Have I made you feel guilty?
Apologies. That was a tad dramatic.
Let us continue.
He accepted her as he accepted anything else that was given him: as a prize. She was his prize, won over with the successes of his life. And she was gorgeous. She was because he had made her that way, and he knew exactly what gorgeous was. She was the perfect object for him to present as his own. What pride, what respect, what envy they must have for him now. Anything he wanted, he got. And at what price? At the exertion of his own power. What a life he had.
Rebekah remained with him to escape her past. With him, she could have a new start. Nobody around her knew her anymore. She could become anyone she wanted to be.
“I want to be smart, can you make me smart?” she asked him one day.
“Oh but you are smart, darling,” he whispered into her ear. “You’re with me.”
She didn’t like the looks she was getting from his friends. Perhaps if she were stronger.
“Can you make me tough?” she asked him.
“Darling, there is no need for you to be tough. You are young and you are beautiful. There is no need for you to ruin that. I will protect you.”
She had been with him for two months, and had not made any friends. Perhaps if people knew her heart was good.
“Can you make me look kind?” she pestered him.
“Kindness is weakness, foolish girl. Only the shallow-minded want that.” He brushed her aside and went out to hunt.
He hadn’t seen her in months. Where could she possibly have gone? The flower he kept by a window on the west side of his attic apartment seemed to be closing in on itself. The petals were curling tightly into a ball, despite his best efforts to water it and place it in the sunlight. The water and sun could not get inside if the petals did not open to let them through.
“I thought you wanted me to help the flower grow!” he spoke to the wall. But nobody was listening. Nobody ever listened to Charlie. The only people who noticed him were the children and his landlord who lived downstairs, when the rent was due of course.
He didn’t understand why people were so hard to get to know. Why don’t people talk to me? he wondered. Why don’t they let me into their lives?
The loneliness weighed on his heart, but he tried his best to keep up his hopes. If he was persistent enough, if he showed somebody that he really cared about them, they must respond to that care, right?
Charlie went back to Rebekah’s house and waited for her to come out. He so desperately wanted to know her that he would wait there all day for her to come out, but only an older woman ever opened the door.
Finally, desperate, Charlie decided to talk to the woman.
“Do you know a girl named Rebekah?” he asked her.
The woman glared at him for a moment, scratched at her face, and then made up her mind about something.
“She was my daughter,” she said. Her eyes looked to the ground.
“Where, where did she go?” Charlie asked. The woman seemed to be thinking about something, but Charlie could not read the emotion in her face.
“Why do you need to know?” she asked him.
Oh boy. Here it was. Because I’m in love with her.
But you don’t know her, fool!
Of course not, but that’s why I need to find her! I feel incomplete without her. People were not made to live alone.
“I just, uh…I…” Charlie looked down at his feet. How could he reveal his secret to this woman? He swallowed and looked up.
“I want to get to know her,” he said. “I care about her.”
Her look seemed to soften. Smile lines almost showed through the plastic skin that hid them.
“She left me, child. I am not sure where she went. But if you find her, please, please let me know where she is!” Her face burned so hot from the admission to this stranger that the plastic almost melted off. Charlie nodded.
“I promise, ma’am, that I will bring your daughter back to you. I promise.”
Lucas, Collin and Polly did not understand why Charlie wouldn’t take them along on his adventure.
“But we want to go with!” they whined.
“It’s too dangerous kids. It wouldn’t be fair of me to bring you out there.”
“Bu bu but, what if you need help rescuing your lady friend?” Collin wondered. “Don’t you need someone to stand guard or something?”
“No, no I don’t need a guard. But thank you for offering.”
“What if you get hurt?” Polly asked.
Charlie smiled. “I won’t get hurt,” he said.
Three sad little faces stood on the porch of the house, one block past Doppler St. and waved goodbye as their friend set off on an adventure. Being children, they were never allowed such privileges. Mrs. Peers came out and scolded them for standing out in the cold.
Rebekah was growing weary of this charade. The painted man often ignored her to go hunting. More often than he brought home game from the hunt. His friends were ignorant, and served only to congratulate him and get drunk together.
The man often told her that she was beautiful, but the words were spoken without emotion, and left her feeling emptier than if they had not been said at all. She felt more like an empty shell now than she had with her mother.
People never wanted to know who you were. She didn’t remember feeling this way in her childhood; but then, she didn’t remember much from childhood. Since she had reached a certain age, all her memories left her feeling like a cardboard cutout. People only saw the outside, while her real person hid itself in the safety of her deepest corner. Curled up inside, all that was left for the world was her body. And while the little girl curled up inside her to keep safe, she grew weaker from the lack of air. At this point, all that was left of her was a shadow. A shadow that could not escape from the deep corner inside.
Rebekah felt she could not take much more of this. She didn’t even know who she was anymore. She had always felt she was a good person, but now she thought that even she wouldn’t like herself if they met each other.
It was time for a new face.
The painted man would not change her face from the model he had formed her into. But Rebekah had watched him enough to know how the masks were made. She had seen all his customers who had came in; some were such a surprise. The mayor, and most of the politicians in the city. Some girls she had been friends with as a child. And most shocking of all, her boss, Pastor Rick.
They all wanted to control the way people viewed them. They wanted to keep their real selves hidden so that people would not have the option of judging them. Just like Rebekah did.
But Rebekah couldn’t take it anymore. She felt weak, as if she might pass out from the effort of keeping up this façade. She didn’t know how to take off the masks, but she did have an idea of how to deal with all the judgments. She wouldn’t care.
One night, when the painted man was out “hunting,” Rebekah slipped into his studio. She got out his tools and designed her mask. The eyes could care less, the mouth was straight, the expression apathetic. She pinched her skin to snare a pigment sample, and dyed the plastic with its color. It was a little blotchy, for she had never made her own mask before. But she didn’t care. Who cared if people thought her skin wasn’t perfect. Of course it wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t even her skin.
The mask looked convincing, but Rebekah wasn’t sure how to attach it. She struggled for half an hour with the plastic, contorting herself into strange positions to try to fit it to her face. Finally she had secured it enough that it would not fall off, although the craftsmanship was not as it should be. The painted man returned in time to see the back of her feet fleeing from the room.