Joe Halstead

Masks

It’s the Fourth of July. I still have my Wayfarer sunglasses on even though I just woke up. Shanti Ghaleb (fellow Dramatic Writing student) is in bed next to me, naked, her nostrils stained blue from the Adderall we snorted last night, and I’m living in New York, but it isn’t like I’d imagined it’d be because I hate my fucking face, because my friends and family are back home forgetting me, and because I’m doing everything I can to kill myself except actually killing myself since I’m too much of a chickenshit.

I get out of bed, pull on my boxers and walk into the kitchen looking for an Advil or an Ibuprofen. I take a shower and then stare at myself in the mirror. I keep thinking my nose is too big and my skin is too bad and my teeth are too crooked for New York, and that I might drop out of NYU in the fall, not because I can’t find the right financial aid but because I’m too ugly. I walk back into the bedroom. Shanti is awake now, just sitting there on a pile of pillows watching some music video on her MacBook and I don’t know what to say. I’m just happy she’s still here, that she hasn’t left.

She mentions something about a fireworks party at an apartment in Chelsea, way up Chelsea, and so, tonight, we walk up to Chelsea, and Shanti knows the girl who lives in the apartment, so we get in, no problem. Jay Z is blasting, polyethnic twentysomethings are dancing, a video of an off-balance washing machine is playing nonstop on a projector screen and I’m standing in the corner, drinking an expired Four Loko, wishing desperately for a Xanax, because I think everyone’s looking at me with disgusted expressions and it touches something in me, defines in some way who I am and what I need to become.

I find Shanti sitting on the couch between a girl named Ajdani and a pet piglet I’ve never seen before wearing a small diamond tiara and I ask if I can borrow her makeup.

“Yeah, sure,” Shanti says. “I understand. It’s whatever you want.”

I take the makeup and walk to the bathroom and then open the YouTube app on my iPhone and search for “how to make a mask out of makeup.” I apply Shanti’s darker shade of foundation to the sides of my nose and then contour it with her bronzer. I use her tweezers to pluck my eyebrows, making them slimmer and sharper. After another forty-five minutes, I watch how-to videos on how to mimic and assume the form of pack animals.

I look in the mirror. I don’t recognize myself. And I know that masks aren’t reality. I know they’re a stand-in for something else, something deeper. But still, I, I feel new.

I wipe my lips with a napkin and then open the door of the bathroom and walk out to the patio. Shanti’s not there. The fireworks explode in the sky. One girl, maybe, says, “ohhhhh.” A tan guy, shirtless, takes out a baggie of prescription pills, offers me one.

“What do you do?” he asks.

The sky gets dark again. “Go to school.”

“Yeah? Where do you go to school?”

“I go to school at—” I pause. “Um, actually, now, I’m nothing.”

The guy thinks about this for a minute. “I’m gonna take a shower, then get ready, OK?” he finally says. “Ajdani’s ‘supposedly’ having an orgy tonight.”

“Yeah? Cool.”

He walks away into the apartment. I take the pill and then I’m lying on someone’s bed, confused, because it’s real fucking dream stuff, and I see Shanti and the guy standing at the end of the bed, and he has his dick out, full-erect, purple helmet and all. And, beneath them, a dark clump of people, everyone naked, and it’s hot and I’m concentrating on staring at faces in the clump, squinting to make their faces come into focus, but it’s too dark. And then I’m naked and thrusting in slow motion to Jay Z, all those faces begging me to fuck them, to just fuck them, but I can’t hear them even though there’s no music now, or maybe just the hum of traffic in the distance, and then all those faces are suddenly wearing my old face.

And then I can’t remember my own name.

 

Joe Halstead is a writer living and working in West Virginia. His work has appeared in Five Quarterly, Sundog Lit, The Stockholm Review, Sheepshead Review, and others. He just finished a novel. Find him @joehalstead.