Ben Opperman


                                                  A Faceless Tale

Thoughts bubble up and pop before they are heard. Their echoing cries tickling memories that are always passed by, but never unlocked.  I stroll across the shadowed room, and an image of a man on the wall appears in front of me. He sways gently with every seemingly laboured breath. His face is stubbornly out of focus, but I find its core details unknowingly disconcerting. His eyes are studying my face as well, but not once has he blinked, not ever. He begins to foolishly slide sideways, and his motion causes my stomach to lurch, and forces my mind to concentrate. I am tired of this intruder’s games, and discomforted by his familiar features. I reach my hand out towards his, and we grasp the metal latch of the window together. I fling it open with unnecessary force, and release my reflection out into the crisp night air.
My mind stirs and begins to rise, now that my own judgemental gaze is broken, and replaced by the un-breaking stride of the sobering evening wind. With the awakening of my mind comes the awareness of the laughter from below, the feel of vibrations in my chest, the craving for smoke in my lungs. So too does the petty worries over due dates, and the shrinking number of hours towards my looming, early morning shift. When that time comes, a mask with a smile must be placed upon my own, and a voice with a cheer orchestrated. I have performed and perfected this art, despite my tone being unheard, and my face being unseen, with only a rectangular badge to represent my role, and worth, for all who need it. Luckily, another rectangular object holds momentary relief inside, and I gently slide the warning-riddled box out of my jacket pocket. I place the cigarette to my lips, and release a conquered flame from its plastic confines. Whether psychological, or biological, the effects hide the anxiety away, and allow me to enjoy my shadowed view of the outside world.
The forbidden vault of memories tugs politely at the edge of my mind once more. Its contents teeming with buried emotions, which I am not yet equipped to process. Within it are memories of old friends’ faces, which have been chipped away and remodelled over the passing of years unseen. Dreams and aspirations float beside them, too high and dangerous to confront, or past hopes, too lost now to see. However, it is a single, deeply buried, image of a face, and a time, which is hardest to look upon. A face that, unlike any dream, or friend, can no longer return, it is a face that I loved, everyone has one, or everyone will, a face that will never smile in their direction again. My concentration flutters as I notice that the wind has been greedily lapping away at my cigarette. Outside, it paces back and forth hurriedly, as if searching for something it can no longer recall. The rain desperately runs after it, with quick, little steps, never quite able to catch up. From below my name is spoken in question, and acts as a flicker, in the dark, unheard buzz, of slurred conversation. My disappearance has been noted, and with grudging acceptance the time has come to place another mask upon myself, and join in the revelry below.
My resistance to re-join the crowd of dilated pupils, and politely concealed smirks, stems not from dislike of the masses itself, but from a dilemma, that is so common, but somehow has no immediate solution. Despite this, however, I make my way down the carpeted staircase, every step cautiously placed, so as not to upend my more than usual uncoordinated limbs. As I descend the stairwell, I feel the unblinking eyes return to watch my retreat into the debauchery below. My dilemmas stand together in anticipation, it is one of them who mentioned my name. As I call out to them in greeting, I am pulled into a world where time can no longer be kept. Its ebb and flow only noticed with the dwindling of conversation, or the vacuum of music, momentarily lapsed. On one’s face is a smile that is mine, as mine is equally hers, while on the other is a smile in the eyes, and on the lips, that is playing a game too dangerous to be seen, and yet too obvious to be ignored. It is a game best played when the logical mind is drowning in a sea of drink, or shrouded within a cloud of smoke. It is a game that I will not play, but have been entered into nonetheless.
Lingering touches and playful banter dissipate, as a new arrival joins the circle. To my eyes his face holds no mask, or at the least, it is a mask that is closest to his truest self. As my oldest friend, he too has this intrinsic ability to see under my own veil of projected self, and I watch as his eyes slide between myself, and my dilemma. The colours in his eyes are hidden behind enlarged pools of black, giving evidence to an unknown supplement fuelling his body and mind. The flesh that once filled his rosy cheeks, and double chin, has melted away over the past year, and is now stretched and taut. The outline of his skull has become clearer at every passing event. The drink that he passes me is inexplicably sweet as it flows over my tongue; a slight pang of bitter at the end is the only evidence of its true contents. Time continues to leap forward uncontrolled, more smoke enters my lungs, and is held there before being passed to the faceless hands to my left. The effects are immediate. I can feel my mind, and body, slip within a protective bubble, which is slowly eroding as it bobs atop a swirling ocean of anxiety. Warm, delicate hands, cup my own, acting as a shield for my desperate flame, against the ever grasping wind. 
The smoke clouds my mind, and entangles me, once more, within myself. I survey the room through blurred windows, my view obstructed, every few moments, by drooping curtains, that persistently open and shut. There is an unknown woman on the carpeted floor inside, her eyes are closed, and her mask is astray. Beside her, two masks perch on the stairwell landing, their eyes giving each other away, to the intentions their faces cannot yet display. I know both masks well. The man’s mask drops first, as his eyes close, and his lips make contact. Her mask wavers for a moment, for reasons I can only imagine are due to indecision, before also falling, only to be replaced by another. Time has become relative to the swiftness of thought, and I realise, too late, that my hands are still encased in warmth. My vision follows leisurely behind, as my head turns to the source of the comforting heat. I do not want to play this game, but the mask she has donned, is flawless in its purpose. Her lips, her eyes, the tilt of her head, are all beckoning me into action. My mind and my body are now separate, two forces duelling for control. I do not want to taste the sweetness of her lips, to feel the heat of her skin under my own, to see the arch of her back. I question the purpose of wearing this mask of lies for myself. From the first inhalation of distortion, to the present, the same musical tune has been humming contently within my chest. This subconscious realisation shatters the illusion of the stretching of time, and releases me from the sluggish prison of my mind. I withdraw my hands onto my lap, and notice, too late, the cracked mask of the dilemma, whose smile was mine, watching in pain.
Time quickens now, its heavy footsteps echoing noticeably, in the silence of the car. My deformed reflection gloats on one side of me, while on the other, emotion seeps down the broken mask of a shadow. Her tears are not quelled by the performance of the lies I re-enact for her. She glimpsed what she fears most, and is now haunted by things unseen. It is amazing the force that doing nothing can inflict. I sought nothing, acted on nothing, and did nothing, to stop the games that danced around me.
I stand in a darkened room, facing the ever watching man. The mind and lungs are clear, and time has once again, been permitted to resume its gradual course. In the other room, my solution sleeps peacefully, her mask of mistrust, and hurt, soothed away, until the next event. My reflection is clear to me now, it does not gloat, or goad, or sneer. I am alone in the dark, as I finally allow my masks to fade. I lie down in bed, and close my eyes, and wonder which face I should wake with. 

Ben Opperman © 2018