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“The Plonkswald Floor”

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Still,  if you want to make reference to the half-story without bringing it up directly,  invoking Plonkswald is probably the surest way,  which is why it was brazen of dad to leave the book out.  Our family pact incorporates into itself the assent to not mention the pact:  because you are in the pact,  you can be trusted to never mention that there is a pact,  and even to doubt yourself before speaking of it.  This not-mentioning cant be said aloud either,  of course;  it is learned by example. 

Well,  no one mentioned the book at dinner as we—me and Eric and Tom and mom and dad—clacked our knives and forks nicely,  and chatted about this and that,  and drank our water and our wine.  And after dinner,  I hugged mom and dad good night nicely,  and when I pulled dad in,  I tried to detect whether there was anything new or different about him,  anything he might be trying to say silently or else be giving away inadvertently—but that man can hold a poker face like nobodys business, and I detected nothing.

The next morning,  the book on Plonkswald was still out on the glass-topped coffee table.  From this I inferred first,  that mom had not put it back on its shelf because to do so would have been to acknowledge that shed seen it and had recognized its meaning,  thereby tacitly acknowledging that it had a meaning; and second,  that dad was not backing down here.

Since getting home,  I hadnt gone to look at the half-story,  and I wasnt quite thinking about it,  either—I wasnt sure it had ever been there at all,  so there might be nothing to be thinking about.  But the odd thing was that when I saw the Plonkswald book that second morning,  I had the sense that this wasnt even the first time dad had done this. 

When you go up to the half-story,  its not that youve decided to go up or that youve thought about it:  you just go up.  I went up and knew,  as I got to the last couple steps,  that Eric was there.  I walked in and he was. 

This time,  there were separate rooms and you came first into a large living room,  at the center of which was a green rug with a blue border and a green ottoman at the center of the rug.  There were mahogany pillars rising to the ceiling in the rooms corners.  Two masks were mounted on the green wall to your left when you were facing in:  the red devil-mask and,  to its right and higher,  the snake-mask with the forked tongue and spiral-nose.  Eric was standing before the devil-mask,  his hands behind his back,  one hand clasping the other wrist. 

I went and stood next to him and said,  Hey.

Why does he leave the book out like that, I wonder,  Eric said.  Then he reached out and took the devil-mask off the wall. 

Eric, dont!,  I said. 

He looked at me,  with his eyes gleaming.  Why?,  he said,  Are you scared?,  and brought the devil-mask to his face.  It stuck on,  and he began hopping from foot to foot and waving his hands around.  He stuck his tongue out through the masks mouth. 

John's snake-mask dance

Im not scared!,”  I said, and I grabbed the snake-mask off the wall and brought it to my face.  It stuck on.  I started hopping from foot to foot,  too,  and doing down-jabs with whichever foot I was holding up in the air in sync with down-jabs I did with both my hands at once.  I kept my hands bent at the wrists and my fingers pressed together and pointing downward.  I couldnt stick my 

tongue out at Eric,  because the mask had its own tongue,  but I knew that Eric saw the masks eyes become my eyes as the mask adapted to my face. 

Soon we were stomping those floorboards,  testing the half-storys tolerance for racket-making;  we synced up our landings and you could see the legs of the ottoman quiver each time we thumped the ground.  Like Ive said, the half-story has this quality of underwater-ness,  but we were crashing around like a couple of gorillas,  smashing the silence up,  which made it odd when still no one said anything about the half-floor that evening at dinner.  But all five of us chatted nicely about this and that,  and nicely clacked our forks and knives,  and drank our water and our wine.

Do the masks themselves change?  Only in certain predictable, recurrent ways—how the  snake-masks eyes become the eyes of whoever is wearing it,  things like that—not in ways that  defy expectation,  as the rest of the house changes;  no,  the masks are basically stable.  I was therefore surprised by what Tom said the next day when Eric and I found him on the half-floor;  it was mid-afternoon,  so the curtains,  though drawn,  glowed with green light,  and the space seemed like an underwater cave—it was impossible to tell whether the furniture or floor-plan had changed overnight.  We had to go up because,  on that third morning,  dad still was leaving the Plonkswald book out,  plain as day.  Eric and I had had breakfast together,  and wed made eye contact regarding the book still being out on the glass-topped coffee table.  And when we were done with our cereal and coffee and toast,  we went right up to the half-story,  and found Tom there already,  holding a mask and turning it over.

It was the one that looks like rock—its wood,  like the others,  but it looks like solid rock.  It is blue-grey and glows slightly.  The facial features of this mask are simple—primitive. 

We are brothers and all can sense one anothers presences.  Tom did not look up at us.  He said,  Its amazing how they always change,”  staring down at the mask. 

staring down at the mask

Now,  you might take his saying this for a clue that the masks shapeshift differently depending on whos looking at them,  seeming fixed to one brother and in flux to another,  but I dont think thats it.  Tom denies the half-storys existence more strenuously than Eric and I ever do—not that he says so,  because the family doesnt talk about the half-story,  but he projects that it would be foolishness to even raise the matter.  He squashes his memories,  smooshes them down,  so that whenever it is time again for the Rite—when the signals,  like the Plonkswald book,  and  me and Eric stomping,  or whatever it might be for this one—when the signals start,  Toms memories come back to him all fuzzed out and distorted,  and it is the dissonance of seeing first-hand that which he has denied to himself and deliberately forgotten that leads Tom to always remark that the masks change,  even though they dont.

Eric and I made eye contact regarding Toms error and decided to say nothing, as we always do when he says that. 

Tom was looking down into the inside of the rock-mask. 

 

Dont be scared, Tom,”  Eric said. 

 

Tom brought the mask to his face.  It stuck on.  He was old rock-face again,  so Eric and I went and got our own masks and brought them to our faces.  They stuck on,  and we three formed the opening configuration.

devil-mask
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