The Mask of the Blue Belle
I was eight. The Christmas lights in October stood out to me as odd. Mom had spent hours decorating our back patio into a masquerade paradise, adorning every cranny with white lights. On our brand new patio table, she layered wine glasses into a small tower. Champagne sat tauntingly on the table before me, eye height. The sparkling gold hue taunted me.
“Mom?” I asked.
“Why are we wearing masks?”
She bent down and placed her arms around me.
“Sometimes people like to wear masks to make them feel like someone else. It’s fun.” She smiled, took her mask, and placed it on her face.
“How do I look?”
“Like someone else.” I smiled.
She laughed her little laugh and stood in front of the mirror smiling at her reflection.
I went back to my room and stood in front of my princess mirror and mimicked my mom’s actions. I put on my Barbie lip gloss, my blue dress, and my sparkly mask. I looked at myself in the mirror and tried to smile, but I was instantly annoyed by how the mask limited my vision. It was itchy too. I crinkled my nose, pushed it on my head, and wore it like a headband.
I then sat quietly, curled up on my dad’s recliner in the living room until the guests arrived. Each were dressed in elegant attire, with their matching masks. Mom seemed to know who all of them were, but I was completely confused. I only knew who people were based off the children they brought. A few of the guests had kids, of which I had grown to know and despise, with the exception of Tiffany. She was my best friend. As soon as she walked in, I knew that the night was going to be a fun one. Tiffany had a pink mask on her face and lace gloves on her hands. She looked like a princess.
Once all the guests arrived, Mom and Dad made a toast, and the music started. The kids were told we could play in the garden or inside.
“Put your mask on, Ally,” Mom said as she slid it down my face. “Remember, tonight is for fun. Pretend like you’re someone else.”
“Who should I be?” I asked curiously.
She smiled. “Be a princess like Tiffany.”
Darwin and the other boys ran loudly about the yard playing hide-and-go-seek, and after a while of playing with our dolls, Tiffany and I decided to join them.
“We want to play,” Tiffany said as we approached the boys.
“No girls allowed!” they screamed in unison.
“That’s no fair!” She pouted. I watched her angry, hurt face. Then I thought of something.
“We aren’t girls!” I screamed back to them.
“Then what are you?”
“We’re princesses,” I sassed.
They laughed. That was not the response I had expected. Why were they laughing?
Finally, Darwin said, “Tiffany may be a princess, but you aren’t!” They giggled again.
“Why aren’t I?” I asked innocently.
“Princesses are pretty.”
Darwin and the boys laughed incessantly. Tiffany glanced at me with sad eyes. I felt my face burn with anger and tears, and I knew of nothing else to do but run. So I did. I ran out of the yard and into the woods right behind my house. There was a giant oak spreading its huge arms out in the night, and that’s where I fell to my knees. Tears poured down my cheeks. I ripped the stupid blue mask off my face and threw it in the dirt. I curled at the base of the tree and cried for what seemed like forever. I felt my eyes grow tired and droopy. That’s when I saw her.
It was suddenly day.
She was sitting and reading in a hammock way up the oak tree. She wore a long, simple white dress. Her dark hair hung in a loose braid over her shoulder. She was pretty in a natural sort-of-way.
There was a small, round house perched at the edge of one of the oak’s big arms, almost like a fruit would hang from a fruit tree. I noticed the tree looked different in the daylight. Dead vines crept from its base up to where she was. Each vine felt coarse and prickly as I ran my fingers across it. The vines were broken in parts and looked like snakes crawling up.
Apparently, she could not see me, which was good since I didn’t know how to approach her. She hummed a sweet song, and I saw her smile when she saw a cardinal on an adjoining limb.
I watched her for a while until I heard something in the distance. Several loud, brutish voices quieted her song. She heard them too. She let out a long rope ladder that reached to the ground. She climbed down and waited at the base of the tree for the guests.
She was now so close I could almost touch her, but something told me not to do or say anything. I noticed a long necklace with a fish emblem hanging from her neck, and now that she was closer, I could tell she was probably twenty something.
“Can I help you?” she asked as the people approached.
