Size / / /

Feathers and paint, kohl sticks and smeared
pigments, cerulean blue beads, scales
and links of chain mail heaped on a rough
wooden table in a narrow room, four
hurricane lamps lighting it up. This is
the maskmaker's workshop on the avenue
of greater dreaming, a place only open
at night.

I have come to find a new
face and body, a truer expression
than the one I see in the mirror. Here is
the Lakota ghost shirt, feathered and white
and clacking, and stone jars of pale
face paint. Here is the zippered leather
mask of a fetishist; it gives me a chill
because I think it can only destroy
identity, not reveal a deeper one. I move on, to
Carnival masks, a crocodile headdress I linger
over but know is not mine, a harlequin's
cloth face of fixed hilarity, a beautiful
smooth gold mask of the sun. These all have
power, but none are mine.

Then the maskmaker
enters, a lush woman serene and regal as
the moon, her eyes blue and lively behind
a simple silver domino mask. "You want
to be a serpent," she says, picking up
a length of python skin and putting it down
again. "Or an angel, above everything." She lets
white silk run through her fingers. "Or
a manitou, with a face that shifts like the sky or
water, changing to fit your needs." She shakes
her head.

"But you are not those things." She lifts
a bundle wrapped in gray cobwebs. "You are a
spider. Lonely architect. Thought-maker. Weaver.
Moving in two worlds. Poison-head." She unwraps
the webbing. I see segmented legs, glossy
black mandibles, and something scuttles under
the trapdoor of my heart. Not a lion, then, or
an eagle, but this feels right. She holds out the spider
mask, sticky filaments still trailing, and eases it
onto my face. I see with spider's eyes, geometry
and possibility and vibrations in the air, corners
and spirals and prey. The legs on the mask wrap
tightly around my head and I

wake in my dusty bedroom,
looking at the corners where the ceiling meets
the walls, thinking

"I've never noticed how much
a spider's eyes resemble diamonds."

 

Copyright © 2001 Tim Pratt

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Tim Pratt is a poet and fiction writer currently living in Central California. His poems have appeared (or will appear) in Asimov's, Weird Tales, Star*Line, Electric Wine, and other publications. He is poetry editor for Speculon, an online magazine of speculative fiction and poetry. Tim's previous publications in Strange Horizons can be found in our archives. Visit his Web site for more.



Tim Pratt won a Hugo Award for his short fiction (and lost a Nebula and a World Fantasy Award), and his stories have appeared in The Best American Short Stories, The Year's Best Fantasy, and other nice places. He lives in Oakland, California, with his wife Heather Shaw and son River. For more information about him and his work, see his website. To contact him, send him email at tim@tropismpress.com.
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