It is a dark evening in December when the Happy Mask Salesman asks me:
“You’ve met with a terrible fate, haven’t you?”
Even if he isn’t really talking to me, even if the question is meant for the little boy who has been turned into a monster, the phrase cuts through me like a metaphorical dagger has found a gap in my armor. Yes, sir. I have.
This question comes to me a week after I have put in a notice to leave a full-time job, a notice I put in as a necessity. I work at a Women’s Hospital and by the time I’ve decided to quit, five of our patients lost their unborn children to miscarriage and stillbirth. I typed a resignation letter the morning before the clinic opened, and the first woman I checked in to see the doctor was a grandmother blinking back tears because she was finally getting treatment for cancer. I printed out the letter after she sat down clutching an information packet. I folded the it neatly, wrote my supervisor’s name on it in cursive, set it aside, and waited.
Before I wrote this letter, I told my fiancé Daniel I was afraid to be alone. That I was flagging places around the house to hide our cooking knives and the pocket knife collection my father gifted me. That I was afraid of death and dying, of nuclear war, being unable to breathe, drowning, falling, slicing open my arm, drifting into oncoming traffic. How nothing creative had come from me in months except ways to die.
That night after work, the letter finally delivered, Daniel and I went Christmas shopping. On the way home, we hit a deer. Rounded a gentle curve on a state route we’d driven a thousand times and there she was. Too much of her. Enough to fill the windshield with her bulk. After the impact she spun to the side of the road, motionless, and when I whirled to see where she landed, a steam trail of her breath caught the light. I couldn’t stop crying for what felt like hours.
A terrible fate doesn’t even come close, sir.
It was Daniel’s idea to start playing Majora’s Mask. This game eluded me for twenty-two years, before it was re-released on the Nintendo Switch, the visuals remastered but gameplay just as notoriously difficult. I’d played Ocarina of Time as a child, but the sequel remained inaccessible after my older sister moved out and took the N64 with her. Legend of Zelda games remained part of my past, part of the girl I was trying to leave behind in favor of the woman I wanted to become. It always seemed like a game for boys. As a girl, I was convinced that things were closed to me for a reason, and in order to get into these spaces I had to act like men, crave their attention, and assure their approval. Of course, it’s left me scarred, embarrassed, ashamed of who I was then, when I knew nothing.
But I still hum the Song of Storms, sometimes, on rainy days. I have not forgotten the grassy plains of Hyrule and the ring of smoke circling the pinnacle of the mountain, how it made me feel to leave the forest and see that wide open world, choices laid out ahead of me. I have not forgotten how all of those Ocarina side quests gave me purpose as I hurtled through a life that didn’t know what to do with me, a weird little halfling child myself. Link and I have that in common, at least. So, I listen hard when the Happy Mask Salesman teaches us the Song of Healing.
“This is a melody that heals evil magic and troubled spirits, turning them into masks,” he says. The song is melancholic and beautiful, and I feel sad and dumb. I remember the first encounter Link and I had with the Happy Mask Salesman—his cheerful face was creepy to many of us as children first playing Ocarina, my younger brother included, but it made me like him. Knowing he couldn’t be trusted was part of his appeal. His clasped hands weren’t pleading so much as they were demanding. I knew he was going to swindle us out of rupees eventually. I knew who he was and what he was about. A shred of shadow in an idyllic world. A harbinger of adulthood. He didn’t fool me.
The Happy Mask Salesman is shrouded in mystery and possesses knowledge I want desperately to know, but he will not tell me, or anyone. So burdened is he with history, souls, and purpose, he walks bent at the waist. Every mask one can see hanging from the Salesman’s trinket bag is the soul of a creature long gone. It’s no wonder he’s found the Majora’s Mask, a totem powerful enough to rip the moon from orbit to crush an unsuspecting town beneath it. The apocalyptic dread I feel running around the city of Termina as little Link, sent on an impossible quest by a scheming adult to take back Majora’s Mask, feels far, far too real. Each quest is another day. Another application. Another interview. Another notification from the bank, telling me my savings account has been closed. Another step clawing forward to happiness.
I have indeed met with a terrible fate, sir.
I am here with the love of my life, still searching for a mask to wear while I search for the one you’ve lost. Even with your healing song, what does it matter if neither of us are whole? I would love the chance to be something else, but for a moment.
Please, lend me a mask. I am desperate for one.