The Mask Maker’s Daughter

Written with my Thursday night group with the prompts:  Zelda is in heat, until next time, tomatoes in the front yard, tell me what you want, straight faced, remember when, professional, phone store, old stale coffee, my turn, mysterious holes, in Russia, mosquitos, mask maker’s daughter

Zelda sat on the porch in the heat of the day, drinking yesterday’s old stale coffee that she’d mellowed with too much sugar and poured over ice.  She preferred this hour because she liked the yellow light of noon, when the streets were quiet, the air was still, the mosquitos were somewhere sequestered near the pond a half mile away, and the neighbors kept their shades drawn.  Zelda would come out then, remembering when she had people of her own, a family, a dog, a penchant for baking sugar cookies and cobbler.  Now she liked only to sit in the heat in the quiet listening to podcasts on the new phone her son brought her from the phone store the last time he’d come back from the city to visit.

Today’s story was about mysterious holes scientists have discovered in the ozone up above the snowy plains of Russia.  They speculated and wondered, formed hypotheses, and performed tests, wondering if there were new weapons or old weapons or new spy devices or old unhealthy habits.  Too much cabbage and potatoes, too much custard and fatty meat.  It was all very fascinating, Zelda thought, though it also made her sleepy, until—wait—what’s that?  

A small skinny girl in shorts and a sequined mask with pointy cat ears was sneaking into Zelda’s front garden.  It was Alicia, the mask maker’s daughter, who paraded through the neighborhood most days after school.  Yesterday she was a rabbit, last week a raccoon, a fox, a tiger, a dragon.  Zelda could not remember what the girl’s actual nose and forehead looked like.  She saw only her distinctive chin, as small as a cupped palm, her brown skin as delicate as a fawn.  Zelda tried to keep a straight face.  “Tell me what you want,” she announced as she always did, and then the girl would realize she’d been discovered and she’d run away.  But today the child did not retreat, for the pointy ears continued to advance.  “Tell me what you want,” Zelda said again, playfully chanting this time.  “If you ask for what you want, maybe you’ll get it.”

In Zelda’s years as a professional coach, she directed her charges to set goals, to work and strive, and then they’d get what they want.  All these years later, she knew for a fact it was not that simple.  Not now.  But it seemed she had no other way to initiate an interaction.  So what if it scared the kid away.  Even better.

But the cat-faced child was before her now, just beyond the row of tomato plants growing in the sunshine in front of the porch.  The child’s green eyes matched the bright green wire tomato cages and she directed her hard stare at Zelda’s face.  Here was a side to the girl Zelda had not seen:  assertive, even aggressive perhaps.  It was Zelda’s turn to feel cowed.

“How can I help you?” Zelda asked.

“Tomato,” Alicia said clearly.  “I want a tomato.”

Zelda nodded, and the girl snatched a large beefsteak in her tiny had and stuffed the red flesh into her mouth, juice dripping onto chin and hands.

Zelda watched this messy display and smiled.  “I hope you’ll come again,” she said.  Then she remembered her own advice.  “I like you.  I want you to come again.”

The girl was still chewing.  “Okay,” she said, licking her fingers.  Then she reached up and peeled off her mask, tipping it toward Zelda as if doffing a cap.  

Zelda was amazed.  “Until next time,” she said formally.

“Tomorrow,” Alicia confirmed.

Photo by Izzy Park at Unsplash

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