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Joseph Dougherty

Caroline stands in the middle of a dim room. Candles flicker behind her. She wears an ornate black dress, her hair is a glorious frame for her face.
She looks at us as if looking in a mirror. She turns, she gestures, she watches herself.
Caroline comes forward, close to the “mirror.” Her face is carefully made up, appropriate for the dress. But she hasn’t finished her make-up. She has yet to apply lipstick.
She reaches for lipstick of a bold color and starts to make up her mouth.
As she does so she speaks through the mirror to us. She changes as she puts on her lipstick. She takes on presence, resonance. Power.

Cosplay saved my life. I’m serious. That’s a statement. An observable fact. You can believe it or not. I’m not the same as I was. If you’ve ever done it, if you’ve experienced it, then you understand. If you haven’t, if you’ve only been exactly what you are... Well, too bad for you. But Cosplay saved my life. It’s hard to describe what I was like before. Not hard, I can unpack the whole empty, loveless world of it. It wouldn’t be hard to describe, but it would hurt to remember.

She pauses, because, in spite of herself, she remembers.

There was a... not an emptiness. Something like... an exclusion. That’s not right either. That makes it sound like it’s everybody else’s fault. It’s not. It’s you. You’re afraid. Afraid of something. I don’t know what, but you are. So you keep your head down. Watch the sidewalk when you walk, stare at the numbers when you’re in an elevator to keep from looking at people around you. You’re trying to make yourself invisible, because you’re afraid they’ll look at you and know what you really want to be: A peacock. And they’ll laugh at you for wanting that.

She returns to her lipstick.

Then, one day, with the shades drawn and the door locked, you try it. You dress up. And when you look in the mirror, all of a sudden you can hear the blood rushing through your ears. Something has happened to you. You’ve let something out of a box that’s been locked shut for so long. And, oh...

She remembers the warmth and puts on more lipstick.

You’re the same, but you’re not the same. Something that was inside is now on the outside. Like a glove turning inside out when you peel it off your hand. You are complete in a way you couldn’t have imagined. But you did imagine it. You imagined it, and then you became the thing. And pretty soon you want more. Walking around your apartment isn’t enough. You need to blossom, you want to explode. You have this power you never thought you had, and it’s too much to stay in the bedroom and the kitchen. It will not be contained. You require...a kingdom.

She pauses to remember.

That’s when you decide to go to your first convention. And everything, everything, changes. My first time... It was like the sky cracking open. I walked... No, I promenaded among the others. My head held high, no more looking at the sidewalk. It felt like my heart was going to leap out of my chest. I was whole. Completely alive, maybe for the first time ever. Oh, the conventions.

And then:

But now... The Conventions are gone. Closed. Maybe not forever gone, but gone for right now. Shuttered. Stolen. And I am banished back to my apartment. Back to where I can’t stride more than a few yards without coming to a wall. Well, I won’t have it. I will not permit it.

She has finished. She caps the lipstick. She is regal, magical. She will not be denied.

We will not succumb to this dark hour. This foul time shall pass. The windows will leap up and the doors blast open, and we of the costumes and wigs and make-up will go forth to claim what no one, no thing can take away from us: Our dreams.

A moment, then she looks at us.

And now, I will permit you to dance with me.

Joseph Dougherty is a writer living in California.

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