she kept a razor blade
in the cupboard
the razor slid out
of a yellow plastic box
with a clear safety lid
that i’d once seen my father use
to get his cigar started

with the rectangular blade in hand
she placed my plastic halloween mask
on the counter
then using the edge of the razor
she carefully, lovingly cut nostril holes into the nose
then she did the same between the lips
enlarging the tiny mouth slit
to the full size of his lips
not quite a smile
his face uniformly peach­ colored
smooth like an egg
surrounded by his orange military helmet
that extended down the sides of his head like a knight’s armor

i hovered over the mask flat on the table
the eyeholes, nostrils, and mouth
empty, black holes, looking like an ancient mask on a velvet background
pictured in national geographic magazine
except his expression was cocksure
like the host of a game show

“put it on, mom” i said
knowing she wouldn’t, never being one for toys or games
preferring the more careful art of sewing
the marker­ drawn patterns and the dark line
directing the needle like a map

i looked out the window at the dogwood tree
starting to grow red
it shivered like a kid trick or treating

i heard a terrifying grunt, turned around,
saw an army man’s face with her beady eyes behind the sockets
barely recognizable as her’s
made me jump
“a little halloween trick,” she said

she removed the mask
face friendly again but now
carrying the threat of a trick, new to me
she held the thin plastic to my face
stretched the elastic band over the back of my head
i heard my breath hissing through the holes she had enlarged for my safety

the mask crushed my face
the nose too shallow, mouth too low
the edges of the sharp plastic like brambles poking my skin


Dan Tarnowski is a writer in Brooklyn. His micro-fiction novella is ‘Blink and the World Goes Blank.’ Follow him @enfantterrabyte.