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The Mask in the Box

On Sunday morning, as I drifted in bed, I dreamed. Not my usual sort of dream, all blood and barbed wire, but a peaceful dream.

I’m sitting in a darkened room. It’s a library; I can tell by the comforting smell of old books, wood and leather. I think it’s my library, perhaps the painstakingly constructed nonexistent one I built years ago as my “place of safety”. I don’t think it’s anywhere real.

I’m in a comfortable chair, in front of a table illuminated by an ornate Victorian lamp on one side. The glow of the lamp gleams off the objects on the table. There are two items in front of me. One is a rectangular box, with a footprint about the size of a sheet of A4. The box is made of ebony, intricately carved and detailed, coated with layer after layer of lacquer and polished to a high shine. I know that I have made this box, and I have spent years on it, obsessively carving it, varnishing it and polishing it. I know that I’ve had this box a long time, and that I’m still carving and polishing it every day. The box is closed, but inside it I know there is a mask, an image of a face. My face, but I also know that it isn’t really a mask, but my own true face, the one even I haven’t seen. I know that if I open the box, that face will come out. Some of it is beautiful. Some of it is not, but it’s all one thing, and I can’t open the box without all of it coming out.

The other item on the table is the key to the box. Unlike the box, I have lavished no attention on it. It is very small, simple and unadorned. I know that all I have to do is pick it up, put it in the lock, and turn it.

While I am considering this, I realize I’m already wearing a mask. I know that I can’t wear two masks, and that if I open the box, I’ll destroy the one I’m wearing. The one I have on now is bland but pleasant. The one in the box is both beautiful and ugly, but I don’t know in what proportions and I can’t look without opening the box.

I’m reaching for the key when I wake up.

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