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FICTION on the WEB short stories by Charlie Fish

The Masquerade
by G David Schwartz

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In the waning days of winter, a carnival is held in our district during which people dress and act like fools. The only difference between this festival and our regular life is that people dress the part. The festival has no special name, even though it occurs around the time of Purim. Let me hastily add, however, very quickly, so there will not be any misunderstanding, so that you should understand and not have to question me about it, or look suspiciously upon me, my family, my friends, or my property, which you will want when I am evicted from your lovely country, including my prize collection of Russian Folk Literature, or People's literature, however you will call it, that this is not a Purim Festival. We just dress like fools and act the part.

The winter was waning, and the festival was coming around, and Maria was preparing for the festival. Her manner of preparation is to convince me that I should go, and not only should I go, but I should enjoy. Well, going and enjoying are two different things.

This is the problem as I saw it. Traditionally, if you do not want to dress in a costume, you do not have to dress in a costume. Which is fine. Except, it is expected that if you do not dress in a costume, then you go semi-formal. Even at my best, I am semi-formal. This, as far as I am concerned, is not the problem. The problem, as I see it, and it certainly is a problem, is that if you go in a suit, then you are liable to be censured as someone who is not participating in the good clean fun of the celebration. On the other hand, if you go in a costume, then you have to spend the night explaining what you are dressed as and, for my money, if you have to explain what you are dressed as, then you might as well not go.

Maria saw the problem in an entirely different light. The problem, according to Maria, was that I had to go. But even this, to hear her explanation, was only half the problem. The other half of the problem was that I did not want to go. Both of these propositions were true and, if we read the works of logic and science, a truth cannot really be a problem. Two truths, on the other hand, when they conflict and contradict and complicate conditions, are a problem. In short, I was the problem. And why was I the problem? I already told you! If I wore a suit, I would be uncomfortable and accused of not participating, and if I did not wear a suit, I would be even more uncomfortable and be forced to participate by answering questions, which I did not want to answer.

So there you are! Another problem, which I have not mentioned as of yet, was that I detest chicken. Oh, I didn't mind as a boy feeding the chickens on my father's farm, nor did I mind naming them names or taking them for walks with a string tied around their neck. But I detest eating them. This would be fine - a person is entitled to his or her likes and dislikes, as long as they do not infringe upon the behavior of other people - but as it turns out, we have chicken possibly seven meals out of the seventeen or so we eat a week. Roasted chicken, chicken croquettes, chicken sandwiches, chicken and rice, beans and chicken, chicken in noodles, chicken soup, chicken chili, moo goo guy chicken, and leftovers. Why should I knowingly get dressed either like a clown, or like a fool, and go out to eat chicken? I simply could not understand the logic. When I simply knew they would have chicken, I resisted going.

Then Maria says, "Come on. You'll dress up. You'll talk with people. You'll have a nice chicken dinner. You'll dance."

"What? There's dancing, too?"

"What's wrong with dancing?"

Oy. To explain all this! "I don't like to dance. All that moving, and you don't get anywhere!"

"I don't understand," Maria says, and she paces. "Why is it you don't like these events?"

"There's no in between. Don't you understand? There is no in be twine!"

"What are you talking about, no in between?"

"You go dressed, you go undressed. You go in a suit and tie or you go in a burlap bag. A person can't go comfortable? It's either, or; either, or. Can't I stay at home where there are no questions about what I wear?"

"No," Maria says, "You can't stay at home. And do you know why?" Yes, I know why. Because there is a rule, probably written somewhere men are not allowed to look, which says men are not allowed to be comfortable. I know this rule exists, but I play dumb.

"No," I say, "why?"

"Because that would be unsociable."

"Unsociable? God forbid I should be unsociable! I'd much rather go to the party where people block the food trays while they converse and ignore you when you say, 'Excuse me.' I'd rather go into public where you cannot get a word in edgeways because loud braggarts and arrogant schmendricks talk about their miserable lives. God forbid I should sit here and read Brushing’s speeches and learn how to act in private thought and as a public asset. God forbid I should relax.

"No. You want I should listen to spinsters drone on about their misery and munitions experts drone on about the toll the cold war is taking on their business."

"You're ranting like a lunatic."

