MANY MASKS, MANY FACES
Evelyn was wearing a rubber bunny mask. It was long-nosed and distorted in a way that all early twentieth century photos of Halloween costumes looked—cheap and unwittingly powerful. I assumed Evelyn had come from the past, and I didn't question the logic of it.
The mask covered her entire face and neck. Only brassy curls stuck out from the bottom, smooth and uniform as if someone had brushed them into submission. From the neck opening and the mesh eye-holes, the smell of sweat and dust leaked out.
It took longer than expected for the teacher to notice Evelyn because she’d slid into her seat quietly and smoothly, like she’d practiced the move. It was the first day of school and Evelyn hadn’t gone to orientation the day before. She hadn’t been walked into the sparsely decorated classroom– hands held by emotional parents who flanked her like bodyguards.
The teacher, Mr. Copeland, jumped at the sight of her mask when he turned from the chalkboard. He repositioned his bifocals to better assess the possibility of an anthropomorphic bunny terrorizing the classroom. Then, hands on his hips, he threw his head back and laughed. The laugh was forced and booming. Several kids shrank in their hard plastic chairs.
Mr. Copeland walked over to her desk. It looked like he’d pasted a smile over his own small, tight mouth. I believed that his eyes held powers—to hypnotize, to burn, to impale.
“Evelyn Sawyer? Evelyn Sawyer. You’re new here,” Mr. Copeland said.
She tilted her head. An ear flopped.
“It’s not Halloween yet, Evelyn. And anyway, masks are never allowed in school.”
A boy with a snotty nose and a bowl cut raised his hand.
“Why? I wear my Batman mask all the time at home.” His voice lilted at the end of the sentence. He was hoping for permission to be Batman at school.
Mr. Copeland opened his palms to address the room. His elbows stayed fixed to his narrow waist.
“What if someone commits a crime? It’d be hard to catch the bad guy if his face was hidden.”
I looked around the room, wondering which second-grader could be a villain.
Mr. Copeland turned back to Evelyn. He waited for her to do the right thing—to prove she wasn’t a criminal.
Evelyn sniffed then searched her bag for a tissue. She held the bottom of the mask open with one hand and shoved the tissue inside with her other hand. Nothing would make her take it off.
“Please remove the mask, Evelyn.”
She took out the tissue and threw it inside her desk.
My other teachers had been endlessly patient with us—far more patient than my mom or brother had ever been with me. But I could tell we wouldn’t be babied in second grade. It was time to grow up.
Mr. Copeland grabbed either side of the mask and began to lift, but Evelyn was quick to react. She knew how to defend her mask. Evelyn tilted her head down, pinching the bottom of the mask between her chin and neck. Mr. Copeland yanked harder. His fingernails dug into her neck. At first, it wasn’t clear if he didn’t realize what he was doing, or if he meant to use pain to get her to mind him. Then, he shoved his dirt-filled nails deeper into her skin.
Evelyn finally made a noise. She screamed, a high-pitched, stuttering scream that made me wonder if the curls and fancy dress were a part of the costume.
Mr. Copeland took a breath, stepped back, and looked at her. I thought he was going to walk up to the board and move her clothespin from green to red, or worse, send her to the principal's office. Instead, he took a step back, like a bull preparing to charge. And he did. He charged.
He put one knee on the desk, knocking off the red notebook and crayon box she’d laid out after sitting down. His left hand grabbed both of her hands. His fingers closed easily around both of her tiny wrists. Even with her head still bowed, he managed to lift off the mask.
I expected a monster or a sad story, maybe the kind of kid my mom cried about when she saw their tragedies broadcasted on the news. Evelyn wasn’t very pretty or hard to look at. She had a small nose, red cheeks, and round eyes. Average. So average that maybe I’d wear a mask too.
Before Mr. Copeland could walk away, Evelyn’s head snapped forward. I saw a snake do the same thing once. She sunk her baby teeth into his forearm. He shook his arm back and forth, but she didn’t release. Her nose crinkled and then shivered, which I knew meant she was biting harder.
After a moment of still disbelief, Mr. Copeland swatted at the back of her knee. She winced but did not move. He shook his arm again. Her bite may have loosened, but she didn’t give up. Finally, he held her shoulder and tore his arm away. A red circle had opened on his arm. It was fleshless. I looked for a perfect circle of freckled and hairy skin on the floor, but never found it. Evelyn reached for the mask he’d dropped. She put it on and adjusted it until it was centered once again.
Mr. Copeland gripped his arm. Blood leaked out from between his fingertips. He was still looking down at his arm, assessing the damage, when he said “Principal’s office. Now.”
She didn’t move. She didn’t look scared. Evelyn looked at him as if he was a math problem on the board.
Mr. Copeland walked over to his desk and took out a first-aid kit. He looked up. His eyes scanned the room. He looked back down.
“Lynnie. You walk her there.”
I stood up, shivering with nerves and pride. We made eye contact, and she followed me out of the room.
We’d walked ten steps down the hallway when she paused. She lifted the mask up just past her nostrils and took a deep breath before sliding it back down. We stood for a moment, looking at each other, though I wasn’t sure if she saw me.
Then Evelyn ran. She ran all the way to the end of the hall where the doors opened to the playground. I prepared for a painful, bright light when she burst through to the outside world, but it had started to rain. She didn’t look back at me. I watched her until she was out of view, then I returned to the classroom.
Mr. Copeland was sitting at his desk. He’d put Bill Nye the Science Guy on the fat T.V. He had wrapped his arm with gauze, more than necessary. It was a thick glob around his arm, and I wanted to press on it.
“Is she with the principal?” he asked me.
“Yes sir,” I lied.
Evelyn never returned to class. Mr. Copeland never brought it up. He simply put tape over her name on the class behavior traffic light.
Gale Huxley is an emerging writer from Atlanta, where she lives with her husband and chihuahua. She graduated from Savannah College of Art and Design in 2016 with a BFA in writing. Gale has been published in 805 Lit + Art Magazine and Karma Comes Before Magazine. You can find her on Instagram @steppenbitch or on her Substack at galehuxley.substack.com