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Masquerade

Story by Melissa Bowers (Read author interview) January 11, 2021

Art by Johanna Paula Perez-Vinluan

I lost my daughter at a costume party when she was five. Here are the times I lost her before that: At the mall, three years old, under a clothing rack she thought was a fort. At the grocery store, two and a half, in the animal cracker aisle. At the beach, twenty months, hiding behind our umbrella when the gulls came. I want this one to have a similar ending, to be able to talk about her found place, not just her lost place, but that’s the only part of this story I know.

*

He tells me it’s been eleven years and I’ll be fine, so I stipple paint along my forehead and repeat: I’ll be fine. It’s just a stupid party.

It doesn’t matter that back then, my body stayed put and the rest of me disappeared—a secret, because there’s no space for more than one of us to vanish. It doesn’t matter that I sometimes ball up in the shower with or without the water running, that I occasionally sleep on the floor of her untouched room, that tonight I stall and stall and then intentionally smear my makeup so now we are going to be late. It doesn’t matter because it’s been eleven years.

He has to zip me into my costume because I won’t. I’m sick, I say. I should probably stay home.

When are we going to fucking stop this? he asks, the way he always does, as if it’s something we can shove behind an opaque door. Like when our daughter covered her own eyes and thought she could not be seen.

*

We said it was a party for the kids, but we lied. It was a party for us. The adults in the kitchen with our spiked cider, extra rum to taste, fishnets and boots and wigs and wings. Someone’s spouse flirting with someone else’s, all of us touching knees and shoulders we shouldn’t. Nobody saw them switch—they just appeared, giggling, and made us guess: Who was the angel now? The butterfly? The ghost?

Where is Superman? I asked, but the costume she’d chosen every year was puddled on the floor, always Superman, not Supergirl, and she would flex her tiny arm muscles and fly through the house, sometimes on foot, sometimes in our arms. Didn’t anyone swap with Superman?

Everyone studied each other, but no one could remember. They were only children.

*

She would be almost seventeen. I try to imagine what she might look like now, in case I’m walking down the street one day and pass her face, but here is all I know: A smile with one loose bottom tooth. Cheeks with velvet baby fat. I keep checking the eyes, because what kind of parent wouldn’t recognize the eyes, and wouldn’t those have to stay the same?

We go to the party. I see her in every stranger.

*

There’s another kind of party. The kind that searches for people and pretends to have hope, and for a long time everyone searched everywhere, including the basement, including the shed behind the house, including the woods and the field and the lake. No one talks about her anymore, but when they used to, he would say, She’s still missing. And I would think, So am I.

*

Someone’s spouse flirts with someone else’s. All of us touching. People are dancing and glistening, laughing and drinking, eating hors d’oeuvres as if food has flavor, as if everyone can feel the same spinning Earth, so I spin too—I make small talk with all our old friends. I kiss deeply with my rum-soaked mouth. I rip off every costume and peer behind each mask and still can’t find where we have gone.

About the Author

Melissa Bowers is the winner of the Breakwater Review Fiction Prize, the F(r)iction flash fiction competition, and The Writer’s inaugural personal essay contest, and her stories are featured as prize-winners in Lunate, Barren Magazine, and Pithead Chapel. She has been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize, nominated for The Best Small Fictions 2021, and selected for the 2021 Wigleaf Top 50. Melissa’s work has also appeared or is forthcoming in The Cincinnati Review, The Greensboro Review, Atticus Review, Fractured Lit, Pidgeonholes, CHEAP POP, and The Boston Globe Magazine, among others. Find her on Twitter @MelissaBowers_.

About the Artist

Find more photography by Johanna Paula Perez-Vinluan at Unsplash.

This story appeared in Issue Seventy of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Seventy
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Important

The SmokeLong Quarterly Comedy Prize 2021!

This competition is no longer accepting entries. Watch for the long list coming soon! The four winners of the competition will be featured in Issue 74 of SmokeLong Quarterly coming out near the end of December.