Introduction: How this short story came to be
For a long time, some of the topics I enjoyed writing about in my short stories were love and human connection. How do you connect with other when you don’t know who you are? What does falling in love look like when you live in isolation, or when you don’t feel truly human?
In this flash fiction story, I explore the tale of a woman with no identity who finds, for the first time, a kindness that ignites a fire in her. Will she betray her mission to discover these new-found feelings? Keep reading to find out.
A Night of Masks and Memories: A Short Story
She closed the door of her small, stuffy studio and turned the lights on. The face she wore that evening smiled with the satisfaction of a good night’s work.
It was unlike any other face she had worn: the small nose, the large, jade-coloured eyes, the thin lips curled up in a permanent, playful smirk. Until then, taking off the face was the first step of her nightly routine. She’d step into the bathroom and wash her face to remove it, cleansing the memories and feelings with it, leaving her suspended in a colourless limbo, with only a few memories in her mind like shadows behind the fog. It took the edge off the job and reminded her of her mission: to find more faces for her brothers and sisters, as they did for her.
But that night, she hesitated. “I don’t need to take it off right now,” she muttered as she slipped out of her shoes, rejoicing in the feeling of the carpet underfoot.
That night she was Marina: 25 years old, medium height, average weight, brown hair down to her shoulders; but a spark within the face survived its owner’s death. She could feel it radiating warmth and joy inside her mind, making her uncomfortable with her newfound happiness.
That night was different in other ways, too. That night she met a man, a man with a sweet smile, a quiet disposition and warm blue eyes that looked at her with attention while she talked, holding her glass, her keys almost forgotten on the counter at the bar.
“Have you got a pen?” He raised his voice a little, leaning slightly toward her to make himself heard over the music and the chatter.
She nodded and handed him a blue pen she found inside her bag, under the small, silver box where she kept the face she took earlier that evening. Marina couldn’t help but notice his hands with the elegant fingers that held the pen which bled blue blood on the napkin. The thought of fingers leaving heat marks on her skin and the ache in her heart, like an insatiable hunger.
“Thank you,” he said, returning the pen to her with a smile. But his eyes lingered over her face for a few seconds, trying to make up the shapes of her over the harsh blue and yellow lights. “Have we met before? You look familiar.”
Marina froze for a moment, searching for a glimpse of this man in the face’s memories. “I don’t think we’ve met, no,” she said, carefully.
He smiled again, offering his hand. “Steven. And you are?”
“Marina.” She was Marina, after all, but only for that night, for as long as she was allowed to wear that face with the tiny nose and the green eyes and the playful smirk. He had a long, thin face, a full beard and a head full of dark curls, and she wondered what it’d be like to wear it, what memories came with it, how many tears it had shed. But men’s faces didn’t suit her well.
“Have you tried the sangria here? I’m gasping for decent sangria but was thinking about trying a place across the street.”
“This place has the best sangria in town, if you ask me.”
“Really?” He beamed. “Well, I’ve got to try it. Let me buy you one, yeah?” Marina nodded and he ordered the drinks.
With their drinks in hand, they moved to a table at the back of the bar, next to the empty pool tables, where the music was quieter and the lights dimmer. It was the first time she lost track of time. She was too caught in his low, clear voice, in the way his face lit up when he talked about his passion, his art, the people in his life, and his hopes for the future.
Before she knew it, she was sharing her memories and passions and hopes, too. She told him she was truly fascinated by people, by their contradictions, by their individuality within their immutable human condition that made them trip over the same obstacles and hurt each other in the same ways for thousands of years. They never learned, but they never gave up. Deep down, she admitted to herself she envied their warmth, their capacity for love and pleasure, but not their pain, their pettiness and their knack for self-destruction.
But she was not Marina, nor could she share anything else with him other than her stolen memories. She had no smile of her own she could offer to him, no name, no smiles, no funny childhood stories, no warmth in her fingers to leave on his skin like she wished he’d do to her. The woman he was talking to didn’t exist. Was that joy, that hunger that consumed her at that moment truly hers or a remnant of the woman whose life she’d stolen?
“It’s getting late,” he sighed, “the bar closes at 3 so we’re getting kicked out soon anyway. And it’s time for me to go back to my hotel. It was a pleasure talking to you. Hope you had a good time, too.”
“I hope this isn’t the last time we see each other.”
His voice was warm and inviting. The endless possibilities presented to her at that moment froze her in her place as she weighed her next step, ignoring the violent thumping in her chest that made her breathless.
Even if it killed her, committing treason to become Marina was an option. In her mind, she saw herself laughing with Marina’s zest, loving with the same intensity from her memories, feeling her hands warm for the first time. Or, she could bring his face home, but her hands started shaking with the thought of plunging the knife into him. She couldn’t kill him, but she had nothing more to offer than endless silence and a sharp blade.
“I’d love to, but I’m leaving the city in a few days.” There was a sadness in her voice that he seemed to pick up.
“Let’s go grab a bite before we go, at least?”
“I really can’t; I should be going home now.”
Nodding, he stood up and walked with her to the exit. Outside, the November breeze greeted them with a cold fist and a sharp mist, and they stood under the street light to get one long, last look at each other.
“Well, I’m going that way,” he pointed to an alley to his right and offered his other hand for a shake. “It was a pleasure, Marina. Best of luck to you.”
“I had a good time. Good luck to you, too.” She shook his hand, revelling in his warmth, maybe holding on to it for a second or two longer than appropriate.
With a final, sad smile, he turned around and walked away into the narrow but well-lit alley, to live the life full of love and passion she could never have.
Normally, taking off her face was the first step of her nightly routine. That night, however, she brought home more than a new face: she brought traces of his warmth in her hand, the sound of his laughter still ringing in her ears, and a newfound hunger devouring from the inside.
It’d all be gone once she took off the face. She dreaded diving back into the cold, white silence of her mind, a place where no one had smiled at her before or shook her hand or wished to see her again. In the darkness of her small studio, the silence challenged her to join it and return to the white, suffocating emptiness. Instead, she sat on the couch with his voice still fresh in her mind. She chose the memory of him and all that could’ve been — her skin marked with his fire, the taste of his lips on hers, the way his eyes shone with love when they saw her enter his car on a Saturday night for a date. That night, she’d dream, and the dreams would be, for once, her own.