The Night We Didn’t See the Moon
When we met for our first date you were wearing a mask. I was two gins in because I was nervous and got here early. I’ve already been to the bathroom and back three times to check my hair and fix my make-up when I greet you, clutching my fist of gin, tonic water, ice and lemons. I hope I look pretty. I hope I look relaxed and cool. I hope the barman who has seen me waiting here for almost an hour, drinking and checking my phone nervously, doesn’t give you a conspiratorial nod, that somehow gives away how utterly out of my depth I feel.
We hugged as hello and you ordered a beer. You had to ask the barman twice because your voice was muffled. Your entire head was covered by a gorilla mask made of rubber and fur, two holes where your eyes are and a slit at the mouth that I’m weirdly impressed you can drink a pint through. Of course I want to ask about it, but we only just met and I don’t want to be rude or pushy. So we go and we sit and we sip on our drinks and we chat and I really, really want to ask about the mask but I feel judgemental, didn’t I spend the last half hour of work in the bathroom doing my make-up? Covering my face in a mask of pale paint before sculpting in cheekbones far sharper than those really there and using charcoal pencils to make my eyes seem darker and more mysterious. My lips are not naturally this violent berry red, the kind of red that warns animals of poison or danger. So for this I bite my tongue.
I look past the mask and decide to have a good time. Which I do, and you do too, or at least at the time I thought you did, until later when you are gone and I think back and my memory becomes slippy and I am not so sure any more. Did you really laugh as hard as I remember at my story of the job interview I fucked up? Maybe it was the gin and I was being obnoxious, laughing at my own stories and assuming you were too. But no, why then would you have asked me to stay for another drink, and another, and another until I nearly missed my last bus? If I had been awful, would you have walked me to my stop on the other side of the city and kissed me as we waited? That memory is solid, you tasted of plastic, the rubber of your ridiculous gorilla head between our faces. But it’s brittle too and can splinter apart at any second for me to cut my hands on.
For our second date you wore a different mask. This one is one of those rubber Nixon heads. I think someone famously robbed a bank in one once or something? Again, I didn’t ask even though I really wanted to. I didn’t want to pry and scare you off. I wanted you to like me, even more-so now than last time.
We went for drinks and you held my hand. I thought it was sweet. I still do. We talked with faces close and voices low about our families and our pasts. Past lives, secrets, magic. I feel like I have known you for ever, like an old friend I haven’t seen in a while, not a man whose face I couldn’t pick out of a line up. We got drunk and we laughed and we stepped out for smokes even though I don’t really smoke anymore and it’s difficult for you to exhale without smoke becoming trapped in the mask. I want to suggest you take it off, but I don’t.
I meet a friend for drinks after work one evening. She asks if I’m seeing anyone so I tell her about you. And tell her, I know this sounds cheesy and I’m being such a girl, but even after only two dates I can tell there’s something between us and that I really, really like you, and I cringe at my own foolishness now. I didn’t tell her about the masks though, I didn’t really know how.
I took a train out to where you live for our third date. You picked me up from the station in your car. This time you’re wearing a dazzling, feathered carnival type thing. It covers the top half of your face, and pink feathers tuft out around your head, sequins sparkle around your eyes, but now I can see your mouth and chin. Progress?
We drove out deep into the dark of the countryside because you wanted to show me the stars, but everything was hidden behind a thick blanket of cloud. We couldn’t even see the moon.
One morning we drove out to the ocean. You wore a giant rubber dolphin head. I wonder if an entire room in your house is dedicated to these heads? Like the way Cher has a special room just for storing all her different wigs. We sat on the sand and watched wake-boarders glide back and forth across the water, impressed by the speed of them, like ballerinas on a stage dancing for us. I joked that I wished I had a pair of those tiny gold binoculars that ladies watch the opera through. You laughed with your head in my lap.
We met in the city later that week and you had a gift for me. A small box wrapped in brown butcher paper and tied with twine. So perfectly wrapped I almost didn’t want to open it. The care you had put into wrapping this small box was so precious it made me want to cry. I opened it to find a small pair of plastic toy binoculars, army camouflage. So I never get caught short again, you tell me. You are Batman now, and I almost don’t even notice any more.
And then one day you are gone. Just like that. The number I used to call you on is disconnected. Texts go undelivered. I realise I don’t even know your second name. I know the general area you live, but you never took me to your house. I know how your grandmother died, but I don’t know what your face looks like. Abruptly and with no explanation it’s over. And that’s that.
Catriona O’Rourke is a writer and artist currently based in Dublin, Ireland. She holds an Honors Degree in Art from IADT, Dun Laoghaire. After taking a creative writing course at Big Smoke Writing Factory in Dublin she moved into short story writing and flash fiction. She can be found on Twitter and Instagram at @Quatrionaa.
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