'Sloth' by Dale Hay

The maskmaker’s shop never opens before 11 o’clock in the morning and it shuts for an hour’s siesta every afternoon.  Señor Abrines knows that he is considered a lazy, slothful man, and he does little to deny that charge.  Only his son knows that Señor Abrines can only shape and paint his masks in the dead of night, when the demons in his dreams wake him, jolting his tired brain with their jeering laughter.

When that happens, Señor Abrines rolls carefully away from his wife, rises from their bed and tiptoes downstairs, the demons’ faces still imprinted on his retinas.  He brews a cup of café con leché and takes it with him into the workshop.  He mixes a new batch of papier maché.   Plunging his hands into the cold wet mess, he shapes horns and bones and eye ridges, moulding the soggy strips of paper into a demon.

Guillermo almost always wakes up at the sound of his father’s footsteps on the stairs.  When the sun rises and Señor Abrines has nodded off, his head drooping over his paints and brushes, Guillermo creeps into the workshop and pushes aside the drying demon masks.  He tidies up his father’s worktable, then helps his mother rouse the little ones.  Señor Abrines always slept late into the morning, not hearing the bells summoning the villagers to mass, calling the children to their lessons.

When the sun reaches the top of the sky, Señor Abrines sits outside, on the shadowy veranda of his shop, on the edge of the plaza.  The women and their babies gather on the benches, underneath the trees.  Las perezas hang down from the highest branches, upside down, hardly moving.  They ignore the cries of the fruitsellers, the women’s laughter, the children’s angry squabbles.

Like Señor Abrines, these sloths are awake at night.  In the darkness, they too see the demons.  But now, in the heat of noon, they make little effort, except what it takes to cling with their toes to the tree limbs.

After his siesta, Señor Abrines drinks another cup of café con leché and dusts his masks.  Their demonic faces haunt him, their eyes black holes in the dim light of the shop.  

Tonight the demons will taunt this man again, invade his dreams, inspire his art.  But for now, while the sun is in the sky, Sr Abrines ignores his demon muses.  He leans back, sips his coffee, savours the quiet of his empty shop.  He clings to his perch, still, silent, in the soft moist heat of a dusty afternoon in the mask shop by the plaza.


  1. I really enjoyed this. Thanks.

  2. A real delight. Just goes to show all is not as it appears.


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