2015 -- 8.1 (Fall) Fiction

The Third Law

By Beatrice

(1)MASKING (n). The act of covering up one’s own natural appearance.

(2)Beatrice Jolie is an intelligent, attractive 26-year-old woman. She is studying to be a nurse during the day, and working nights at a nursing home. Beatrice doesn’t find it hard to stay awake all night; the patients are elderly and sleep fitfully, so there is often someone getting up who needs her help. They all – the men and the women – tell her how beautiful she is, and often.

(3)Beatrice Jolie leaves each night shift feeling she will never be able to wash the smell of death out of her hair, her skin.

With careful strokes Beatrice applies primer, foundation, and concealer to her face. She no longer has to think about what she’s doing; it is a part of her day, putting on this other face. She swipes liner, mascara, fills in her eyebrows, layers color onto her lids. Chooses a larger brush for the contouring that will create bones where none exist. False lashes are the final step, and her work is complete: identity in place. She checks the mirror to be sure. Good.

(5)Lambert’s third law states that the luminous intensity of LIGHT decreases exponentially with distance as it travels through an absorbing MEDIUM.

(6)Beatrice gets to class just on time and sits in her usual seat, not too close to the front (where she could draw the professor’s attention) but not too far in the back (where she would feel invisible). She feels the eyes of the other students as she stacks her notebook and textbook onto the desk, feels in her bag for a pen. Beatrice is prepared for this. All young people look at each other, searching for flaws. She is safe, thanks to her careful routine in front of the mirror. The professor starts the lecture.

(7) The professor has wispy, flyaway hair. He hasn’t shaved in days. He is highly respected in the field; they even bragged about him on the university website.

(8) Masks keep their own timetables. By the time Beatrice finishes classes, gets home, eats, starts her homework, it is time to change into scrubs and rush to work. All night in the dimly lit nursing station she will answer calls,
change soiled linens and try to read her textbook, hunched over the metal desk. As usual, several patients smile up at her as she approaches their beds that night and say, “Hello, beautiful.” It makes no sense to Beatrice – her carefully applied makeup has long ago been wiped off with a towelette; leaving only mascara residue ringing her tired eyes.

(9)Her mask expires every night here; these people have never seen her any way BUT unmasked.

(10) No one in Beatrice’s classes have ever called her beautiful. If anyone does talk to her, it’s mostly about assignments or this or that professor or where to go for a parking pass.

(11)According to Lambert’s third law, the luminosity of Beatrice’s natural beauty was decreased with every smudge, every brush, every finger full of Revlon and Mac that she placed on her face. The makeup became the MEDIUM which absorbed all the light, so no one ever saw her true intensity.