top of page

I step out of the carriage and walk right into a box. The dress I was asked to wear tightens at the seams when I move. Sweat trickles behind my mask. The light from the ballroom blinds me, the muffled chatter reverberating through my head. A shaky sigh releases from my dry throat. I’ll get through this. It’s only a few hours. 



A voice melts my thoughts. I turn to see eyes twinkling beneath an amethyst mask, lightheartedness unconcealed by a beaming smile. Her rose-colored dress embraces her curved figure, moving with mesmerizing fluidity. My breath hitches. How should I speak? Maybe I should tell her what I go by. Maybe not. The name that trips on my tongue is clumsy, peculiar. 



She laughs. Light and high, like a small bell. Words lodge in my throat, but I don’t know how to say that either. I make her suffer in silence with me, but she just cocks her head sideways, curiously gazing at me. A deep voice abruptly breaks through the stillness. A man requests her to dance. She looks back at me, but I can’t read the expression on her face. Then her eyes disappear, swallowed by the man’s stare. 



I watch silhouettes intertwine underneath the gilded sky. And I, lingering at the corner, am a caricature of what I’ve been taught. Here I’ll rot, in a dress I never wanted to wear, ill-fated with sides I always fear to have. Here I’ll be burned a hundred times, in a body I never wanted to have, melting myself, softening myself, until I fit this box.



I hear a strangled voice, I refuse to look back. I hear the disgruntled response. I keep walking, my ears occupied with the sound of my heels, too heavy, and my breath, too light. A heart caged in a chest that I want to hide. The sweat thickens behind my mask. A sob builds up in my throat, but I swallow it down.



I hear her light voice, weighted with concern. Her mask doesn’t conceal the unease in her eyes. She asks me if everything is alright. Is everything alright? I lose myself in her gaze, and for a moment I believe that I can get through this. But then I see my reflection. A shadow hanging loosely onto the threads of life, a messy amalgamation of bones and blood, meshed in a box about to burst at the seams. Nothing fits, and she can see it. 



Forced smiles, repressed cries, smoldering memories. Hiding behind the red velvet curtains, they stifle me — but not as much as when they aren’t. To think that I feel comfortable in the shadows, where I was told I belong to. To think that I don’t feel comfortable in the glaring light, where I know I would be vulnerable. To think that people would be I, too, would be intoxicated at the idea of being someone I’m not. To think that I can hide behind my mask forever.



I sway underneath a gilded sky, knowing every step to take once the spotlight shines on me. I break a sweat, but I make sure my mask doesn’t break. I twirl among paper colors, knowing how to act like everyone else except for myself. The pretentious puppet is me. I danced to a tune that was never mine, choking down my weeping, singing instead of someone else’s story. 




I don’t look for her after the evening ends. Guilt strikes me, but consideration for her wins me over. I think about her sparkling gaze and her amused laughter — something solid, something real. I stumble on the heels, and the dress catches on a branch. I walk away from the light and the chatter, outside of the box, and retreat to the shadows. I take off my mask. For a moment, I can breathe.


By Emery Sy


bottom of page