“But what does it mean, the plague? It's life, that's all.”
- Albert Camus
“When somebody's wearing a mask, he's gonna tell you the truth. When he's not wearing a mask, it's highly unlikely.”
- Elston Gunn
When pestilence becomes persistent, so must we. Born in a pub and a pandemic, Out of Masks Press offers weekly serials of prose, poetry, philosophy, opinions, and everything in between; including bullshit. All the literature you'll find here wears both a disguise and its true face.
Feel free to do the same.
Past the turn off for the cemetery and farther down the trail winding around the south side of the lake the car sat quietly in the late afternoon sun—silver, languid, chippings of paint mingled with rust around one of the taillights, all metal and combustible potential; a hulking intruder amongst the tall grass and ash trees around the clearing’s edge. Down twenty or so yards at the bottom of the grassy incline where a sandy wash ran out to meet the retreating tide, she dipped her foot, big toe first, into the cool water. The ripple, small at first contact, gained rungs to its expansion as she watched it stretch outwards into disappearance where the rollback of a slight wave swallowed it into the greater body of the lake. She did it again, this time with other foot, then again with the first—again and again, and each time her eyes trailed the ripple until it dissolved out there beyond the quay rocks.
Ruby Daggart had always loved the water—a fact she attributed to spending her life thousands of miles from either ocean and in a state where lakes could only be enjoyed a disproportionately small amount of the year—she loved the feeling of being submerged in water, the way it hugged every inch of her, the texture of it, the way it adapted to whatever it found itself in, the way on a waning afternoon like this she could be alone with its calm music and stick her toes in it and lean out over its small pools to catch her reflection: an exposition of symmetry—almond eyes rising to a central emerald peak and softly curving with the rhythms of her mouth, eyebrows dark and finely woven, hair swept with a late August breeze the color of Caribbean sand seen through clear water and unfurling like a curtain’s length draped over a bannister from the parting on the high left side of her forehead to where it gathered in ribbons at the nape of her neck and along the crest of her shoulders, the cute upturned nose culminating in a little pink button, cheeks making the slightest indention along the glide of her jaw, the thinnest dash of white among the press of her lips revealing a minute overbite, a teenage vestige, an endearing blemish in a wash of soft beauty—tanned by the months of summer and brushed lightly with dimples so small they could only be truly appreciated in the close proximity right before you kissed her—she pushed her toe through the water again, scattering herself among the ripples reaching into the tide.
“Jav! Hey!” she called after the yellow lab futilely chasing a gull a little too far down the shore for her liking, “Come now. Get back here”—the dog turning, looking, looking again back at the soaring bird, pausing, dutifully returning. Ruby knew she was beautiful—had known ever since that dawning moment of her teenage years when the opposite sex, with eyes and hormones, awarded her some unnamed gift that without knowing why, she secretly understood would help her the rest of her life; and Ruby supposed it had—the eyes of attraction followed her naturally and among her peers a certain status was afforded to her which others would have to work for.
Her thoughts fell back upon Plattsmouth and that little girl: braces to fix the gap in her two front teeth and wondering where mama had gone—god I don’t even remember what she was like, what I was like. All gangly and awkward. Fantasies of somewhere else, anywhere else. Find a boy to love me and the promise of graduation. Off to college and grandeur. Prince charming—how funny, how naïve. What—fifteen years ago? Fifteen years. All that has happened in between here and now. Barely eighteen and off to college in Lincoln. It was a big city in my mind then. Peeling back the myths. Kissing dad goodbye outside the dormitory, ugly red brick, wondering who my roommate would be—fifteen years? Really? Guess if I hadn’t paused to look up I never would have known.
She looked down at her painted toes, red and waving under the clear tide; she kicked her feet out to make a splashing foam rise up and pepper her bare calves, the most arching droplets of water reaching the bottoms of her blue jean shorts hemmed at mid-thigh with a damp sensation—the cool tingling of liquid on skin she relished and kicked her feet again—the dog seeing this flurry of movement pounced with zest into the tide as well, right beside Ruby, whooping and barking and jumping and with banging paws flinging lake water into the pink fabric of her t-shirt.
“Ok ok Jav”, she laughed, “Ok easy buddy”, and was suddenly alighted with the image of her husband, who had bought her the Labrador as an engagement present several years ago—his robust face and always gelled hair, adjusting his tie in the mirror of their double-sided vanity, pulling the chair out for her at their favorite little Italian place downtown, scrolling through Nasdaq on his tablet as an early morning sun crawls across the duvet’s warmth—and for no reason or premonition at all she found herself wondering if she loved him.
What am I saying? Of course I do. Of course I love him. I married him. I’m his wife. I wear his ring. But what does that really mean? People pretend all the time, but I’m not one who just jumps into—am I? I mean, I wouldn’t be thinking, or doubting it if I did right? What am I doing? I love him. This is silly.
“What do you think Jav? He’s good to me.” A quick bark leapt up at her.
“Yea you would say that, ya big goof”—she bent down and flicked some water at the dog still splashing around in the tide—ah why am I even thinking about this? I love him. He’s built a wonderful life for us: ranch-style house on the south side, the porch swing, fig tree in the backyard he helped me plant and he loathes gardening, last spring we saw Wicked in New York, my guitar he had engraved—her mind, as though coming abruptly to a flat and impassible wall, ceased it wheeling ministrations—for it occurred to Ruby the nature of what she was doing. Oh my god—how did I get to this?
Across the water on an unmarred hill of green pasture the sun rolled yellow over the earth and disappeared, leaving a wistful still-born grey to entrench the lake—the dog, as if sensing an enemy on the run, took off barking towards the retreating light and birds ran from the trees. Ruby moved her gaze over the whole expanse of water and vegetation, imaging the chilled wind that would roam over all this a few months’ time—do I love him? Is it that simple—it should be, I agreed to it. Agreed. That sounds wrong. Like a contract or something I had to do. That’s not what it was. At least in the beginning it wasn’t. Do you love him yes or no? It can’t be that simple. But it should be. It’s too soon for this. We’re still new in our marriage. I love him. I have to. Her thoughts, like the ripples she made, rolled away from her.
I have to. Otherwise why would I—and yet, here I am, beside a lake 17 miles outside of town wondering if I love the man I promised my life to and he to me. That was THE moment. Everything leads to and from. The happiest moment of my life. But I’m not dead? How can people say that? If we’re not dead yet how can we truthfully declare what was the happiest moment of our lives? Did I lie then, when he lifted my veil? Did he lie—no he didn’t, he loves me. But we don’t’ have cameras in each other’s heads. Only our own. Did I lie? No, I don’t think I did. I believed it then. What do I believe now?
She watched the dog as he ran with apparent desperation in her direction, only to roll in the sand at her feet. He turned onto his back and looked up at her, slobbering and wet—a thought melted into shape across her mind: nothing ever leaves us. She’d heard or read that somewhere—the returning arrows of nostalgia sinking into the mind, ripples, ripples, synaptic currents in communicative ripples—Gabe: first in that dingy bar and young, doughy in a handsome sort of way, an appreciation to grow into, long arms on a squat, sturdy body, friend of who’s boyfriend—blurred night in an apartment bedroom, first time since Emory—the screeching halt of her thoughts nearly staggered her in the sand.
To Be Continued...
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They were so much older then, but here they're younger than that now.
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