• 13 Feb - 19 Feb, 2021
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Fiction

We looked out the window rather than the peephole, barely twitching the curtains. It was Briony at the door. Myron got one of his own phones and called her. She picked up. "Myron! You're alive?"

"Barely," he said, like a person with a mere single body was only just clinging to life. "I'm not letting anyone in."

"I suppose I can't hold that against you," Briony said. "I just wanted to make sure you were all right."

"I had to clause-fourteen this one."

"I suspected as much, although the hospital management won't talk to me."

"I'll tell them that they can disclose to you."

"No, state law, they'd need permission from the maskers too," Briony said; we could see her shaking her head on the front doorstep. "The police will talk to me, and they said security caught the suspect, with the gun, so assuming he was acting alone this is all going to be over soon."

"That's a relief. They haven't gotten in touch with me yet."

"They don't know there's one left, no one knows exactly how many you have and they might not have gotten in touch with the jurisdiction that you were in last time, yet either. I'll pass it on."

"Thanks. And – cancel everything – just everything!"

"Even though, they caught the…"

"I'm down to one body and I'm a little too rattled to sort out the priorities inherited from half a dozen, Briony!" he shouted into the phone. "I'll pick some things up once I will – later. I'll - Briony, getting shot hurts. I'll pick some things up later. But for now cancel everything."

"...All right, Mr Lasko."

"Thank you."

She hung up. We watched her leave.

Myron ran his hands through his hair. Opened up his calendar and watched as Briony pared down the schedule, dizzying flocks of to-dos disappearing until time slots were scheduled only three deep, then two, then a schedule one very determined person without any spare hands or brains could accomplish if he wanted to, then - nothing but a single copy each day of "lunch hour" and "dinner", colour coded as things done alone, not while meeting someone for an interview over lobster.

It was lunchtime.

Myron went to the kitchen. Stared into his fridge for a while. I didn't know for how long it was going to have to last us before he'd be willing to go out, but at least he wasn't one of those rich people who ate at restaurants all the time and had nothing but mustard and booze in the house. At least he knew how to cook, better than I did even, didn't have a chef employed for the purpose and didn't have to resort to horrific noodle experiments to get anything to eat while fencing out everyone from the building.

He made grilled cheese.

"Put pesto on it," I said, not knowing if I'd be able to suggest it until I already had. I'd seen some on the fridge door.

He paused in assembling the sandwiches, then got out the pesto, slathered some on, resumed cooking. "I feel very small," he remarked. "I've had more room to think than this for - so long, now. I fill it, you'll have noticed I fill it, but I get a whole person's attention for everybody, and I don't need it all if they're eating or smiling at a camera or - so I had more space."

"I'm sure lots of people will want to be you once it doesn't look like a good way to get murdered," I said.

"You know, I'm not sure that'd put everyone off? Sometimes people seem to want to put on a mask to stop existing. Might not be too picky about the details, some of them. Probably there are legal reasons not to take on new maskers till the murderer's definitely in the custody and definitely the murderer, not some guy the murderer planted his gun on or something... Do you want to stop existing?"

"No," I said. "I left a bunch of questions taped to your mirror; one of them was if I could bail out what with there being a murderer after you."

"Well," he said. "You can't. Not yet, anyway, and by the time I have another masker it'll be past time to worry about the murderer." He flipped the sandwiches.

"Yeah," I said. "I like being you, mostly, at least more than I liked not being you."

"Keeps me on my toes, having an audience all the time. I watch less television now than when I was just one of me. I mean, when I was just my original me," Myron said. "You folks aren't here for that, you're here for the music, the meeting other celebrities, and that sort of things. I got to show you a good time, make it as fun as it looks."

I didn't deny it. "Who's MacDougal?"

"He's dead now," said Myron. "He died on stage. He was - you know how sometimes they'll do parolees in masks? It's expensive but it lets them go free, be supervised while they go through the twelve steps or the anger management training. But they don't like to have one parole officer masking a hundred people, too much concentrated power, you see? You wind up with so much room to think, so many people you could suddenly control, and if you quit one day that's a lot of people they have to get masks off of and deal with some other way. And the expense. And there's some worry that a courtly slap down the idea, cruel and unusual, you know, they want to be able if it comes up to trot out poster cases - even though they only do this with prisoners who volunteer. So - MacDougal, he was a rapist. Nasty piece of work, forty girls accused him. I don't know if you heard, you would have been pretty young when he was caught."

"Somebody could have wanted to murder him just like Briony thought."

