The Thing About Masks by Ashley Zhang

amanda mabel
Photo courtesy of Amanda Mabel

The thing about masks —

………………..(Rachel realizes as she blindly searches for privacy before her own crumbles to dust in front of a live audience)

………………………………………— is that revelation is inevitable, and the more perfect the mask, the more excruciating it is when it falls away. She supposes she should’ve seen this coming; the cracks in her immaculate veneer have been accumulating ever since Tim left for London without a warning — or perhaps even before then — and it was only a matter of time before her facade buckled under the pressure. Still, she never could’ve predicted how humiliating, how painful it would be.

Though she manages to escape the cruel stares and restless whispers before she truly breaks down, embarrassment still burns the tops of her ears, and the lack of control is perhaps more condemnable than anything else. She is supposed to be Rachel Bishop, heiress to Bishop International, beautiful girlfriend to Tim Astor, and Ice Queen of St. Andrews Prep, and yet here she is, hiding, having fallen at last. Her throat fills with hot, prickling shame, and she struggles to breathe as it seems to close. Legs turn to jelly, and it’s all she can do to keep her knees from touching the ground — no, she will not fall so far today. It’s the last bit of trembling dignity that she can hold on to.

As she shivers in the autumn wind, staring down at the leaf-strewn grounds and wondering how long it would take her to fall, Rachel becomes dimly aware of the fact that no one has come looking for her. It’s another thing that should’ve been expected — after all, solitude is only one side effect of pushing everyone away — but it still hurts, the dawning realization that, despite growing up alongside these other spoiled brats, she has no one. Connections, not friends, are made at St. Andrews, her mother had once told her, and she had taken that advice to heart. Mother knows best, whispered children’s books and stories, but where had that gotten her? The edge of the school roof, without a soul to worry about her whereabouts. She could only imagine the gossip tomorrow. Ding dong the witch is dead, they’d chant through the hallways. It’d be the kindest act she’d ever committed.

She takes a step forward.

The door to the roof crashes open.

Rachel looks back with undisguised hope to see who has finally come to find her. Is it Tim, finally deciding to play his part as the doting boyfriend, or is it her dear step-brother, having somehow found a shred of decency? But, no, it is neither of them; it is Elliot Kwon, and judging by the surprised look on his face, he is not here for her.

Of course he’s not. Why would he be? Why would be possibly come for the girl who made his grade school years a living Hell, who branded him a host for a concoction of diseases and rendered him untouchable for the rest of high school? Childish taunts echo in her ears like unwelcome memories, and she knows that he is her last punishment. He is the epitome of her reign of terror, human evidence that she is a monster.

Rachel whips around with renewed purpose, crippling shame spreading through her chest, and takes another step.

“Wait, stop!”

And she does, because entwined through those two words is the unmistakable note of pity. As if Rachel Bishop ever needed someone else’s pity. She can’t see his face, but she can only imagine the sympathy on it, and it’s nothing but a sick reminder that she will never be as good a person as Elliot Kwon.

“Don’t do this.” His voice is softer now, closer, and the words jolt through her a sense of deja vu. “Don’t do this,” he’d pleaded with her as she held a vat of maple syrup over him, as she cackled.

And then, the last valiant scraps of her mask unravel, and Rachel Bishop the Ice Queen is gone. In her place stands the real Rachel, and she is a pitiful sight to behold. She is the desperate, insecure, and lonely shell of a girl who has finally given up. She has been hurt and battered, and her wounds are now her victim’s to witness. The first tear takes her by surprise as it paves a river down her lovely, marble cheek for the rest to follow, but once she starts crying, she cannot stop, and years of sorrow and heartbreak, neglect and abuse, spill from her wide eyes. When was the last time she cried? She can’t even remember. When Tim announced that he did not love her — that she was destined for a loveless arranged marriage — she did not shed a tear. Even when her parents announced their divorce, her eyes stayed dry, and so they remained as, just months later, her mother announced her new marriage. It’s hard not to wonder how she managed to delay this meltdown for so long, when the first cracks have been there for years.

To his credit, Elliot pretends not to see her break down, but Rachel knows better. She is not a pretty crier. Her complexion flushes as her nose drips, the corners of her eyes pinching while her face scrunches into something unrecognizable. “Well?” she wants to scream, “How’s the real Rachel Bishop?” Only her body is too weak and too tired to scream, so instead, she cries, the tears falling thick and fast, as she sobs pathetically in front of him, no longer caring about the scraps of her reputation.

“They hate me,” she chokes out, “They want me dead.”

“Well, yes…” he admits, unable to hide the ugly truth. “But you don’t want to do this. Believe me.”

His touch surprises her, but it’s comforting as he tentatively reaches for her shoulder, as if she’s made of glass. It’s a foreign feeling — everyone else treats her like she’s titanium, able to withstand anything — but not a bad one. She can almost fool herself into thinking he cares. But he shouldn’t.

“Why are you doing this? You should hate me most of all.” But then she sees his wrists. He tries to hide them in his sleeves, but it’s too late. She’s seen the thin white lines criss-crossing his forearms, and the thought that they are because of her torment brings a fresh onslaught of tears.

“I’m sorry,” is a weak, pathetic thing to say, but she says it anyway, because it is all she can think of. He shrugs, but there is a note of understanding in the air. It’s far more than she deserves. Perhaps they are more alike than she’d originally thought.

They sit side-by-side for a while, Rachel crying quietly and Elliot staring out at the pallette of colors that paint the treeline. As her sobs subside into sniffles, he nudges her gently.

“Are you okay?”

She nods, because for now, she is. “You can go. I’ll just stay out here for a little longer.”

He assesses her face, and apparently deciding that she no longer needs a chaperone, stands up. As he opens the door to go downstairs, he turns back. “Hey, don’t worry about what they’re saying. They’re all assholes anyway.”

Rachel manages a watery smile, whispering a “thanks” as the door swings shut behind him. They’re all assholes anyway. She wonders if that’s how he got himself through her torment.

A deep, shuddering breath rocks her body, but when it passes, she feels… lighter, almost. Now she knows why the Greeks watched tragedies before comedies. Catharsis indeed, and Rachel wishes she’d done it earlier, if only to rid herself of that heavy, suffocating noose around her neck. She almost feels well enough to wipe off her face, reapply her makeup, and face the whispers head on, but she stops herself just short of doing so. The freedom and fresh air out here have spoiled her (just like her privileged upbringing), and she allows herself a moment to indulge in the peace.

The crisp October afternoon is full of promise, and when she exits the roof twenty minutes later, she leaves her mask behind.





Ashley ZhangAshley Zhang is a writer with chronic writer’s block. She finds that inspiration strikes at the oddest of times and places, so she can often be found frantically typing ideas on her phone at four in the morning or in the middle of a concert. Besides writing, Ashley enjoys baking and trying to figure out her plans for the future. She cites Lady Gaga, JK Rowling, and Blair Waldorf as her role models, and she thanks them for inspiring her to do anything she puts her mind to.

Amanda Mabel
 is a fashion and portrait photographer living in Sydney, Australia. Originally from Singapore, she moved to Perth in 2011, then Sydney in 2012. She is currently studying a Bachelor of Arts (Advanced) (Honours) at the University of Sydney. In her free time, she loves taking photographs, travelling to beautiful places, and drinking tea. She also happens to blog for Vogue Australia Spy Style. She maintains a website at and can be found on:  Instagram  Facebook  LinkedIn  Pinterest  Tumblr  Bloglovin Flickr.

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