“Why do you always wear that mask?”
It’s a question I get less regularly now, but it’s to be expected when you wear a mask every day. I remember when the idea occurred to me because it was my first day at yet another new school. My father works as a dentist and was sent to Greenvale to replace his boss’ nephew who had to leave the town for medical reasons, or so the story goes. It was a fifteen and half hour drive from my old town to Greenvale, but the three of us combined our creative energy, inventing new ways for us to pass the time and, before we knew it, we were pulling up into the paved driveway of our new two-storey house. Once Dad had turned off the car, I remember undoing my seatbelt and bringing my head forward so that it was in between my mum and dad. We sat in silence for a good thirty seconds, staring through the windshield at the enormity of the house. The other houses that had been provided to us were nowhere near as gigantic, or as isolated, as this one and I think our brains were trying to wrestle with the reality that this is where the three of us would now be living. This was the moment when I started to feel like one of those people who pretended to be rich when really, they’re up to their eyeballs in debt.
A lot of people came to visit us over the next few days. Some of them brought freshly baked cakes and muffins while others gifted us flowers or trinkets to place around our house. A few of them even offered to help us unpack, but there was no way that Dad was going to accept help from anyone, especially someone he had only just met. Every time there was a knock at the door, I would stop unpacking, sneak out from my bedroom and tip-toe along the carpet in my rainbow coloured socks towards the thicker bannisters at the top of the stairs. This gave me the perfect hiding place while still being able to get a decent view of the interactions happening below on the ground level. Every visitor was decorated with an obscene amount of jewellery and wearing clothes that I had only ever seen in catalogues. They also used their hands a lot while speaking and habitually smiled whenever they were silent, reminding me of the robots I had read about in my comics that were being trained to act like humans. Any time Mum offered me a piece of cake or a muffin, I politely declined, saying that I still felt a little carsick. I kept waiting for her to interrogate me further about why the sickness was lasting for so long but she never did.
The night before I started at my new school, I forced myself to ignore the ghastly sound of the branches from the large oak tree scratching against my bedroom window as the breeze wrenched them up and down. I was honest with Dad when he asked me how I had slept after my first night in the house, so he came into the room and leaned out of the window, breaking off the branches he was able to reach. He told me I would have to be patient and wait for things to calm down before he would have time to saw off the remaining branches, which I knew meant it was never going to happen. Instead, I closed my eyes and pushed my thoughts towards the few humorous moments we’d shared as a family over the past couple of days while setting up our new house. It’s funny how even in the memories I couldn’t ignore the feeling that we were all pretending that everything was going to be O.K. The sense that things were unsettled stayed with me throughout my dreams and into the morning, dominating my thoughts as I struggled to get out of my bed. The mask my grandma had given me for my fifth birthday stared back at me from my dresser. I had unpacked it and left it out to remind me of her and of all the good times we had shared dancing around our small living room to her wonderfully melodic records. There were no negative feelings attached to the mask, so I picked it up and pulled it over my face.
That was three years ago and, now, I’m simply known as the girl in the mask. It’s something everyone, including myself, has had to get used to, because, every time I take it off, the feeling that things aren’t as they should be gets stronger and stronger and I don’t want to find out what happens if that feeling comes to overtake me.
My name is Gregg Savage and, every night when the house is quiet, I write and publish a free children’s story at dailytales.com.au for you to share and enjoy.
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