PATRICK MCVAY

WRITER

My Musings

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Behind The Mask

Masky

I'm thinking it's time to start writing short stories, and the first one I'm going to write is about the COVID-19 pandemic. You're thinking, dude, this is a highly unoriginal idea, since mountains of fiction and non-fiction have been written in recent years with references to COVID, poisonous vaccines, overcrowded hospitals, and so forth. However, to my knowledge no one has written from the standpoint of a person for whom wearing a mask greatly improves their appearance.

Let's face it, some of us look better masked. We have bad teeth or a giant nose or a weak chin. We the people are sometimes born with hairy moles on our cheeks. We get acne in our teen years and over time our skin generates warts, skin tags, and hair where we don't want it. Our gums recede, we get fever blisters, and occasionally jaw cancer that causes surgeons to remove half our face. (Nice story thus far!) True, we have evolved to a point where we have gained substantial control over our environment and can produce and store food in mass quantities. But by and large we aren't pretty. The vast majority of us look better clothed than naked. That goes for our faces as well.

Let's say that the main character of our story grew up poor and never saw a dentist, the result of which is a mouth of haphazardly arranged teeth. If this is part of God's grand plan, she wishes He would have put more effort into pre-production. The poor girl was relentlessly razzed in grade school by jerks who were no more attractive than she was and sought to make fun of her to deflect attention away from their own shortcomings. She makes friends as she ages but is very self-conscious and doesn't have the confidence for a romantic relationship, nor the money to get her mouth fixed. Several of her teeth have fallen out, leaving her in perpetual fear that someone will tell a funny joke and she will crack a smile. She mostly mumbles so as not to reveal the ghastliness of what lies behind her lips.

Then, in 2020, God intervenes in a mysterious way by inflicting pain and suffering on the masses in the form of a novel coronavirus, which either escaped from one of those Novel Coronavirus labs that we are told not to worry about or jumped from exotic animals to humans in a Chinese wet market (jury is out on this). At first the guidance is that wearing a mask is unnecessary and will give people a false sense of confidence, but soon that guidance changes to you must wear a mask all the time, even outdoors when you're on a run and no human being is within 100 yards of you. Our heroine does this, and within a day she finds herself being hit on by a middle-aged man at the supermarket. Well, she's not sure he's hitting on her because she had never had such an experience, but he claims that she took the head of butter lettuce that he had been eyeing, and when she goes to put it back he laughs and says, "I was just joking." She suppresses a smile, forgetting that she is all masked up. Meanwhile, he reaches for a different head of butter lettuce and subtly, but noticeably, seems to fondle the vegetable suggestively.

Still with me?

Soon, people are striking up conversations with her out of nowhere, which they never had done before. One day she arrives home after work and, having forgotten to take off her mask, comes upon her image in a mirror. She can't believe how beautiful she is! Her eyes are hazel and shaped like some kind of tailless aquatic mammal surfacing for a breath of air, or a small slug making a hard right turn. (OK, I'll have to come up with a better simile in the polish phase). That night, she goes to the pharmacy and blows $200 on eye makeup to further accentuate her looks, and puts some rouge on her cheeks, visible above the mask, which enhances her appearance, especially when she smiles, which she can now do freely. She goes into credit card debt by spending lavishly on new clothes and an expensive new hairstyle, giving her a renewed sense of confidence. She even applies for and gets a great new job, erasing her credit card debt almost immediately and allowing her to buy a car. In short, her whole life has been changed by the mask mandate.

Then comes the bad news. Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson are soon to be testing new vaccines that may put an end to the pandemic. The speed of the vaccines' release is alternately praised for the scientific ingenuity of humans or decried as Dr. Jeckyll-esque medical recklessness. To our heroine, they spell the end of the best period of her life, when hiding the lower half of her face changed her fortunes, her friendships, and her hopes for the future.

You will never see this story in print because no one publishes short stories any longer, but since I'm not doing much else with my time that is creative, I might be willing to burn some energy on this. In a pinch I'll consider this one for the next BBC Radio Playwriting contest (deadline not yet released). 

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