A Very Lovely Matchbox
His face was a mask. I walked into the office to sit down to tell him and his face was taut in a manner that puzzled me and even frightened me. His face had something to do with what I was about to say, which wasn’t what he hoped to hear, or even anything I would have liked to say, and yet I would be saying it. No one was looking forward to such diagrams of fear.
But earlier I had received something, a document in another meeting with someone else which was composed of words that he had written that placed me into a particular box. It wasn’t an unpleasant or dishonest or poorly regarded box, but it was not at all the box in which I had been dwelling. Instead it was a box about assumptions with no physical form whatsoever. In this box I would have to assume new dimensions, body parts and priorities. It was difficult to fathom.
I’d been living in a very lovely matchbox for years, a box of my own making and it was covered with gold leaves, strung beads and meditational symbols. The matches kept me company.
The document in front of me previously, at the desk of a very large-boned reptilian administrator sitting in front of me with blotchy scales and other eruptions of skin—the document I was holding which had been penned by he wearing the mask, this document all but obliterated my little matchbox. First, the gold leaves on the exterior were confiscated. Then the strung beads. Of course I had strung them myself and collected the leaves. I thought that I could live with this but I kept reading and saw that every last match was to be taken. I’d been betrayed, obviously.
No one else knew the importance of the matches. They thought I was a hoarder. I sat in that chair and the document trembled in my hands and the reptile across from me panted in her thick suit and I wondered why reptiles were required to wear human attire. It was really uncivil, impolitic. Feet shoved into tight leather. Tail poking out from behind the gabardine jacket. I wished that I had something with which to burn the document. That would have helped.
It wasn’t really fair though, to blame the masked human now— as he sat in front of me with pulled features. He didn’t believe it was in his power to help.
Misunderstood like a sphinx, sputtered the street, or so I thought, looking out the window. The streets spoke not to me but in passing to a companionable gutter. And then I could see in his face, in his mask now, that my displacement had transferred— was about to travel the length from my body out towards his— once he heard what he had expected — though not desired. He would have already unpacked the appropriate face. It wasn’t anything practiced. I’d never seen this face before. He’d kept it hidden. This mask had been forged from previous trauma and reserved for more intimate occasions.
Misunderstood like a sphinx, I thought regarding him and wondering, almost blurting out — what have you done to your face? Instead I spoke about the plan I had devised. I would still lose my box, and all of its adornments but I would retain a few matches. I would have to find my own means of striking them. But they would remain mine.
No one would approve, but no one could object either. After all, no one even knew I existed. If you work in a big Institution and people don’t treat you like a human, then you cease to be a human. That was how I fit inside a matchbox, and began to see the perversity of hierarchical systems. That is why the administrator is reptilian and why I chose to be an insect.
The man with the mask was still human and because he treated me as human I appeared to him in human form. And maybe the mask was about that— he finally saw. But it didn’t matter. I clutched a single match in my bow strings and crawled out the crack under the door. I felt only compassion for those who remained within.
Laynie Browne’s most recent books include, Roseate, Points of Gold (Dusie 2011), The Desires of Letters (Counterpath 2010) and The Scented Fox (Wave 2007). She is co-editor of I’ll Drown My Book: Conceptual Writing by Women (Les Figues, 2012). She currently teaches at University of Arizona.