The Jardin du Luxembourg was full of people when I arrived at the gate. I walked past the statue of the faun playing on his flute. Of course there was nothing magical about the artwork now. It didn’t actually play, it just looked as if it did. There was no real music, no real dance, no real movement.
It was a lovely day, the sun was shining and there was a large crowd that had gathered around the central basin. Kids were playing with the boats as usual. But I didn’t care for them or for the statues of queens. After a few turns I found what I was looking for, the statue of the mask merchant.
Frozen in cast iron he stood there, holding a mask in the air. But he didn’t move. His youthful bare chest didn’t breathe. He was surrounded by masks on the pedestal around him which seemed just as lifelike or lifeless as he did.
People were walking their dogs, barely taking notice of the figure or of me. I moved closer and said: “Hello… I’m… I mean… I need help.”
I didn’t know what I was expecting of a statue made of metal, but he didn’t move.
I glanced around. Nobody was watching me, but the park was kinda busy.
“Hey… sorry to bother you, but I need help with something!”
On one of the park benches nearby an elderly man was reading a newspaper. He now put the newspaper down and stared at me. I winced and put up a facial expression to show him how painfully aware I was how this must be looking. But I still turned around and said “Hey… please… I need to talk to you.”
The last time I was here with Alphonse, Mr. Whoolster had set the stage for us. The park was deserted and the statues spoke. But the old apparition expert wasn’t here, neither was his son. I didn’t even know how to contact them.
I thought long and hard. I retraced my steps through the park, passed the basin with the little boats and the children, until I stood in front of the statue of the prancing faun again. I had an idea – possibly a crazy idea, but an idea nonetheless. But for that, I needed to climb on the pedestal of the faun. And to do that, I needed to cross the flowerbed that surrounded the faun.
A policeman saw me approaching the pedestal and came over.
“Monsieur… monsieur… what do you think you are doing?”
“I need to get up on that pedestal.”
“I think you are not! Get out of the flowerbed at once, monsieur!”
He tried to grab me, but I dodged his attack.
He used his walkie talkie to call for backup.
I quickly pulled myself up to the statue.
“Monsieur, come down or I will have to use force!”
The statue of the faun was really not how most fauns are depicted. He was basically a naked man with horns and goat ears. He was dancing on some kind of pillow and he had a flute in his mouth. The flute, of course, was also made of metal. I hoped that it wasn’t completely attached to the rest of the statue. To my delight it wasn’t, but I needed to struggle to get it out. I wiggled at the instrument. Slowly but steadily I could remove it from the iron hands of the man.
I was jerked off the pedestal by another policeman who had arrived. I heard a sharp sound as the flute fell, touched the pedestal and landed amongst the flowers. I jumped away from the policemen and dived into the flowers.
In my head I apologised to the gardeners of this place as I grabbed a fistful of the plants, ripping at them in order to find the flute. The policemen weren’t being nice to the decoration either, they stood on both sides with the arms outstretched, moving towards me to catch me.
I grabbed for straws until finally I felt something long and hard on the ground. It was the flute.
“Monsieur, you are under arrest, stay right there.”
I jumped up, ran a couple of meters and put the flute to my lips. I hoped and prayed to any god out there that this would do the trick. I pressed air through the instrument and only sputters came out.
I jogged away. I could see other policemen coming from the other side. I stopped in my tracks, took a deep breath and this time, I pressed all the air of my lungs into the metal contraption. And finally I heard a sound, even a pleasant one. A single note.
My eyes were closed and I didn’t dare to open them. “Monsieur!” I heard “This is an outrage!”
My shoulders sank and I opened them again. The policemen were gone, the park was deserted. The voice I just heard continued: “I demand that you return my flute immediately!”
I grinned and sighed. It had worked.
“I’m terribly sorry, here!”
I gave the faun the flute who made a very clear gesture that he wanted me gone. But then he started playing the flute again and continued dancing. I hoped that he’s the kind of being that can’t hold grudges.
I made my way back to the park and to the march merchant. He was no longer holding up one of the masks, he was sitting on his pedestal, smirking and winking at me.
“Mike, if I remember correctly… to what do I owe the pleasure?”
“I’m… I’m so happy to see you.”
The merchant took a mask from the pedestal with a frowny face and held it in front of his face. Then he said: “I heard that you are not a seeker anymore? That you were defeated by the minotaur?”
“Yeah, I was, but now I’m back. I’m looking for Alphonse, my friend. He’s in the métro system below the opera, but they, whoever they is, won’t let me in.”
The merchant took of the mask and nodded.
“Yeah. Because you are not wearing the right mask.”
“What do you mean?” I said.
The mask merchant pulled his legs up into a tailor seat and smiled warmly.
“Well, you still think that you are the protagonist of this story.”
“I don’t understand.”
He smiled even more. Not in a condescending way, more in a compassionate way.
“You know that Shakespeare quote? All the world’s a stage and we are mere players. Everyone plays their part in some way. If we are brave and we are strong, we are protagonists of our own lives and that is something we should aspire to be. But sometimes we take part in endeavours that touch our lives which are bigger than just our lives. And in that stories, we have to decide what role we want to play. Are we the ones who seek the price, who seek to defeat the minotaur, to free the youthlings? Are we the trusty friend by our side? Are we the love interest? We need to figure out what to do, which mask to wear. For a while, you wore the protagonist’s mask and everything seemed fine. And then you met the minotaur and didn’t want to be a protagonist anymore. You left the scene, exit Mike.”
I nodded. The whole metaphor of this being a theatre play made sense.
“Now you are back and you want to participate again. But somebody else has taken on the role of the protagonist while you were gone. He’s now the hero of that story. But he’s in trouble.”
“Why?” I asked, but I already knew the answer.
“Well, heroes can’t do it alone. They need help from their friend. You cannot barge out and barge in again, thinking that you can continue being the protagonist. But you can make sure to fill out the role of the friend.”
I nodded. That made sense.
“Alright. Then that’s the mask I have to wear.”
The merchant nodded and handed me a mask. The face looked humble, not boasting, but solid.
“Thank you,” I said, “what do I owe you?”
“How did you get the park change into the other reality?”
“I stole the flute from the dancing faun and blew it.”
The merchant laughed.
“That is enough payment. I like that for a moment he couldn’t play his flute.”
“Thanks, I owe you one.”
The merchant smiled, stood up and held his mask above his head again, as I was putting on the mask.
“What’s your name, by the way?” I asked.
“‘The Mask Merchant’”, he said, “it’s written on the pedestal.”
He winked and I understood.
The statue didn’t move anymore and the park was full of people again. The two policemen from earlier approached me. I was just about to turn and run when they said: “Excuse us, monsieur, have you seen someone with a flute? He fled the scene earlier at the dancing faun.”
I shook my head.
“Ah, thank you, monsieur,” and they left.
It seemed that the mask was already working.