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Death Mask


Every day, someone new is gone. Streets that are rough and filled with potholes wind along a maze of what used to be homes and community centers. Sprouting in their place: gourmet coffee shops and trendy thrift stores.

What houses are left look more like shacks and the lawns that haven’t crumbled into stretches of coarse yellow are overgrown, almost waist-high. They’ve even installed an entire arts district.

The museum has death masks lined up along the main corridor of the second floor. Some look more human than others, with small beaded dreadlocks lining wooden faces at rest. There’s a bronze plaque bolted to the wall next to them that says “Such casts obviate idealized representations by revealing the actual features of the individual,” which makes you feel uneasy beneath all their stares, so you walk out the room, to a section of wide windows overlooking the area surrounding the building.

A crowd bursts into the foyer with fists held high chanting “DECOLONIZATION IS NOT A METAPHOR!” Everyone around you takes their phone out. Some cheer and join the chanting crowd. They make their way through the foyer, to the Antiquity section.

People in earth-colored dashikis remove large west African wood carvings from their wall mounts. The clatters and bangs echo throughout the shining white marble halls. They smash Picasso’s cubist work and say it’s just a lesser version of their masks anyway. Then they take the masks. Indian women wrap saris around ornate depictions of Brahma to keep them safe on the trip home. They do it with wide smiles resting across their cheeks.

Furious, the curator, in a blue pantsuit with stilettos shaped like literal bombs, demands security do something, but all museum security staff have shed the thick black blazers and earpieces that are the marker of their occupations, and are now too joining in on the reclaiming. Gonzales has a gigantic sea shell carved with indigenous myths cradled to his face, eyes closed in complete rapture.

The curator stamps her bomb-shaped shoes on the checkered floor and screams that if they want decolonization so bad they should just vote.

En masse, the crowd starts to chant “YANKEE GO HOME!” Someone throws an Aztec calendar stone at her as she runs out the door, only missing by a matter of inches.

By the time they’ve removed all their contributions, the museum is almost completely empty. There’s cheers and group hugs, people raising long-lost artifacts above their head with misty eyes.

Smashed cases make the floor glitter with broken glass. People around you put their cellphones back in pockets or purses. They carefully make their way out, being sure not to bump into the two men in red changshans walking down the front steps of the building, a piece of painted silk balanced between them.



M.C. Zendejas is currently studying creative writing at the University of Houston. His work is featured in Your Impossible Voice, BULL: Men’s Fiction, UNDERGROUND, X-R-A-Y, and Drunk Monkeys Literature + Film. His debut chapbook, Swimming Through the Void (2019), is forthcoming from Analog Submissions Press.