Dapper in a topcoat and tails, feet moving fast and graceful as birds skimming still waters, he whirled and swooped, catching my mother, still young and slim, by the waist, bending her backward. She ... [+]
The day after that, he carved another.
It had never been more than a hobby; a craft passed down to him by his grandfather, who carved and painted all the masks for the Mardi Gras parade back in the day. He had kept up with it in his spare time, never as much as he would like, and never equal to his grandfather's work. But the little e-store he set up for himself was a nice second income, and it kept him distracted whenever he needed something to ground himself.
The day the riots began, he carved a mask.
On the day of the bombing, as they huddled in the basement and waited for news that took painfully long to arrive, he showed his daughter how to paint them, with deathly pale brows and rosy cheeks.
The day the president signed the "Restoring American Families Act," legally dissolving his marriage, he carved a mask. He carved one every day that week, as his husband packed and emptied their joint savings into a knapsack for the trip north.
On the day his husband and daughter left with tears in their eyes, he carved a mask.
On the day martial law was declared, and the border closed, he carved a mask.
Two weeks later, he received a post card of a moose, unsigned, with just the words "we're safe" printed on the back. He hung it on the fridge under the rainbow narwhal magnet. Then he went down to his workshop and carved a mask.
Two years later, on what would have been Election Day, he carved a mask.
He often thought of his grandfather, an immigrant who came to the country after The War. His grandfather was a strict teacher. He hated waste and was sparing with praise. It was months before he was even allowed to hold a paintbrush, much less the chisel. But his grandfather talked. Rarely about himself, or about his past, but he told him old legends and fairy tales that he'd heard as a boy, and he would tell him about history, about great heroes. His grandfather gave him a lot of advice. His favorite saying was "We're here to do the work that is in front of us."
His grandfather would tell him about the masks. He would say who they were for, and what they represented. He said that masks weren't made to hide the face, but to make that face recognizable, even if the person wearing it was a stranger.
He used to make art. He never thought his work held a candle to his grandfather's but he was proud of it. Now he makes armor.
He takes care to never know too much. He finishes the masks and sends them where they need to go. He takes care to never know where they will end up, or who will wear each mask. He watches the news, such as it is. And some days, when The Leader is speaking before State Television, or when a Senior Official is making a public appearance, he sees a mask somewhere in the crowd.
Some days the punch is thrown. Some days they don't make it. But for a brief moment, the official is brought low. The Leader is revealed to be nothing more than a man, and a weak one for all his propaganda.
He doesn't know how to fight. He never learned to fire a gun or write a speech. But he sees the work in front of him. Every day, after the broadcast day ends with its calls for vigilance and patriotic anthems, he turns the television off, and goes downstairs to carve another mask.