An Evening at the Masked Ball

admndaretwrtDistraction Corner

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Getting ready. Blue satin strapless mermaid dress, shoulder-grazing chandelier earrings. Lace-adorned plunging open back, frilled with intricate ruffles flattering my body. Silver choker, pedicured toes peeking, tall stilettos. Elbow-length velvet gloves. Sexy luxury.

My consort: elegant black tuxedo, bowtie, crisp white shirt, formal waistcoat, silver cufflinks with our initials, shoe-laced shiny black Oxfords.

To set it all off, this season’s must-haves with unique intelligent style details: we snap open the polythene packet of PPE. And slip it over the lot.

Covering the neck down to the ankles, these gowns have such a fluid feel. My mask of fine light blue covers the nose. I pull down a face shield, secure and clear. The gown has a generous flow, a design of meadows and clouds on the front, semi-transparent so that my bedazzling evening dress shows through.

My consort has a dragon-style designer mask and large face shield. On his gown the Flying Scotsman comes in full steam towards the observer.

We tie each other’s gowns at the back. Our sleeves have elastic cuffs. Snapping on nitrile gloves, we’re ready to brave the night.

At the country house the stewards direct us where to park. Alternate bays blocked off for distancing.

We enter the ballroom, plastic-gloved hand in plastic-gloved hand, swishing and crackling in our gowns. I glimpse the doorman’s major-domo uniform beneath his PPE as he scans the tickets on our gowns. He announces our names muffled by his respirator mask.

We join two dozen gowns and masks. Primped-up plastic: flowing pink heavens and white clouds, a medley of vibrant colours, art youth culture motifs.

Talk is effortful and garbled. Once, with no one near, I risk lifting my mask to consume a canapé I’ve stabbed with a cocktail stick issued in a sterile pack. Our drinks we sip through plastic tubes from plastic sachets clipped at our sides.

As the band strikes up only those fully gowned with face shields may dance. The band’s behind a perspex screen to protect us from the trumpeter’s microspit. The trombonist slides a blare right out and thumps the screen.

After we have danced, a man dressed in full biohazard suit requests the pleasure. Flattered and unable to refuse, I glide whilst he waddles a waltz Viennese. Another asks – a forensic scene-of-crime officer in white coverall suit. He has no face shield, so the doorman moves him on.

In the cloakroom’s mirror, a woman gives herself a throat and nose swab test to see if she can accept a date. Another tries on yellow plastic gloves, posing thoughtful fingers over chin and cheek. Her friend pulls a face and offers a pair of pinks instead.

At the end of the evening, the high intensity car park floodlights come on. We go back to our cars, rip off our gowns and masks and put them in the bins provided. For a brief moment we look at each other in our dresses and suits. Slowly the thought occurs to each of us in turn along the line that this masking and unmasking has shown us more about ourselves than a simple clothing change could do. That what was underneath it all is still there, and beneath the underlayers we are still ourselves.

Then the lights go off and, as we drive away, we try to hold onto what we have learnt today.



Stuart Larner is a chartered psychologist. He has published international articles,
poems and stories, and the books Jack Daw and the Cat, Guile and Spin, and as Rosy
Stewart, Hope: Stories from a Women’s Refuge. For more information, see his blog.

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