"Somebody could have, but I still think they were after me. No one but the court and my mask maker and the family knew who he was wearing... Anyway, they didn't want to let him do his own thing, he played around a lot with plausible deniability and grooming and that shit, not something a parole officer would catch if they were mostly letting him drive, they didn't want someone paying him a fraction of their attention while he set up to do it again. So once they got a conviction, I think half the counts went through, they were like, how about a masking celebrity, it's not cruel and unusual, people volunteer for that, but you won't be able to do your thing, and he said, all right, as long as I get laid sometimes. And nobody ever asks me who's under the mask."

"Creepy," I said. I plated the grilled cheeses.

He bit one, or maybe I did. We bit one. "You've probably angered him, haven't you, because you were both me and I mixed you all up like my guitar picks until I had to give somebody a day off, but it didn't make any difference to you, did it. Next batch I'm having us all wear inscribed rings. It doesn't matter who's wearing me when I pick up a fan, I'm the only one they meet and the only one making the decisions, and anyway he's dead now. So that's who he is." He talked around the sandwich a bit, and I might not have been able to understand him if I'd heard the sounds recorded, but I could feel what he was going for, and that closed the gap a little like lip-reading from the inside.

"Okay. Thanks for telling me."

"Mm-hm." And we applied ourselves to the sandwich.

The prints on the gun matched the guy Security had nabbed. He was the right height and he didn't have an alibi for the first murder. He didn't make bail.

Myron let Briony in the house, and she hugged us, and he ordered groceries while they discussed scheduling. He un-cancelled his attendance at a benefit dinner and un-cancelled an interview on the grounds that he needed more maskers and exposure was necessary for drumming up the interest. Concert tickets had been refunded and there'd need to be choreography and timing and logistics changes to accommodate there being fewer of Myron anyway - not to mention the costumes he'd been wearing had gunshot holes and blood now - so that slot was still open, for now. He pushed back composing, cut back on rehearsal, rearranged everything to fit it into twenty-four hours a day, with a heavy emphasis on social obligations and face time.

The benefit dinner was fancy; Myron dressed up even relative to his normal street clothes, which were fine and fitted to begin with. I recognised my sister Gina, across the room - was this her fancy party? Wouldn't she be amused to know that I was already there, my rejection of her invitation notwithstanding. She recognised Myron, whispered to the friend she'd brought instead, but she had no way to recognise me. I tried to whisper to Myron that I wanted to say hi, but he was firmly in control; my attempt wouldn't even feel like anything as he swept through the room, shaking hands with the organiser, smiling at people trying to catch his eye, signing an autograph, pausing at his dinner plate to sip water and read the place cards he'd been put with. He was going to sing; he was the musical number for the night and they'd been upset about his cancellation, hadn't been able to replace him on short notice.

There were speakers; first, he was supposed to sing as the appetizers came out. He leaned on his elbow, smiling faintly, probably more to look generally affable than out of any interest in someone's empty buzzwords about her personal connection to ending childhood malnutrition with community gardening and a summer holiday replacement for school lunch. He looked around the room. His eyes settled on my sister and her friend where they were whispering cheek to cheek, glancing at him intermittently and smiling when they realised he was looking their way.

I strained and searched and squirmed-without-squirming, looking for anything he was leaving to me, but he was effortlessly parked on every muscle I possessed, sitting easily in his damnably flirtatious forward lean, all ready to put moves on my sister in my body. I should have told her. I should have said, "Sis, by the way, my weird job that only gives me one day off a month, not even weekends? It's masking for Myron Lasko. Don't hook up with him, not unless you've checked and it's not me under there." I should have told Myron: "For your information, here are the names and appearances of all my family members; I understand that knowing exactly how many cousins I have will reduce the security of Thespyan, and I'm okay with that".

I tried to shift posture, I tried to blink, I tried to grind his teeth, and I also tried to make a sound. But nothing happened.

He wasn't going to go anywhere with her until after dinner. I had that long to wait for him to check in with me at all, to let me say a word while he ducked into the men's room or waited backstage to walk up to the mic. And he'd better do it because if he made me fuck my sister then the next time I had my arms I was yanking that mask off my face and he'd never see it coming.

...would I get prosecuted for murder? It was strange to think about. I'd probably get prosecuted, I didn't know if I'd get convicted.

At any rate, this was mostly my own stupid fault, he probably thought that if I had any sisters they'd know, and she didn't, and he had better let me talk before he brought her home.

The speakers rotated through; when everyone was looking more bored and hungry than they could cover with a pretense of fascination with meals on wheels, appetizers appeared in the wings borne by a fleet of waiters, and Myron excused himself from his tablemates to go around back. -Anonymous