"Lunatic am I? Lunatic. I'll show you a lunatic. This is a lunatic."

So saying, I took large strides from the door to the kitchen ranting and raving about the evils of dancing and joking, chickens and casual acquaintances who clasp you to their breast like you were a long lost relative.

When I finished, Maria says tenderly, "Are you mad at me?"

"Mad at you? Why should I be mad at you? I'm not mad at you. Are you mad at me?"

"No," she says forlornly. "I'm mad at myself. I knew you would have this reaction."

"Well, if you knew I..."

Forget it.

"Do you want me to be mad at you?" I change courses, "Because I'm not. But if you want me to be mad at you..."

"No," she says decisively.

"Good. Because I'm planning on having a good time."

"Are you serious?" she asks.

"Am I serious? Do you want me to be serious? Because if you want me to be serious, then I will be. But if you don't want me to be serious, then I see no reason to be. But if you want..."

"I just want you to have a good time. To socialize and have a good time."

"Good," I say, "Then that's precisely what I'll do. I'll have a good time. Who’s going to be there?"

"Nichol Strutyourcuffsoff and his wife Vyshouldi."

"What? Nicholi Strutyourcuffsoff and his wife Vyshouldi are snobs! I can't have a good time talking to snobs."

"Leon," Maria says, "You are the snob!"

"Me a snob? Who has the right to say that about me?"

Maria just wrinkled her lips. After what I would call an embarrassing silence - Maria would call it a break in the fight - she says, "Markov Scholarintheattic will be there."


"Markov Scholarintheattic. You know Markov Scholarintheattic. Remember? He has such a dry sense of humor he makes yours look all wet."

"I'm sure that's a compliment."

"The most absurd things come out of his mouth, and he has such a straight face. I used to have a dry sense of humor. I had to wet it up. I had to! I would say hilarious things, but people would look at me as if to say, 'What the hell is he talking about? The most absurd things come out of his mouth!' So I wetted my sense of humor a little."

"What?" Maria says, "I'm sorry. I wasn't listening."

"I said, I used to have a dry sense of humor."

"I heard you! Why do you keep repeating?"

"But the doctor gave me an insulin injection and my humors began secreting hormones."

"Doctor? What doctor? What the hell are you talking about? I swear, the most absurd things come out of your mouth."

So, in anguish, I stood before my closet trying to decide what to wear. I am having a terrible time of it. Should I wear a suit? Or should I wear casual clothing and say I am dressed as someone forced to wear a festival in a costume? Should I go as someone forced to go in casual clothing? Or should I wear a costume? Or should I wear a shirt and tie? Or should I wear a shirt and tie, and two different shoes? Or should I wear two different shoes and tie two slices of bread around my waist and call myself a sandwich? Or should I wear a suit, and wear the two pieces of bread under my pants? Or should I dress casual as I please, but walk around hunched over all night, and tell everyone who asks that I am a camel?

I am in such a quandary. I cannot decide what to wear until I see Maria dressed in a devil's outfit. She is wearing a red dress, which is adorned with rips and tears, and a set of horns fashioned from a plentiful supply of toilet paper. She is holding a pitchfork.

"That's it!" I say. "Now I know what I shall go as."

I hurried and dressed in my suit. I shall go as the devil's lawyer. I should have thought of this before. They want ambiguity? I'll give them ambiguity! I will appear to be dressed formally, but in reality I shall be wearing a costume. They'll never know! A costume, which is a costume by being a suit. Proudly I stepped from my closet in my very best outfit.


"I'll be with you in a moment," Maria says. Not a compliment. Not a word. I wait by the door and when she comes to go, I am surprised to find she has changed into her evening gown.

"What are you doing?" I ask.

She shrugs.

"Now I'll have to go get out of my costume."

But she insists we're going to be late! We've got to go! We'll miss cocktails! We go! We walk! We see everyone there is to see! Some are in costumes, some are in suits, but most are dressed casually! We wish each other a happy Purim while winking! We talk! We drink vodka! We eat! Chicken! We dance! We come home and Maria says, "There, was that so bad?"

"No," I say, "I had a good time."

"You see," she says.

"I didn't say I wouldn't have a good time there. I just said I didn't want to go."

"Honestly, Leon," she said, "The most absurd things come out of your mouth.

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