Mr. Mask Lives in a White House

The other card depicted this Mr. Mask proceeding with his shopping to a house on the corner of a well cared-for, established, but not to say well-to-do neighborhood, the sort with old houses in good repair, a green canopy of old trees, short fences, and paved sidewalks—the sort of neighborhood that is not any longer surprised to find itself standing where once, not so long ago, wooded shadow ruled by tacit fiat, where the industries of ursine slumber and the lupine pursuit of careful vermin alone sighed perpetually, without even the dream of street markers or doorbells or letter carriers or buried pipe to disturb their hungry, retiring stasis. His house (one understood it was his house) was on a corner, bounded by a black, wrought-iron fence, with a brick home adjacent to it that entered the frame of the illustration from the right. Other homes and yards and hedges formed the inchoate background within which it was ensconced. Beneath the wide canopy of a dark-leaved old maple, his house was a rounded white edifice whose organic and unpredictable lines were eerily out of place in the neighborhood in which it had yet clearly stood for some time, and the strange perspective of the illustration allowed enough of a glimpse of where a traditional angled roof had not been built to understand that Mr. Mask’s house resembled the mask he wore, an almost comically stylized skull facing toward the sky with great skylights for eyes. The caption on this card read, “Mr. Mask lives in a white house.”

Mr. Mask

The picture on the comically illustrated card depicted a supine character who had been the subject of, one had the impression, a larger set. He was lying in a boat. He lay on his right side in a small rowboat in the middle of a lake beneath the moon. As though to provide justification for the name with which the caption identified him, the strange man was contorted into a suitably strange position, with his loin-clothed abdomen thrust rigidly and urgently to the right of the frame, nearly off the edge of the small boat (the primitive, demonstrative style of the drawing alone made this possible, for even the amateur observer of natural phenomena would reasonably expect that the vessel would betray some tendency to capsize with its pilot and cargo so precariously positioned on the very edge of the dingy, and yet it did not), and his torso twisted back to his left, so that he was facing upwards and behind him in the direction of, but not at, the card’s viewer. In that position the mask he wore on his face could be plainly seen. The full, brightly pallid moon (whose depiction here suggested it had itself undertaken, with some force, to appear, and was then shining not as the negative image of a superior light source, but wanly, coldly, and determinedly clearly under the power of its own inscrutable agency) bulged largely into the sky above him, larger than the boat and its passenger below, giving the impression that something in the substance of the black of the surrounding night sky was suspending its considerable weight. The white of the mask he wore, a skull, round and simple in design with large, deep holes for eyes (with his own cartoon eyes drawn in within their darkness), was an analog to the light source with which he found communion in the middle of that lake whose shores were unblemished by the violence of habitation. There was a caption in a large, serifed font recalling the tarot. Or, if not the tarot, then children’s books (those from a time when childhood was something akin to a parallel dimension inaccessible to adults, or, perhaps, rather than a time of enforced growth and watchful edification as it is advertised today, a faraway country ruled by terror in a foreign language). The caption read, “Mr. Mask Loves the Moon.” The illustrator chose to grade the progress of the reflections of the moonlight on the water in clay tones—chalky greys and browns—and the distant solitude of the locale was terrible, complete, and impossible.