The screen is blank, reflections in the curved glass devolved and backwards, setting the couple in an otherworldly image that dilutes their faces. They are holding hands, completely lost in the world they are imagining together. Light from outside rims their heads as a halo, a golden sheen shining forth from behind them and casting their blurred faces even further into shadow. Their loving whispers are bubbly, excited, as though talking about a particularly goofy piece of gossip or social gore. It is mid-afternoon, and both are skipping work, their first holiday together more important than income.
The television comes on, the world on screen blurring slowly into reality and lighting up the room. The shadows move and a glare forms on the television screen from the sunlight outside and one slender, pale arm reaches up to turn the tilt wand and the light fades, aimed further and further up until it finally disappears. The television, now unopposed, dominates the darkness.
[Insert laugh track here]
Pixelated food is so vivid that it invokes a phantom smell, perforating the atmosphere with the scent of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, a woman in a white apron and oven mitts setting down a turkey that is unrealistic in size, so large that the two viewers are shocked her arms don’t break off and fall to the table, her doll-like visage completed. Instead she smiles widely and sets it down in front of her husband, the children beaming at the happy couple as they carve up the bird and serve out sides. Under the noses of the viewers sit TV dinners, microwaved succotash and salisbury steak with brownie for dessert. The two women hold hands and close their eyes, the smaller one muttering thanks to God for the life they have and the joy they feel with each other. She tosses her red-gold hair and uses her free hand to pull her bathrobe tighter, covering her bare shoulders and neckline to keep warm in the house.
Allie is not paying attention to the prayer, instead looking around the living room of the home that she has just moved into. The golden-brown wallpaper, vertically striped in a deeper brown, draws her eye down it from where it meets the ceiling. She follows it to the shag carpet and to the coffee-brown coffee table. On the other side of them sits an old-style, large-backed television. On it, as Allie prays, the family is going around the table and telling each other what they are thankful for.
“This show is weird,” Allie says. She turns to Kallie, her partner, and cocks an eyebrow. “I mean, isn’t it? Really creepy and awkward, I don’t get it.”
“Yeah, I’m not sure about this,” Kallie replies. “I’ve seen this before and I don’t remember it being quite like this. Matter of fact I’m not sure what is happening, I remember this part of the movie but these aren’t the lines.” She reaches over and squeezes her lover’s shoulder. “Sorry, guess this isn’t quite what we were going for. Thought we were watching a holiday movie but this is stranger than I remember.”
“That’s okay,” Allie says with a smile. “I like weird, and besides maybe it gets better.” She leans to Kallie’s hand and kisses her fingers, winking at her. Taking her plastic fork, she picks a bite of microwaved corn and lima beans, the succotash finally cool enough to eat. Chewing carefully, tasting, she deems it edible and smiles. “Perfect,” she moans pleasurably. “Best Thanksgiving dinner I’ve ever had!” She leans out and cuts off a piece of salisbury steak, running it through the half-congealed gravy and downing it quickly. “This is better than any Thanksgiving I’ve had at home, you aren’t yelling at anyone like my dad or crying like my brother. My mom isn’t here, quietly sitting in shame because all of her kids are gay.” Allie runs her fingers through her hair, dyed so black that it shines with a blueish tint, and pulls Kallie close to kiss her on the cheek. “I’m thankful for you, sugar.” She allows her deep Southern accent to come out fully and watches as Kallie’s neck flushes scarlet with arousal.
“I’m thankful for you too, honey,” comes the reply. She turns and they share a kiss, then turn back to their meal. “And for the taste of Swipe Cola,” she adds, deadly seriousness in her voice. A moment of silence hangs over them till suddenly, with a “pfft”, Allie explodes into laughter. Bent over her tray of microwaved food, she is trying to hold back tears that refuse to be caged. Kallie joins her, chuckling at first but soon the two are sprawled out on the couch and holding their sides as they laugh. Their food continues to grow colder but they no longer care.
The sounds of laughter and comical oboe music pour from the TV while the two laugh, the flickering images casting light over the room. Kallie is framed in white, while the father’s red shirt casts over Allie, and the two form a bright pair as they cackle. Kallie sits up and composes herself, diving back into the now-lukewarm food. She chews and smiles at Allie, who joins her for their meal. Sitting in their lights, their moving colors cast from the television, they gaze forward and try to figure out what exactly they’re watching.
“What,” Allie says, “in the hell is happening?” She is still laughing and eating. She has taken a few sips of wine out of her red, plastic cup. She does not often drink and her face feels warm as her head swims a little. “I thought this was network television, can they say ‘fuck’ on this show?” She turns to look at the woman she loves and, in shock, draws a sharp breath.
Kallie stares at her, an ornate, black-and-gold mask on her face. There is no strap, no stick to hold it up with as the Venetians used to use. Her face is fully covered by the construct. The triangular shape of the chin juts out and the mask breaks off at the sides, rimmed in bright gold. Green eyes stare out from the holes shaped into the respective spots, a slight glow to them. Allie is frightened, as Kallie’s eyes are grey. The red-gold hair remains, framing the mask in fire. The smaller girl does not speak.
