Olivia Zubrowski: The Mask

       That house had a large family, five children and two parents. The downstairs was neat and hardly ever occupied. There were many darkly painted rooms upstairs, mess trailing between them: clothes, pens, hairpins, shoes, towels, books. Many small, ornate side tables cluttered the hallway, each with an unusual altar, like the one next to the youngest girl’s room: geodes surrounded by patterns in paper clips and a small picture of someone’s great-grandmother. There were many skylights, though the light never seemed to make it into the house. The gloom stayed, like a sixth person.
            One day, the oldest child–a son ten years older than the oldest of the five sisters–died. No one knew about him until they saw his obituary in the paper. The night they were told of his death, two of the sisters went out into the high spumes of grass behind the house. The sky was the white of mid-afternoon: the moon and sun were both risen and three-quarters full. No one was out, there were no birds or crickets. There were high cirrus clouds spreading like intercostal muscles across the sky.
       The two sisters made their way to the back of the yard where there was a grove of tall trees. Within, a large metal oval was staked in the grass. The body was painted a thick white, an eyeless mask, pebbled like cold skin. Glistening arms reached out of the head, six sharpened insect legs that shimmied in quicksilver whenever the wind brushed by. White roots twined around the dark anchor thrust into the clay earth. These blank belly-eyes had haunted the house their entire lives.
        When they went back inside, they began to forget the brother’s name. The parents were busy, running after the two youngest children. The middle children went to school; the oldest sister worked. Small artifacts began to disappear: a broken plastic comb, dead batteries, eggshells, used tissues, the vertebrae from torn out pages of notebook paper. No one knew who was taking them, no one could remember to remember.
        In the winter, the oldest sister was running late for work. Her fingers slipped repeatedly on the last hook of her bootlaces. The knot slumped. Was it Jesse? John? Ja-? she said to herself, as she clattered down the stairs. Her hands swept over her face in the hallway mirror before she saw her reflection. She snatched at the coat rack and ran out the front door, the mirror catching the clawing angles of her elbows as she slid on her coat. A strange blue snake swallowing a hand above the evening snow.

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