April 29, 1999 [The King of Masks]
Does The King of Masks care? He has his talent and trade, the street performer sweeping masks one after the other from his face like a Melies magic trick--but needing a son to pass along his quick-change secrets. He buys a little boy--who's a little girl; but he keeps her anyway to cook and clean--and more: to remind him that nothing will come after him, that when he dies the masks go with him.
How long can he keep this up, this denial of the sweet girl who needs him--who wants him and loves him as he deserves--although for a long time I don't think he deserves her at all, the old fool, stuck in his Old China--a few decades before Mao will burn it on the trash-heap of history--and once more, just a few years later, starting another fire--a one-child policy that turns its back not only on a second or third, but girls in particular--the fools. I think of my own girls, and wonder what I would do without them--and the poor world, bereft of my two traveling troublemakers, the lights in my eyes--like the light on the water as the old man and his new daughter dawdle with the current in their little houseboat, one mask after another coming off until it's just them, barefaced and looking at each other.