I heave the enormous metal globe up over my shoulders and squeeze my head through the aperture. I wish I could descend into the deep blue sea, but instead I position myself alongside my wife, who’s sitting ever so elegantly on the brocade divan in the studio.
‘Try to relax, dear,’ I whisper.
‘I will never forgive you for this,’ she mutters.
For the first time in my life I feel free. Within the sanctuary of the helmet, I stick out my tongue, roll my eyes and move my mouth, making all manner of weird expressions. At times I whoop and whistle, just for the sheer hell of it, while my darling wife just sits there, stiff and starchy, staring glumly into the lens.
And then I start to talk. Any darn thing that comes into my head, all the stuff I’ve bottled up over the years, stuff I should have said but never did. I feel safe under here, cocooned by all that copper. I tell her about the brave divers descending into the hostile environment of the ocean and how I yearn to be one of them. I tell her that when I think of them I feel passion, desire. And I tell her there’ll be no more pen pushing or late nights in the office for me.
Through the narrow slits of the diving helmet, I glimpse her profile; exquisite, symmetrical, perfect. Her dress is as pretty as fresh snow while a matching flower adorns her immaculate hairstyle. I am the envy of my friends for attracting a beauty like her.
While I talk, she sits there rigid, unyielding, and as soon as the whole thing is over, she flounces out in tears.
‘You could have been anyone under there,’ she sobs.
‘But I wasn’t, dear,’ I say quietly. ‘I was me.’
‘The Man Behind the Mask” first appeared in Spillwords. March 2018
IMAGE: vintage photograph
Mary Thompson is an Academic English teacher from London, England. In 2020 she won a BIFFY 50 award (Best British & Irish Flash Fiction), and her story, ‘The Swan, the Sheep and the Bejeweled Mirror' was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her piece, 'Ladybird' was included in Best Microfiction 2020 and her flash collection, ‘Reality Raw' was Highly Commended in Ellipsis Zine's 2020 competition.
Mary tweets at @MaryRuth69.