I really enjoyed the concept of this fable I wrote, but had a tough time writing it. Mostly because I didn’t want it to be too long. I think just about everything worth saying can be beautifully fit into a few paragraphs at the most, and most of the words beyond that should have been edited out. This is especially true for a parable or fable. Neither you nor I came here to read a novel, so I hope this isn’t too long for either of us.
The fable of the mask maker
Some time ago, there were two sisters, both in their early teens. Perhaps you know of them, perhaps not, but this is the story of Ann and Kate.
The sisters were very close in age, and they lived in a large city with their parents. Both had close friends and, because they were young, they were both in the process of discovering who they were. They had dreams and fears of what the future held. They both wanted close friendships, they wanted to make their parents proud, and, like many young women their age, they wanted to fit in with their peers.
One evening, they were both invited to a masquerade ball. It was to be a grand event, with many friends attending and numerous people coming from out of town. Everyone was going to be there.
When the invitations arrived, their Mom gave them some money and sent them to the mask maker, telling them, “Picking out the right mask is very important. You get to choose who you will be the night of the ball. Because people won’t know who you are, you can choose to be anyone or anything you want.”
The girls were excited and ran to the mask maker’s shop. When they entered his store, they found all sorts of masks that were perfect for a masquerade. The girls could choose to look like high society ladies in Venice, or have cat’s faces with whiskers, or have steampunk gears on their cheeks, or anything else they could imagine, both plain and fantastic. The choices were so many, they were overwhelmed and had a terrible time deciding. Their parents had suggested a traditional masquerade mask, while their friends had said they were going with masks based on a popular show of the time. They even had suggestions for each other, but each sister had to choose a mask for herself. The choosing process was difficult, but finally a decision was made by each of them, and they brought their money to the mask maker sitting behind the cash register.
The master artisan told them, “You have made some excellent choices! There are no wrong decisions to be made here and these are among my best work. Let’s see what you have picked out.” Ann had selected a stunning mask, the face of a character from the most popular show in town. It was the mask of the heroine who was loved by the audience. She was certain that this would be accepted by all of her friends and that she would fit in perfectly. She knew many would be wearing the same face the night of the ball and she drew comfort from this. Kate, on the other hand, had found a more unique mask, that of the face of an exotic merchant of the stars. This mask spoke to her heart, but though she had always been drawn to becoming a star trader, it was neither the traditional mask her parents would have picked for her nor one that would be popular or common at the ball. Ann was quick to point this out to her.
As he took their money, the mask maker said, “Because my masks have to be able to fit any face, the fit is never perfect. When you dance and enjoy your party, remember that your mask may slip off from time to time. When this happens, just remember, if you keep in the character of your mask, nobody will notice that it has slipped. You can put it back into place as if nothing has happened.” The sisters thanked him and left with their prizes.
The ball was everything Ann had expected, though a bit bland and predictable. She saw her friends, many of whom wore the same mask she did, and they all enjoyed the drinks and dancing. They watched the other partygoers, sometimes with fascination, and commented on everyone who attended and what they were wearing. As teenage girls sometimes do, they often had biting remarks for those who were not well dressed and for those who didn’t see the wisdom of picking a mask others could easily recognize. But this pettiness was kept to a minimum and they enjoyed each other’s company.
Throughout the night, Ann worried that her mask was slipping off and kept fixing it. Even when it had not moved at all, she kept adjusting it and feeling it to make sure it was in place. It was a constant distraction and by the end of the night, she could focus on little else, always worried that if it slipped off, someone would notice and she would become the object of ridicule. But fortunately, that never happened, though there were a few close calls. By the end of the night, Ann, fully exhausted with the mask and the ball, was ready to leave. All in all, she had a good time, or at least that’s what she told her parents the next morning as she wondered what had become of Kate, who she had lost track of early in the night.
When she arrived at the ball, Kate was nervous. Her mask was different from everyone else’s and she could tell right away that this singled her out. Though she loved the star trader’s mask, she wished her sister and her friends would love it too, would accept it. But they didn’t, not at all. They laughed at her choice, they poked fun at how poorly she fit in. And so Kate had to forge out on her own and make new friends. She feared the coming “I told you sos” from her parents, friends, and sister, who would never have worn such a mask and were either embarrassed or worried about her choice. Nonetheless, Kate wore her new mask and carefully followed the mask maker’s instructions. She kept in character so that if her mask slipped, no one would notice. She made a number of new friends that night and met many interesting people, but it was a very difficult process. She wondered to herself, “Why must it be so hard to meet new people, to make new friends? Why do my friends judge me so harshly, why do they mock me?” But by the time the evening was over, she barely noticed the mask at all, she was so fully enjoying herself. She danced the night away and everyone commented on the remarkable star trader in their midst.
When the night was almost at an end, Kate saw herself in a mirror and admired the beautiful mask she still wore. It was perfect. She raised her hands to take it off, but when she put her hands on it to remove it, she touched her own face. In a moment of clarity, she realized the mask had fallen off hours before. Her face had become that of the star trader and she could never again return to the comfortable life she lived before that night.