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The New Language of Masks

by Alex Dally MacFarlane

In the city of sticks and glass, a girl sits bridgewise and trails images through the air with bone-thin fingers. Under her stony seat, gondoliers steer the city's hidden ways, singing hexes for safe passage. Past her step the city's people and the world's people come to visit, unseeing of her fingers' work. Their bodies brush the air-patterns, send them folding eyewards, and in bursts like the flashed sun-reflection of a coin dropped to the ground she sees their masks.

Alphabets of colour and shape, a language of dreams and futures, paint their faces.

"Beware spiders," the girl whispers, sibylline, to a woman whose silvery hair clings silken to her neck.

A hitch in the woman's step, the only indication that she heard more than wind, kicks other air-patterns into spirals.

"I seeā€¦"

Something new. The girl blinks. "Music on your face, sir." New language, of quavers and halves, written barwise across polished white cheeks-paper. She reads, and does not like it. "Bad music, sir." Fingers draw handkerchiefs in the air, and the two men with music on their faces pause and stare at her until the church clock's chime draws them onwards.


She sees it everywhere, now she has noticed; it baritones into masks and the skin beneath, trebles in the air between shoulder and shoulder.

At twelve chimes the architect comes to her, bearing a plate of food and a question: "What do you see?"


But not in her images. Laughing suddenly, she twitches her fingers in curves and in their wake forms a cat, mirror-image of the one hopping after a butterfly across the bridge. Then she sees a semi-quaver sneaking up the tabbied tail and looks away. "Too much music."

The architect is smiling.

Fingers shaking, she tugs her hip-long hair in front of her face. Black curtain. She doesn't want to look at him. Music stains his face, his clothes, his hands.

"It's in my food. You've put music in my food."

"Tell me what it tastes like."

Fingers tangle a quilt of No into her hair. She tips the plate, watches spaghetti twist and fall and plop into the canal. "Bad music, sir."

He laughs and walks away.


There is music in the water, too. The gondoliers' songs are different.

The girl sits bridgewise, trailing images from her fingers, and waits.


How euphonious!

Posted by: smorpian | January 16, 2008 12:50 PM

Thanks, smorpian! I paid a lot of attention to word-choice and word-sounds with this one; I'm glad it worked for you.

Posted by: Alex D M | January 16, 2008 1:49 PM

so informative, thanks to tell us.

Posted by: rorUnsado | September 26, 2010 4:21 AM

so informative, thanks to tell us.

Posted by: rorUnsado | September 30, 2010 2:19 AM

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