The Mask of Ophelia
You’ve read the Backstage Story, in last week’s Part 1 of The Mask of Ophelia. Now, it’s time for the Onstage Story in this week’s Part 2. The drama continues as Ophelia’s mysterious companion tries to save her chances of stardom.
Onstage Story, Part 2
The word signals the start of the rescue operation. Leonardo swoops on the foundation, measuring out the exact amount required for each cheek and for Martha’s high forehead. He dots, blends and expands, taking the reddish hue from her skin, replacing it with a pale sheen: the mask of Ophelia.
His next task is to darken Martha’s eyes. They are green and watery but by the time he is finished they are vibrant, enormous. He has swirled black and silver eyeshadow, given her eyes shape with incisive dark eyeliner and finished the look by attacking her eyelashes with mascara. She now resembles a doll. All her features are exaggerated and there is no life in her eyes. She has still not woken up.
“The dress Martha, where is the dress?”
Leonardo’s words have become a hiss and Martha feels no compulsion to answer him. She is lost in memories of triumphant moments, spontaneous outbursts of applause, encores and cheers. If only she could take back the control from these memories. She has been that person. She can be her again. But before she can complete the transformation, she is drowning in silk.
Leonardo has found the dress and is forcing it over her head. For the first time since sitting down at the dressing table she moves, feels slippery, like the first catch of the day. She doesn’t know whether she is complying or fighting but she cannot sit there like a dummy while Leonardo dresses her. Halfway through the struggle, she realises it is Ophelia she is resisting.
When it is over, she looks at herself in the mirror. She could be a bride from the Romantic Gothic era, doomed to be wedded to a monster. The parallels are accurate. The stage has become her enemy and she is an innocent all over again. She understands now why the dress has become her catalyst. It is terribly significant, symbolic of the character’s purity.
Leonardo attempts to remove her from the chair. He has long, sharp fingernails, like a girl. She winces but stays put. Her bare shoulders are fraught with red and she feels like the sacrifice has already begun.
Leonardo is stronger than he looks. He hauls her up, out of the chair and her eyes take in the dull colours of his costume, a peep of cream shirt, a laced brown topcoat and black felt hat. He is like a drab garden bird, nothing like his flamboyant appearance in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. She wonders if tonight will be a step down for him.
At last, she is standing, although swaying slightly. She is glad she didn’t take the drink. She feels otherwordly enough. She opens her mouth to say she will not go out there, but Leonardo speaks first.
“You are going out on that stage. Do you hear me? This is your big chance!”
The moment she realises he is serious, she hears the gong of her own heart, gathering speed until it is battering her from the inside. She has no idea how to quiet it, so moves forward in its pounding company. Leonardo is not touching her, yet she can feel his presence at her back and knows he will not allow her to turn.
She finds herself in the wings, regarding the action on stage, wondering how it can ever include her. She is incapable of speech, has no fight left and cannot even run away.
“Martha, it’s you, it’s Ophelia!”
Leonardo nudges her out from behind the curtain. Her heart is wilder than ever. At least she cannot see the audience. The lighting is so acute, all their faces blend into a silver mush. She finds herself wandering towards it as the floor tilts up to meet her.
The mask has slipped.
K. S. Moore
The Mask of Ophelia was first published in The Bohemyth, in 2013.