The Mother in the Mask

Writing Prompt: Ever since you were a toddler, a woman in gas mask and trench coat has always followed you around, no matter what. You know she’s real and physical, but other people don’t acknowledge her and she doesn’t do much aside from stand at attention beside you at all times.

She had been there at Angelo’s birth, to witness the young boy’s mother die from complications.

She had been there when Angelo’s father took a gun to his own temple and painted the nursery walls a jarring shade of red.

She had been there to watch the foster home burn down to the ground, taking with it twenty seven innocent children, sparing only the lives of Angelo and an intern, a care worker, who was found some days later hanging from a motel room rotary fan.

Wherever Angelo walked, she tread closely behind, and death followed.

Who was she?

She was a mystery. A woman out of place and time. Not a figment of the imagination, oh no, she was very much there. Though no one would dare look upon her face…

A face carefully concealed by the cover of a gas mask, the pipes of which were fitted to a back pack that continually sighed. The back pack held her lungs, of that Angelo was almost certain, though he never asked to look inside. He in fact never dared utter a word directly to this woman.

This woman, dressed in tertiary greys with patches on her knees and elbows, leather gloves permanently adorning her hands, thick soled boots keeping careful watch of her feet. On this woman there was not an ounce of bare flesh to be seen.

On rare occasions, Angelo could see her eyes. Great, golden circles like fireflies trapped within a jar. Only these eyes, these flies, were murderous flickers of light that longed to be free. Even when the shine outgrew her eyes and danced upon the ringlets of her costume, the ribbing or the gas mark pipes, still no one would look upon her.

They knew she was there, just the fact they parted from her path told Angelo she was real, at least as real as any stark and silent guardian stalker might be. You can tell that they’re there, watching from afar. You sense them, their leering gaze, their heavy breath… but she’s never that far, not really.

This silent stalker was not one for ceremony, no thick built bushes, no tall breasted trees. She would stand beside Angelo, through each day and every night. She never slept, at least as far as Angelo could tell. And whenever trouble came a-knocking at his door, their door, she would be ready to whisk him away.

Consider this. He was premature, a c-section, with a one in just shy of a million chance of surviving birth alone. Yet it was his mother that died. And what of his father? No, please, I don’t want to think about that. Then the foster home, a fire that should have stolen the lives of all inside, and eventually it had, even the intern who’d managed to break free from the flames. But not Angelo. Never Angelo.

He blamed her for his misery, for the death that stalked his pitiful life. She takes the sun from the sky and spits on it, grinding my heart to powder in the dirt. I’m not allowed to live, to love. I’m barely allowed to make a go at friends. She gets jealous, the selfish b*tch. It’s all her fault, all of it! Mother, father, me. I hate her.

June 27th. 2023. Elizabeth.

“It doesn’t bother you?” Angelo was eighteen, and barely coping with his own reality, “I mean, you can see her, right? She’s there. Tall, spindly looking thing with a gas mask, breathing heavy, folded arms.”

“She’s there.” Elizabeth smiled over her coffee, “But no, she doesn’t bother me.”

“Well she should.” Angelo leaned over the table, knocking aside a plate of waffles, his eyes were deeply concerned by what they saw, “She’s bad news, she’s a leech, latches on to life and sucks it dry. You can’t trust me, because you can’t trust her. She’d be there, always watching. Even when you’re sleeping.”

“Slow down there cowboy.” Elizabeth laughed, a sound that sent Angelo’s heart into a flutter, something he had rarely, if ever, experienced. It hurt, but in the sweetest way. “Who said anything about sleeping with you?”

“No, I didn’t mean it like that…” Angelo drew back, his eyes wide, cheeks flushed, “I was just… just I was… well, I was… I was just saying…”

“Just saying what?” Elizabeth bit down on the lower part of her lip, he smile broadening.

“Well, just that, well, if… if you ever stayed around me long enough to… to fall asleep, that’s all I’m saying. Like right now, even. If you just happened to hit the floor,”

Elizabeth shook her head, giggling, “If I just happened to hit the floor?”

“Yes, that’s right.” Angelo was trying desperately to make some sense from his words, “Then she’d be there, watching. It’s kind of disconcerting, don’t you think?”

Elizabeth shrugged, “Don’t worry,” she tapped her coffee cup, smiling again, and that smile sent shivers down Angelo’s spine, raising the tiny hairs of his arms and his neck, “I don’t think there’s any danger of me falling sleep.”

They spent the next six months in blissful union, and for vague moments, fleeting kisses, the woman in the mask seemed to fade away, as if she wasn’t really there at all. But of course she was, watching, always. It was perhaps this reason alone that caused Angelo to take things so slowly, trying to keep a check on his emotions. He was falling, and just as before the fall the stomach flutters with anticipation, after the fall the hurt would come, and it would come in a flood unabated by even the slightest of picket fences.

That flood would be their first time, under the unnerving watch of the Mother in the Mask. That flood would be their end.

“Are you sure, that you’re ready?” Angelo was sweating, even under the cool breeze that crept beneath the sheets.

Elizabeth smiled, his heart melted away, that was enough.

And now there’s something you must know, about the miracle child Angelo. Something of a gift he has, a gift he has not an ounce of control over, a gift he has no knowledge of.

He is poison, literal, seeping poison. And there is not a way in which you can tell what poison might come. Acid, mist, liquid, fog. There is no certainty in its form, only certainty in its end.

Death.

His mother, complications of birth, a poisoning of the blood. His father, found with a bullet in his skull, a poison of the mind. The foster home, burned to the ground, a poisonous gas, and highly explosive. It just happens the intern hung herself before the gas could finish the job, already it was burning her alive from the inside out, so she chose an easier death, a gentler passing.

The poison surfaces at times of heightened emotion; the pain of birth, the loss of a mother, the loneliness and isolation that foster homes can sometimes bare. So, do you see it now?

Elizabeth caught in the wraps of a poisoned love.

Angelo entwined with ecstasy far beyond his own describing.

I wish I could say that Elizabeth passed quickly, but she did not. With the greatest of emotion comes the most lethal of poison. Slowly acting to rinse away what humanity remained inside the melting corpse of sweet Elizabeth. For days after Angelo would sit in the puddle of what was, adding to it those tears he could find to cry.

Emotion would betray him again, as poison would seep in a gaseous form from out his body, drenching the high rising block of flats in which he lived, sauntering out into the streets. Eighty six in all would die, thirty nine more left barely living.

So what purpose has this watchful mother, if all she might do is watch as the poison spreads and with it Angelo festers into loathing?

Her purpose is one of life, of one life, of Angelo’s. She must watch him, and she must only act to save himself from parting this world. But for why? For the simple fact that inside that lively body of a boy just eighteen years of age there ticks a time bomb ready to explode. The trigger is his death, and with him all humanity might meet its end.

Copyright © K R Perry 2019

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