Sincere - part 2
The morning is a foggy one. Rolls of the stuff, making breathing even more challenging than usual in the damp, November air. The old buildings look slumped and sad, the painted ones gaudy in the difficult visibility. This is not the glamour the city puts on for the tourists. No, this is the city on the morning after the night before. Wrinkled and surly, foul of breath.
In his shop, Paulo is cataloguing his masks. He really doesn’t need to – he knows exactly what he’s got – but the process makes him feel better; safer even. Paulo doesn’t display the masks artistically, so they necessarily look their best. Instead, he’s concerned with their type and vintage, so he always puts like with like.
His Bauta masks are altogether by the door – their gilded, prominent noses glinting in slanted sunlight in the summer months. Then there are the Columbinas, all frivolous ribbons and feathers. He’s recently moved the Medica della Peste masks with their plague doctor beaks and hollow eyes away from the Columbinas. He knows it would sound odd to anyone else, but he didn’t want the pretty Columbinas to be scared by them.
The Volto masks are the real draw for the punters, so they’re displayed prominently on the wall facing the door as you enter the shop. Paulo’s Volto masks are wonderful quality – the smoothest of porcelain and the most delicate painting of the features. Another thing that Paulo would not admit to another soul, however, is how much he detests the Volto masks. He knows they are the Face of Venice and certainly his biggest earner, but they remind him far too much of death masks.
Paulo can see why they aren’t to everyone’s taste, but his favourite masks are the Moretta Muta, the fabled oval of black velvet to cover a woman’s face. Only last week, a conversation with a British tourist, conducted in his faltering and her strident English on the subject of the Moretta Muta, had gone way south.
“So you’re actually telling me that the whole point of them was to make women sexy by covering their facial features whilst still allowing them to display their boobs in the lowest of necklines? Seriously? And no hole for their mouth? Just a button to bite to hold the mask in place and make it so they couldn’t speak? Jesus Christ, I’m not sure you should still be selling them. Banish them to history along with the chastity belt and the scold’s bridle, I say!”
“It’s about the allure. It’s nothing to be ashamed of”, he’d answered. Thinking back on it now, the woman’s incredulous look still etched on his brain, there was no justification that would have pacified her and like the Moretta Muta, he should have just stayed silent.
Paulo has come in early this morning because a client is stopping by to pick up the mask he ordered a month or so ago. He hates being in the shop by himself, particularly lately. Particularly in the dark, dead days of November. It’s something about the light and the dust that the shop throws up into the air, like ectoplasm or wisps of ghosts. He’s not happy either about the movement he seems to be catching in the huge mirror that hangs over the counter. A sense of something there and not there. A little body, like a child rushing past in a wild game of tig.
When the man comes into the shop, Paulo feels relieved. He knows he’s called Matteo Bianchi, that he’s picking up a plague doctor mask in a matt, brown leather and that he’s paid up front. What surprises Paulo about this thick set, wool-suited man is that at the last minute, he chooses to also buy one of the Moretta Muta masks. Not a reproduction either, but one of Paulo’s two, eighteenth century originals.
The man has little to say and oddly, Paulo feels far more comfortable when he’s left the shop. Maybe it’s the lack of any conversation. More likely, it’s the (what looks like bleach) discoloration marring the left leg of his trousers. It strikes Paulo that a man like Matteo would never allow that fault – that stain – to be seen, if he hadn’t got other things on his mind.
Outside the shop, in the fog, Matteo puts the Medica della Peste mask on. It curls around his face, gripping it almost - the smell of the leather is strong and earthy. The Moretta Muta mask, he stuffs into the right hand pocket of his trousers. There are so few people about, but a young couple, hand in hand, walk past him and he hears the boy say to the girl, “Hey, check the big guy out.”
Matteo is thinking about Bay and he needs to see her right now. Loud, crazy Bay from Shitsville, Wisconsin. His American mistress, with the brain of an imbecile, but legs to die for. My God, those legs.
What he could really do with is shutting her up, so she could be the best version of herself. The silent, beautiful-legged woman that up until he met her for real, Matteo had only seen on various, specialist websites. Yes, if she was only quiet, everything would be pretty good. Her and the damn Chihuahua she insists has to be by her side twenty four seven.
Matteo is never short of a plan and even though he still has to add some finishing touches to it, he’s figuring bleach in a dog bowl in a Venetian marble bathroom and an old mask glued firmly to a human face. In the right hand pocket of his trousers, the button of the Moretta Muta mask presses insistently into his thigh.