Sometimes Anastasia hadn’t understood what was happening. Sometimes she had despaired or mourned the loss of a piece when he removed it. Her eyes had been the most intricate part of the process.
“There now,” said Bernard. “Authenticity. But remember you’re still in recovery.”
“Yes,” said Anastasia with a smile. She brushed her fingers along her jawbone. “The air feels nice and my skin’s getting better.”
Heidi, the woman from apartment 125, burst in through the open door. She staggered and pointed her finger at Anastasia. “You’ve got shit on your face! I could see it as I walked past the window.”
“Oh, um, hello. Well, I’ve been working with Bernard for quite a long time to get rid of this mask. It was sucking the love out of me. What you see here is pretty much my actual face, and this ‘shit’ isn’t that big of a problem for me now that it’s exposed.”
“No, no, no! You don’t understand. This will never do! You have to be presentable and do what’s right,” Heidi said, sharply.
Anastasia glanced at Bernard, then back at Heidi. “That’s funny. You remember my Aunt Shelley, right? She absolutely loves her wrinkly, soft skin. She had her mask removed years ago and just the other day she gave me a box containing some of the remnants. They’re a token of the joy she experiences every day. She asked me to give them to you.”
Heidi tightened her grip on her knock-off Coach handbag.
“They’ve got… um… shit on them, though. The same sorta shit that’s on my face.” Anastasia said. “I suppose you don’t want them?”
Heidi’s knuckles grew white. “I don’t think you understand what you’re dealing with here. This is very, very serious. Perfectly well meaning people like your Aunt Shelley go around with shit on their faces without knowing it, and it’s extremely offensive, not to mention evil! You mustn’t be hurt when I offer you correction, Anastasia. I’m doing you a favor by informing you of this atrocity!”
Anastasia’s eyes softened. Bernard rubbed his whiskered chin.
She went on. “I think they ought to write up a news article about these dangers!”
Anastasia got up and walked slowly toward Heidi. She examined the severe part in her bleached hair, the curve of her cheeks. “Here’s the thing,” she said, carefully. “You’re wearing a mask. It’s damaging you.”
“What do you mean I’m wearing a mask?! That’s so mean! And how dare you say such a thing!” Heidi shrieked.
A salty tear traveled silently into one of Anastasia’s open sores. Heidi didn’t notice.
“It wouldn’t be wise for me to say anything more at this point, but—“ Anastasia made her way past Bernard and opened her black filing cabinet. From it she drew an old newspaper clipping.
Heidi looked nervously at the window, then fumbled in her handbag for her phone. She texted some friends, Penelope and Jane, trembling all the while.
“Here.” Anastasia handed over the article.
Heidi, with bruised expression, skimmed over it and said, “Stop picking on me! Both of you!” She stumbled out of the apartment building into the dark, cold night.