“Allie, what the hell?” Kallie asks. “You scared the crap out of me.”
“Seriously, what is up with you tonight?”
Kallie tires of this game quickly and turns back to the television. On screen there is crying and shouting, a family in turmoil. She stares, trying to get invested as she munches on the last of her main course and side. She pops the now cooled brownie out of its segment in the plastic tray, the fork prying it up. Taking soft, small bites, she works her way through it. Next to her Allie continues to eat as well, little bits being put up through the jutted-out chin area to her mouth. The process is quick to watch but slow working through the meal, the small bites barely large enough to qualify. The two finish their meal, Kallie awkwardly looking at her girlfriend out of the corner of her eye but keeping a smile on her face. Allie occasionally looks over, her face still hidden and her eyes unreadable.
Kallie finishes her meal and, seeing that Allie has finished hers, picks up both plastic trays and heads to the kitchen to throw them out. She gets a cup out of the cabinet, too lazy to go back for her plastic one, and pours more wine into it. It is gone in three large gulps, the liquid tingling in her throat. As she finishes her last swig there is a hand that grips her hip, spins her around.
Allie is there, mask still held in place by some unseen force, and her hand runs over Kallie’s hip and buttocks as she presses against her and reaches up with her other hand to pull Kallie’s head closer. She pulls it down, pushing her face into her cleavage. The sensation is pleasant to her lover, the alcohol swimming in her system, and for a moment there is acquiescence and she kisses Allie’s skin, causing a loud sigh of ecstasy. It only lasts for that brief instant, Kallie instead realizing what she is doing and jerks back, shoving Allie away.
“What the hell are you doing?” Kallie roars. “Take off that damn mask.” Allie shakes her head, eyes finally displaying an emotion – sorrow. “Why, why can’t you take it off?” Kallie demands. Her lover buries her masked face in her hands, her shoulders shaking as the weeping begins. It is the only sound that she has made other than arousal, passion.
Storming back to the living room, Kallie pulls the cord and the shades rise. The sun has gone down but the light is not quite gone, the oranges and purples of sundown glazing the sky. She stares, looking up and down the street. Autumn leaves float on the breeze and they are the only movement outside, the rest of the neighborhood indoors for their meal or out shopping for their relatives and friends. Longing to leave but knowing she must stay, the girl stands confused and angry. The tears come as she, too, succumbs to frustration.
Allie stands at the door frame between rooms, the kitchen lit and bright behind her. She is half-silhouette against the brightness, her masked face semi-hidden in the dark. Kallie turns back to look at her, feeling danger though none has presented itself. Allie starts forward and her lover flinches. She stops short, a few feet from Kallie, and stands uncertain. She does not know what to do. Gazing forward, the silence pervades and she continues to avoid speaking.
“Well?” Kallie asks.
Allie sits quietly on the couch. She is alone, staring at the television screen. It is not on, her reflection in the glass blurred at the face. “Maybe it just doesn’t want me to see me,” she thinks to herself, and a desperate laugh escapes her. The mask over her face is heavy, the super glue she has used to secure it in place tugging at her skin as gravity tries to do its duty by pushing it toward the floor. The pain beneath has never faded, the scarred face hidden from the world.
Hand reaching up, she yanks the cord for the window and the shades crash down. The room is once again cast into darkness and Allie rises from the couch to head for the bright kitchen. She opens the fridge and shivers in the cold that lashes out from within. Grabbing the wine, she pours her fourth glass and puts a fresh straw in it, laying the one she had been using in the row of used straws she is creating next to the sink. Shag carpet is tickly under her feet as stumbles back to the couch, tipsy from the alcohol and giggling a bit at the pleasant and silly mixture of physical and emotional feelings.
The couch exhales as she sinks into the cheap, ancient leather cushions. She sips her wine, downing a large amount, and begins to feel the pre-vomit feeling in the back of her throat. It is easily gulped down, but Allie knows that eventually she will need to throw up and makes a mental note to try to figure out how to do so with the mask on before it is necessary. “Kallie would love that, it’s funny like her,” she thinks to herself, then laughs. The laughter rings out throughout the room, the house, and things seem momentarily brighter.
Allie looks at herself in the grey television screen, barely visible in the darkness. She is not unattractive, nor does she feel so. Her body is lean and slender, curved in the right places. Next to the couch, on the side-table, sits another mask. This mask is from her doctor, a white latex affair that her father’s life insurance policy has purchased her to wear in public. She has worn it out, has done so her whole life, but it is off-putting and frightening to behold. Only those with fetishes approach her in bars or clubs when she goes dancing, only teachers who feel a sense of accomplishment by pitying the impaired students while fostering some creative talent or another. No one comes up to her that actually wants to talk, to know her, or to be what she needs – a friend. Allie has given up on any normal interaction, instead settling for a life in the societal rain. She has given up on the chance at a happy life and is beginning to settle for reality
A fizzle and a hiss, and the bulb in the kitchen goes out. Allie’s laughter ceases immediately as she looks into the now pitch-black room, suddenly frightened by the darkness. She begins to chuckle again in the dark, but it quickly turns to sobs. Collapsing on her side, she cries into the couch cushion, weeping profusely.