every morning and every night she stood in front of the mirror practising her poker face. hoping one day she might master the art of hiding her true feelings when she most needed to. she stared deep into her own eyes, willing herself to lose all expression; keep her eyes fixed upon her own eyes; let no betraying tic or flicker of lashes reveal what she was really feeling inside. what she really thought. of herself. of them. of this whole situation.
just when she thought she might have finally managed it. managed to hide everything away, even from herself, the mask would slip. just a little. a flash of anger; a glimpse of sorrow; a wave of confusion; or a flicker of frustration. it would slide across her face, like a ripple on the surface of a pool of water as a droplet disturbs it. she would flinch as she realised the mask had slipped. curse herself and her inability to keep her mask in place.
it was often the smallest thing. a slight tic in her eyelid; a soft turn-up or down of her mouth. but enough to reveal the thoughts she tried so studiously to keep close to her heart. away from prying eyes. the emotions she tried to keep out of reach of others. of herself.
as she gazed into the mirror she tried to withdraw everything back into herself. back in on itself. coil it up, bury it.
she might manage to hold the mask in place for an hour; sometimes she could only hold it for a minute. she tried to summon up complete emptiness; apathy; vacancy; a vacant stare; a distant stare; a wall between herself and her reflection.
she hoped by mastering her poker face she could shut out all feelings. get above and out of everything around her. isolate herself from them, this, even herself. she felt perhaps it would be like a higher level of freedom. a cocoon. a haven away from all of this.
she had to at least try. she returned her own gaze. she held it longer this time. she felt strong. she felt safe. she felt separate from everything. connected, but disconnected, from herself. here but somewhere else; nowhere. she felt full and empty at the same time, but pushed the feeling of fullness down until emptiness filled the space inside her.
she watched herself closely. barely able to breath. afraid that at any moment this feeling of empty tranquility would be shattered. that it would be lost. that the mask would slip again. she kept time listening to her own heartbeat in her ears. it was regular and slow, loud; she felt it pulsing beneath her skin. the pulse was reassuring, soothing, calming. she focussed on her heartbeat. focussed on her breathing. focussed on her eyes gazing back at her from the mirror. tried not to let the mask slip. tried to let it all fall away except the mask.
she watched the mask as she breathed, as her heart beat in her ears. she watched the stillness of the mask. the blank, smooth surface. for a moment she imagined it slipping, but she drove the thought from her mind and it stayed in place. or did it? was she absolutely sure it hadn't slipped? her heartbeat quickened, her breath caught ever so slightly, she tried to withdraw back into the emptiness to slow her heart, steady her breathing. but it was too late. the mask had definitely slipped. her poker face had dropped away in an instant. again. despite all her attempts to keep it in place.
she watched as it crumbled; melted; melded; mutated. it all slipped away, out of her hands, out of her control. her face went ashen; her mouth betrayed her with the tremble of a lip. she watched as the mask slid from her face, to the floor again. she couldn't look herself in the eye any longer. she shook, she gasped, she tried not to sob.
she didn't know if she could pick up the mask again, but she had to try. she had to bring it back up to cover up all she felt inside. they couldn't know, they couldn't see. she had to try again. and again. and again. until she got it right. until she had perfected it. her poker face. the wall between her and the rest of the world. the safe cushioned surface to protect her from them, you, us. but mostly from herself.