"How many times have I told you not to wear that idiotic mask to the table?" From deep within the hollowed latex eye sockets, Jenna could see her mother's slender fingers tipped in deep crimson reaching toward her face. Reflexively, Jenna raised her small hands to protect her face, but not before her mother snatched the mask away from her forehead and dashed it to the floor.
Jenna shivered, recalling the sudden feeling of dangerous exposure that caused her to shrink within her 10 year old self, lower her eyes, and try to become as small as possible. Her eyes had fixed on the nearly translucent china plate in front of her as it rested on her grandmother's Irish linen tablecloth. She had reached for her fork as slowly and silently as possible.
"Not that one!" came her mother's razor sharp cry, the one Jenna tried to avoid whenever possible. "The large fork is for your meal, the small one on the farthest left for your salad. Why can't you learn that?" Jenna longed for the mask to protect her from the cold disdain in her mother's stare. She had chosen the Cleopatra mask that day, the dark beauty of this ancient queen the perfect counterpart to her mother's white blonde hair and icy expression.
The masks had so often saved her, even though her mother either complained bitterly about them or, depending on the number of Gin and Tonic's she had consumed, ripped them from Jenna's face. She continually threatened to destroy Jenna's entire collection, words that struck fear into through Jenna's heart.
"One of these days, missy, you'll come home and all those ugly faces you hide behind will be gone, gobbled up by the big green garbage truck."
Jenna quaked at the thought of Princess Diana, Cinderalla, Scarlett O'Hara, even Wonder Woman (who wasn't actually a favorite) being crushed and shredded in the jaws of the huge waste disposal truck roaming the back alley behind their house. Somehow, though, she had felt sure her mother wouldn't carry out this threat. As much as she complained about the different faces Jenna wore, they were easier for her to look at than Jenna's real face, the one that people always said looked just like her fathers, with it's smoky dark eyes and olive skin.
Sitting at her own table now, some 20 years later, Jenna picked at the small salad before her. Perhaps if her father hadn't dissappeared before she had been born, things would have been different for her and her mother, she thought, as she had so many times before. As it was, Jenna had grown accustomed to the saftey she felt behind the masks, protected somehow from the contempt of the woman who should have loved her most, hoping one of the persona she chose each day would be the one her mother would find acceptable, even pleasing.
Jenna rose from her seat and scraped the remains of her salad into the garbage. Her small apartment was silent, save for the ticking of the clock which told her she had dawdled too long, lost in those memories of unhappier times. She had promised her mother she would visit today, although she was quite certain the woman had lost all concept of time, along with most of her other faculties, her brain ravished by years of alcohol and now dementia. Stopping to button her coat, Jenna glanced at her reflection in the mirror that hung beside her front door.
Yes, she thought, quite satisfied with what she saw, it was a good day for Cleopatra.