He liked looking at it. It was formed like the face of a man, eyes closed, serene smile on his face, but the lines were far too perfect, too beautiful to be any ordinary person. Perhaps it was the face of a god; had one of his friends who enjoyed traveling found it in some distant land where such idols were worshipped, and, knowing his love of beautiful perfection, brought it to him?
Come to think of it, he had once loved to travel. How long had it been since he had set foot on train or ship in search of beauty and excitement in faraway places? He didn’t know. This strange restlessness, accompanied by the equally strange inability to decide where he wanted to go or what he wanted to do, had had him in its grip for as long as he could remember.
The more he looked at the mask, though, the more it teased him with a sense of familiarity. Was it only because the mask itself was becoming so familiar to him? He spent more time thinking about it than about anything else, and when he left his lonely retreats and ventured down the grand staircase into this room, it was always the first thing he looked for.
Something deep inside of him told him that wasn’t the answer, though. He thought–he thought that perhaps the man depicted by the mask was someone he had known once, long ago. But he couldn’t call a name to mind, and surely he would have remembered an acquaintance–or perhaps someone even closer than an acquaintance?–who was so beautiful.
“Yes, that’s him,” the familiar-looking woman said. “So handsome! All the ladies sighed over him, but, sadly, he never married.”
The other woman made a tsking sound. “What a shame.”
“Yes, it is. And gone so young, barely even forty. Even though masks are out of fashion, we had to have one made, so that we’d always have something of him with us.”
His curiosity piqued even more, he moved to an angle where he could get a better view of the familiar woman’s face, and gasped in surprise. The two women didn’t seem to hear him. The familiar-looking woman bore a striking resemblance to the mask. Forty, she had said he was. She appeared barely older than that–the man’s sister, perhaps? Too young to be his mother.
“Why do you leave it here, then, instead of keeping it at your house?” the other woman asked.
“I’m not sure. It just seems more...fitting, somehow. As though his house would be too sad and empty without something of him in it. Though sometimes, when I come by to make sure everything is all right here, it almost seems that I can still feel his presence...”
The two women moved off towards the hall leading to the kitchen and pantry, the sister saying, “Of course, we’ll have to sell this place eventually...”
He went over to stand before the mask, and looked at it as though he had never seen it before. Of course. And he wondered why he hadn’t realized the truth before. Had it been simple denial? Or that sense of not quite recognizing yourself when you see yourself in a portrait or photographic image?
There was an ornately-framed mirror hanging over the mantlepiece. Why had he never noticed it before? Or had he been deliberately avoiding it? He looked directly into it, and saw only the room behind him reflected in it. An incredibly odd feeling, but he found himself smiling nonetheless. If he wanted to remember what he looked like, he had only to look at the mask, and see himself as he would always be–forever beautiful, forever in his prime, forever as he had been in life.
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