masks keep mother quiet

Todd smoothed, cut, prodded, folded, and the man that had been Nike-Swoosh took shape as if he’d been in the clay all along…”

 

by alex clark-mcglenn

 

Todd heard a voice in his head. It wasn’t the voice of self-conscience. It wasn’t a voice like you or I have. The one that tells us we’re too fat or stupid for anyone to love us. The voice Todd heard was his mother’s. In the break room, Todd pumped quarters into the vendor. At the table behind him, the chummy guys were talking about The Game.

The one with the Nike-Swoosh hair asked, “You see it, Todd?”

Todd sniffed. “No.”

“Missed out,” said Nike-Swoosh. “Total squeaker.”

Bad Toddy, said Mother. What would they do if they knew your crying?

Todd hadn’t cried since he was a boy. He knew how to quiet mother. She brought out the best in him–and the worst.
When Nike-Swoosh left that day, Todd followed.

Todd’s basement smelled of clay. Gray dust coated the work table where he sat, the brick walls surrounding. He didn’t use the spindle, scraper, or cutter–not just yet, anyway. He used his hands. And as they worked he hummed a tune, one you’ve probably heard, one about doors all painted black.

His thumb ran across a flared nostril embedded in the clay.

“I found another man to add to our collection,” he said to nobody. To everyone.

He turned to the trophy shelf on his right.

“This guy has some hip hair.”

The four trophy heads were silent. Todd leaned in and examined the only woman. Her harelip had stiffened.

You don’t talk to them, said Mother, Only me.

Todd let out an audible breath. Meditative. Soon.

He patted a jowl-face manhead, then turned back to the work desk.

He used the clay cutter to discover the nose. Then an ear.

“You know, I sometimes wonder what you all dream about.”

The Nike-Swoosh hair flared up.

They don’t dream. They’re all dead.

Todd smoothed, cut, prodded, folded, and the man that had been Nike-Swoosh took shape as if he’d been in the clay all along. Damn near perfect, Mother.

Todd pulled a gloss black briefcase from under the desk. He swiveled the gold combo-numbers, pushed the button. The case popped open. He drew the headskin out. It was dry–he’d wiped it off meticulously after the kill. The Nike-Swoosh hair still held. Good gel.
With both hands, Todd worked the neckskin open, stretching it to fit over the clay face. When he pulled the fleshmask down the sculpted face, though, the nose was crooked.

Can’t do anything right, can you?

Todd rolled the skin over the chin and up to the nose. He took up the cutter. With a finger, he stretched up the skin near a nostril, then he fitted the cutter in the space. It slid through the clay like a butcher’s knife through moist lamb.

Then Todd felt his pulse quicken. An outward flow came from his finger with each beat of his heart. You likely know the feeling. You’ve given something away and can never get it back. Todd too.

The knife slipped from his fingers and clattered to the floor. Todd watched blood bloom over his finger. He’d left a smear of crimson on Nike-Swoosh’s clay neck.

Todd grabbed a paper towel, applied pressure. When he released his finger he saw a thin slit at its tip. Then the blood flowed again.

Remember when you cut me, Toddy? Mother asked. My blood was so red. But it didn’t get rid of me.

She was right. It hadn’t; no matter how many cuts he’d given her, he always heard her voice. She always came back and her words were independent of any physical injury Todd had ever sustained, and they burned inside him.

The basement took a collective breath. The sound of it made Todd look up from his pulsing finger. The head that had once been Nike-Swoosh let out a long breath and blood–was it Todd’s blood?–shot from its lips.

“Ohhh,” said the face, like air escaping a long sealed coffin. “You. . . you killed me.”

“He killed all of us,” said the woman with the harelip, from the trophy shelf.

“Threw my body in the lake,” said the jowled manhead.

Todd’s lungs were tight. He couldn’t get enough air.

“What the hell, man!?” accused Nike-Swoosh.

Todd couldn’t answer. He listened to the shouts from the people he’d killed, calls for him to speak, to explain. He watched hatred spread across each face. But all words died on Todd’s lips. He listened to their voices. Mother was not among them, now. Not even a whisper. A silence was in his head, screams in the basement. Todd was reminded of his one time away from Mother when a boy. It was summer camp and he’d sat in the woods listening to the shiver of leaves in the wind and the absence of thoughts in his head. This was what he had now–no thoughts, just the feeling, and over the shouts and protestations of death, you could hear another sound. It came from deep within Todd, a keen peal of laughter, one that drove even the dead to silence.

 

Originally published:
Issue Seventy-Five
September 2017

 

(illustration: john richen)

 


Alex graduated from the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts. His fiction has appeared in a collection of literary magazines and anthologies including the Best New Writing 2016 and The Cost of Paper Volume Three and Four. He lives in Olympia, Washington and is seeking representation for his debut novel, a blend of magical realism and horror. Find him online at alexclarkmcg.com and on Twitter @alexclarkmcg

Comments are closed