Oliver wears the paper mâché mask to keep people from seeing his real face. While on stage, people are confused by the combination of his smiley paper mâché mouth, Betty Boop eyes, and rail thin limbs. He windmills wildly. His body shakes and spasms. He basically dies every show and gets reborn at the end. He writes the greatest songs I have ever heard, the greatest, I think, anyone has ever heard.
I was in the band, for a time. The consensus was, yes, Oliver was fascinating. Yes, he was a genius. We all wanted to be him. But what was under the mask? When it came down to it, that’s all we really wanted to know. So one night after a show where Oliver spasmed the equivalent of three heart attacks, we snuck up on him sleeping and ripped off the mask.
There were two shrunken little heads, with their own little necks sprouting from the base at his shoulders. One head had thin, stringy hair and scars all over its face. That’s the head that sang, the head with the amazing voice that boomed with so much sadness and joy and life. The other head was cross-eyed and missing all its teeth. Its tongue hung out the side of its mouth, limp like death, which explained the lisp in Oliver’s speaking voice. There was a branded ring around the two heads. It was from years and years of the mask.
For a while, jealous and desiring greatness, we all wanted our own second shrunken head. Once, in a heated exchange with Lydia, our bass player, I threatened to cut off her head and attach it to my neck. But Ned the drummer said not before I cut yours off first, meaning my head. Jess, the keyboardist, told Ned to do us all a favor and wear a mask.
Oh, Oliver ran away after we tore off his mask. He went missing for months. It proved harder to track him down than we thought it would. Just look for the guy with two heads, right? But one day we saw a guy walking down the sidewalk wearing a large paper grocery sack over his head and we thought: Bingo.
Oliver was pissed, and understandably so. We’d broken his unwritten rule. Worse, he said he couldn’t write any songs in the paper grocery sack mask. He wanted his old mask back, but somehow we misplaced it. Fortunately, Lydia, our bass player, knew a guy who knew a girl who knew a guy who worked in paper mâché. He fixed Oliver up with a new mask, indistinguishable from the old one. Slowly, the songs started coming back to him, birthed inside and flowing out of him like new children.
I quit the band, bored of always wanting a second head and never getting one. That band is all spare parts anyway, except Oliver. He is the band. I hear his music’s better than ever now, that there’s a whole new freshness, an added layer of depth to his songwriting. And I heard that during one particularly spasmodic show, the mask came flying off and everyone saw a third little shrunken head growing out the side of his neck. It was the sweet, unblemished face of an English country school boy, innocent as the budding spring.
Ross Wilcox is a student at the University of North Texas. His work has appeared in Epiphany and Pembroke Magazine. He lives in Fort Worth, Texas, with his wife and two cats.
Lead image: “Three Heads – study 2” (via Flickr user Zoë)