There were two ladies and one man. He was dressed in a black but rather casual suit and the ladies were dressed in Sunday clothes, all were about her age. They looked like people from my mom’s party because all of them were wearing masquerade masks. The blonde lady wore a black one that had blue tears down one eye. The other lady wore an orange one with ombre feathers that reminded me of flames. The man wore a simple gray mask with nothing else on it.
“Yes… Um…We were wondering if you could help us find Richman?” They looked at her with a strange expression.
“You follow the road you were on for another half mile, and you’ll be there,” she answered.
“Thanks.” They turned to leave but hesitated.
“We’ve heard about you,” the one with the orange mask said. “You’re the girl who never wears a mask.”
“That’s right,” the tree lady said boldly.
“Why?” the man asked curiously.
“Because I have nothing to hide.”
“We don’t have anything to hide either. These are who we are,” the one with the crying mask said.
“Well, this is who I am,” my girl answered softly.
“You must just want to be different. Do you want to be rejected by society? Why would you choose not to wear a mask like everyone else? They represent who we are as people,” the man pressed for an answer.
“I don’t care that I’m different. A mask only represents who you want to be as people, not who you are. This is me.”
They left murmuring something about how strange she was.
I spent all day watching her doing everything from brushing her hair to feeding the birds. Her life seemed peaceful. She was a princess, I finally decided.
At dusk, we heard a horse coming towards the tree house. I sat, huddled up against the tree, while she sat at the window of her house looking out.
A boy came riding up on a dark brown horse with large white spots. He wore a silver mask with white trimming, but the rest of his face appeared handsome enough. Princess looked at him through her tree house window.
“Sarah, won’t you come down to speak to me?” he yelled up to her.
“I’ve said everything I have to say to you, James.”
She turned her back on the window, and I lost sight of her.
“I’ve come to tell you I’m ready to take the mask off. I don’t care if we have to live in exile. I don’t care if everyone persecutes us. I want to marry you, Sarah.”
She slung the rope ladder down, and climbed down hurriedly. When she nearly reached the ground, he scooped her up in his arms. She buried her head in his shoulder and cried.
“Please don’t cry. I love you for who you are.”
“I don’t want you to choose a life without a mask because of me. I want you to believe in who you are without it. I want you to believe,” she cried.
He sat her gently on the ground and tilted her face to him.
“I believe,” he said and slowly removed his mask.
An overwhelming sense of joy passed over me, and I clapped in excitement. Then I realized my loudness and ceased. Curiously, they didn’t notice. She glared lovingly in his eyes and he in hers.
My heart smiled.
I woke up at the base of the old oak. I could hear my parent’s party music playing. Happiness still flooded my heart as I stood up, dusted the dirt off my dress, and walked to where I had thrown the mask. I picked it up and went back to the base of the tree. I dug a small hole in the loose dirt and buried it there.
“Where did you go?” Tiffany asked when I returned to the backyard.
I didn’t answer. I walked straight over to Darwin and said, “I am a girl, and I am a princess. I believe in who I am, and I like me. If you don’t, well… you can just go home!”
He stood silently for a moment until I thought I saw a light bulb flash above his nearly empty head.
“I like me too,” he added with a playful nudge to my shoulder.
We all played together for the rest of the night.
As that memory came back to my mind, I understood the meaning of the dream more. I thought back on last night’s events and realized I had somehow found myself like everyone else. I was wearing a mask trying to impress the “man of my dreams” when really the real man of my dreams loved a princess for who she was.
I took the mask home with me that day as I visited my mom. She laughed when I told her how I remembered that party from way back when.
Before I left, I went outside and found that same old oak where I had buried the same mask long ago. I dug and found it there − old, peeling, and falling apart. I put the new mask next to it and covered them both up with dirt.
I stood up and felt the breeze blow across my face. I freed my hair from its clip, and took a moment to allow the wind to blow away all of what wasn’t me. I then looked into the massive arms of the tree, and for the first time, in a long time, I felt hope.
When I got home to my apartment, I walked into my sunlight-filled bathroom, stared at myself in front of the mirror, and realized that without the mask I looked different. I hardly recognized myself. It was like seeing an old friend’s face again that had been locked away in a memory.
“Hello, Princess.” I laughed and vowed never to adorn my face or the old oak’s roots again with another of my masks.
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