Amid the rows of masks
remnants lie scattered—
torn pages, broken bindings, smudged ink
half-remembered tales and half-forgotten names.
Lilith, Lot’s wife, Iphigenia, Cinderella, Rose Red
the ones they’ve forgotten and the ones they never knew
we who can now speak only
through these masks of bone and stone
masks that fuse to the skin beneath
and then are we who we were?
Recent arrivals touch the masks with distaste
don them with reluctance
and tear them off once each conversation concludes
—tearing bits of skin as well, marking the mask with blood.
Viciously they insist I will not change
I will not I will not I am who I am
I will not let them break my legs to fit me into their box.
They scream, and the walls shake with it
listen to me, they say
listen to me
listen to me, we older ones whisper
listen to me.
Footbinding cripples at first, but then it frees you
Boxes are infinite once you are inside
It is when the mask and skin fuse that you learn the sideways shift
Then you can assume all forms
and all the ways they tell the story can be true at once.
The frock-coated man with the brass-bound trunk argues,
brandishing the text that contains his truth.
I am here. Within these pages, in these words. Maybe no one knows who you once were,
foolish woman, but I can prove this is the truth of me.
It’s not so simple
I tell him, though he does not want to hear—
harder for him, of course
harder for men with their man-power
bound by words, captured in tomes—
hard for him to grasp what power can be taken sideways after the feet are broken and the skin is fused.
I am changeable, flitting on the wind
head turned slightly, free to whisper
the truth that is still mine to tell.
No, he says, not shouting, not screaming
in frustration that shreds the walls
speaking with certainty only—no, he says, no, not so
you only tell them what they wish to hear.
We face each other over his trunk
the one that chains him, brass bindings becoming fetters
which he accepts with dignity
—willingly imprisoned, waiting to be rescued
When someone thinks to come for him,
he will be here
intact, unwavering, unyielding. Whole.
It is too late to rescue me.
My wholeness long ago became fragments
and then the fragments, dust
but I dissolve into wind and whisper around him
waft through the links of his chains
part and parcel of the air
and the fragments that remain of me tell a story still.
Heather Albano’s short fiction and poetry has appeared in Aoife’s Kiss, The Gloaming, Spectra Magazine, the anthology More Scary Kisses, and others. Her first novel, Timepiece (a steampunk time travel adventure about a girl, a pocket watch, Frankenstein’s monster, the Battle of Waterloo, and giant clockwork robots taking over London) is available for download from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords. When not writing traditional forms of fiction, Heather works for Choice of Games. She attended the Clarion Writers’ Workshop in 2009 and joined the Cambridge Science Fiction Workshop in 2012. Check out her website at www.heatheralbano.com.