He wanted to wear the mask, but she wouldn’t let him. When she showed it to him, she told him that it was a mask that contained the evil spirit of a Nigerian witch doctor, Ovu Mobani, and that whoever wore it would be possessed by this evil spirit and would also be able to raise the dead from their graves. He knew that was a lie, but he wanted to wear it anyway.
She wore it all wrong. The way she wore it, it looked cheap and fake. The way she wore it, it looked like a joke. She jumped around and growled and mewled, but he could hardly hear her over the music—some kind of electronica or house music pounding out of the stereo—and she pranced around and whipped her braids and gyrated and pranced and made a fool of herself, and when the music stopped and she stopped, panting and sweating, and he asked her if he could wear the mask, she looked at him and bared her teeth and growled at him. He told her to stop being an asshole and she swiped at him with her hand curled around like a claw. Then she herded him out of their room and closed the door on him, and for a second it was like he was seven all over again, and she was his older sister, not his wife.
It was hard to remember where the mask had come from. It had been hanging on the bedroom wall for ages, and was maybe a gift from his sister from when she went to Belize or something. He should have said that to her, should have told her it wasn’t even from Africa, should have thrown that in her face. Why had she even pulled it off the wall, he wondered. Pulled it off the wall and then placed it over her own face.
It wasn’t even hers.
He wouldn’t hop up and down on both feet or wave his arms up and down in the air, for one. The mask was clearly a leopard, or some other jungle cat, and she was dancing around like some fluttery bird. He would take the mask and be slow and majestic, quiet and still with it on. And if it were true, if it did in fact raise the dead from their graves, imagine what he could do.
He tried to imagine it.
Then he was on the couch in the living room, sitting heavily into the cushions that he had always thought were too soft, too easy, and he felt like he couldn’t do anything. Move off the couch, walk to the kitchen, turn off the fan, call his parents, call anyone.
But he could get that mask, he thought. He really should get that mask, he thought.
He pushed his palms into his eyes until he could see dark blurs of color press against the black of his eyelids, dark and then bright and then brighter and then too bright.
He pushed the door open harder than he needed to, as if expecting her to be standing against it, pressing it shut with all her weight. But it opened easily and he stumbled into the bedroom, almost falling over. All of the lights were on in their room, in the closet, in the bathroom, but his wife was in bed, curled into herself, asleep on top of all of the covers, the mask still stuck to her face. The way her chest moved—out and then pause and then slight in and then pause and then hard out—made it seem as if she were pushing the air out of her, wanted nothing to do with it, and only took it back in grudgingly.
He leaned over her and watched her sleep and then knelt down so that his face was close to hers. She breathed hard on his face. Then, gently, so as not to wake her up, he pulled the mask off her face and placed it on top of his head and sat back against the nightstand and slipped it down over his face and sat there, quiet and still, watching and waiting for her to wake up.
Story by Manuel Gonzales
Photo by Emily Raw
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