels and looks and clings to my face like an egg-laying alien. I hate seeing it on in the mirror so I try to avoid shiny surfaces, but sometimes when the elevator doors close I can see it sitting there. At least the elevator doors make my eyes look like black spots in the mask, which is better. The mask is ugly. I hate it.
It’s my face, of course, because it has to be. It fits well enough, but it’s too tight and heavy and sometimes it slips, which is never good. Besides its ugliness there are a couple of other problems with it, but nothing can really be done about them. One is the eyes. The other thing is the mouth is too tight, always too tight, but it has to be to make that rictus grin that stretches when people pass and say hello and the mask needs to be able to shape the mouth and make the right responses come out, because that’s a big part of its job. The mouth is tight for another reason, too, the best one really.
It keeps the screams from coming out.
The eyes, though, the eyes are the tough part. The mask doesn’t have them. I have to be able to see out of it so it’s my eyes that are visible, the real ones, no fake veneer or covering or anything. That’s the problem. I can’t look too close at people, not in their eyes, because then they see what’s in there and I see what’s in theirs and that’s not good. The eyes don’t hide what’s beneath. Spider-Man has the right idea in that regard. Shiny reflective eyes in the mask.
A lot of us have masks, of course. The older lady with the iron-grey hair and the fashionable clothes that don’t fit quite right has her mask on every day, one brushed with paints and creams and oils and it wears a pleasant smile and crinkles in nice ways, but the eyes are too liquid with the sheen of a thousand unshed tears. The manager has one, with its wide grin and look of caring jovial concern, but those eyes are the eyes of a beast, stalking and surveying and looking for the weak to drag down and kill because that’s how she got to where she is and she’s hungry, so hungry, for more and more and more. The guy selling me coffee has one and I can see that his eyes are blind because they are somewhere else, roving around in the middle distance where he sees the things that he wishes were but aren’t and will never be. Some eyes are dead and cold and pale like week-old floating corpses swelled with water and waste. Some people wear sunglasses all the time, even inside, but that’s just a dead giveaway that their mask is on and they’re afraid of what you might see, their weakness and self-hatred and fear.
It’s always the eyes. They always give away the game.
I look at my mask sometimes and I want to tear it off, sink my fingernails into it and drag furrows in it and rip it away, flay it, destroy it, lay bare the face underneath. I want to but I know I don’t dare. I don’t want to know what’s underneath. I can already see my eyes, and they’re bad enough. I don’t look close into them because I’ve seen what’s there and it’s why I don’t look too close in the mirror or dare touch the mask, because whatever is underneath that thing is worse, no matter how ugly that mask may be. It’s why I duck my head or make my eyes skitter away quickly when other people look at them because then they might see too.
That would be bad.
Because I know what’s there. They’d see the man, naked and on his knees , rusty iron shackles around his wrists and ankles attached to chains sunk deep into the dry cracked earth around him, the metal chafing and rubbing his skin so raw that blood flows down into his clenched fists as he fights and strains against them because there’s only one key to the lock and it’s right there, right there in the lock, but he can’t see it because his face is pointed at the sky and he’s screaming a never-ending scream but there’s no sound because his vocal cords have snapped under the strain so long ago but he’s screaming anyway, screaming into the indifferent sky and he knows the key is there but he doesn’t touch it because he doesn’t know what would happen without the chains and what he would do unshackled and if the chains are holding him down or keeping him safe from the himself or the world or keeping the world safe from him but in the end it doesn’t matter because he stays there chained and straining and screaming behind my eyes.
Best not to meet their eyes.
I hate the mask, but I put it on, in the dark, because what’s underneath is so much worse.