The researcher, the head of the laboratory at the Institute of High-Molecular Chemistry, burned his face with liquid oxygen during the experiment, causing his whole face to become scarred. The wounds do not heal in any way, and he always walks with a bandaged face. He reflects on the fact that the absence on the face of the skin, which is nothing more than a shell, fenced him off from society. He feels lost face and notices that a person plays a much more important role in life than he imagined: even Bach’s soothing music seems now to him not as a balm, but as a clod of clay. “Is a disfigured person capable of influencing the perception of music?” – He complains. The hero reflects on whether he still lost something with his face. He remembers how in his childhood he stole and threw the hair of his elder sister into the fire, which seemed to him something obscene, immoral,
The hero tries to restore physical intimacy with his wife, who broke off after the accident, but does it too abruptly, too grossly, and the wife pushes him away. His connection with people was broken: the passers-by politely take his eyes off his face, his colleagues diligently pretend that nothing has happened, the children begin to cry when they look at him. The hero wants to make a mask that would replace his face, restore his connection with people. First of all, he meets with K. – scientists involved in the manufacture of artificial organs. K. shows him an artificial finger, but the face is another matter. According to K., this is not only a cosmetic problem, but also a problem related to the prevention of mental Illnesses.
K. during the war was a military doctor and saw that the wounded primarily worried not about whether they will live and whether their body will function normally, but about whether their original appearance will remain. One soldier, who had a disfigured face, committed suicide before being discharged from the hospital. This convinced K, that “a serious external wound of the face, like a decal, is imprinted as a trauma to the soul.”
K. is ready to tackle the face of the hero and is confident that he will be able to offer him something better than bandages. But the hero refuses. He buys an artificial finger and hurries to leave as quickly as possible. At night, putting an artificial finger on the table, like a candle, the hero ponders his conversation with K. If the face is a path between people, then the loss of the face has permanently immured the hero in solitary confinement, and then the idea of a mask is similar to the escape plan from prison, the existence of man is put. The hero is really looking for a way to people. But the face is not the only path. Scientific works of the hero on rheology were read by people who never saw him, therefore, scientific works also connect people with each other. The hero tries to understand why the artificial finger looks so repulsive. Probably, it’s about feeling the skin. To reproduce the smallest details of the skin,
The hero meets with a school friend – a specialist in the field of paleontology. He explains to the hero that even an experienced specialist can recreate only the general arrangement of muscles – because if the skeleton gave an accurate idea of the appearance of a person, plastic surgery would be impossible.
The hero ponders which face will suit him. He is looking for a material for smooth epithelium, for the keratin layer of the epidermis, for the inner layers of the skin. The hero makes a cast of his face from antimony – this is the inner surface of the future mask. Now he needs to choose the type of face for the outer surface of the mask, which is not so easy. The impossibility of dividing one’s grief with anyone begins to turn the hero into a monster. If Carlyle’s statement is correct, that the cassock makes a priest, then perhaps it is also true that the monster’s face creates the heart of a monster.
The hero begins to love the darkness. He goes to the cinema to stay in the dark, accidentally gets to the exhibition of masks of the theater “No”. It seems to him that the features of their faces are mobile, but he realizes that this is a deception of view: in fact, it is not the mask that changes, but the light that is falling on it. Masks do not have their own expression, but those who look at them, see them a certain expression, each – his own. It all depends on the viewer, on his choice.
The hero has an idea to choose the type of person from the position of a close person – his wife. The hero tells his wife that in the cinema the spectators are renting faces from the actors and putting them on, and if the faces of the actors are not liked, then the film is not interesting to watch. Wife replies that she loves movies more, where there are no actors – documentary. The hero is annoyed that she always gives in to him. Returning to reflections on the type of person, he comes to the conclusion that, from the point of view of his wife, he is approached by a “disharmonious, extrovert type”. The face of a strong-willed, active person. The hero, on the one hand, seeks to restore the path that connects him with his wife, on the other – seeks revenge on her. He feels like a hunter, whose arrow is always aimed at his wife.
After much trouble, the mask is finally ready. To hide the line of its connection with the face, the hero makes a beard to the mask. He does not like beards – it looks pretentious, but he has no way out. The hero puts on a mask, but his own face seems to him lifeless. Probably, the matter is that the mask is motionless and therefore devoid of expression. The hero decides to rent a room in the house S and there “to teach the mask to wrinkles”, to give it an expression.
The hero for the first time appears in a mask on the street. His goal is to get used to the mask, so he does not care where to go. He goes into the tobacco shop. The saleswoman does not pay much attention to him, he is for her the same as others. The next day, the hero asks the manager to hand over the next room to his younger brother, in order to be able to come and go in a mask without attracting attention. Unfortunately, the room is already rented. Then the hero says that the brother will from time to time come and relax in his room. The hero meets the daughter of the manager in the yard, who cried when she saw... his bandaged face for the first time. The girl is mentally retarded, and the hero talks to her. “We play secrets,” the girl tells him. The hero is amazed at how exactly this random phrase exactly corresponds to what happens to him. He promises the girl to buy a new toy.
One day remains until the end of his fictional business trip. He needs to fully master the mask. He goes to the store, buys the promised toy for the girl. The owner of the store shows him the wind pistol. The hero does not want to buy it, but the mask takes over him, and he buys weapons. The hero feels the mask as something almost separate from itself, almost hostile. He wants to come to his wife in a mask in the guise of a stranger and seduce her. Going to his house, the hero, not recognized by his neighbors, draws in his imagination the meeting of his wife with a mask. The mask, which should have become a mediator between him and his wife, causes jealousy of the hero. The hero feels that between him and his mask lies an abyss. Glancing at the window of his house, the hero sees a lot of bandages hanging from the ceiling with ribbons: waiting for his return, the wife washed old bandages, with which he wrapped his face. The hero feels that he loves his wife very much.
The next day the hero comes to the bus stop at 4 pm to meet his wife, returning from a lecture on applied art. When she leaves the bus, the hero talks to her. He invites her to drink coffee, then lunch. She unperturbedly allows the mask to seduce her, says her husband is on a business trip, a few hours after the meeting she goes with the hero to the hotel and gives it to him. The hero experiences a feeling of defeat. He does not understand his wife.
The next day, wrapping his face in bandages, the hero pretends to return from a week-long business trip. At first he goes to work to calm down and get used to his appearance in bandages. At home, his wife meets him as if nothing had happened. He is amazed – he is so desperately struggling with a split between the face and the mask, while his wife completely withstood the split, which was completely unexpected for her, and experienced no shadow of shame or remorse. After dinner, the hero, referring to an unfinished experiment, leaves the house. After some time he calls his wife on behalf of the mask. She says that her husband came back, but soon left, and adds: “It’s a pity it is very.”
The hero is confused, he can not unravel his wife. Approaching his refuge in House S, the hero meets the girl. The hero in confusion pretends that he does not understand what is at stake: after all, when he promised the girl a toy, he was wearing a mask. But the girl says to him:
“Do not worry, because we play secrets.” The hero sees that his mask can not deceive even the feeble-minded girl, but calms herself that the girl, like the dog, trusts not in appearance, but in intuition, which is why it is more difficult to deceive than an adult thinking person. The hero gives the toy to the girl.
Having put on a mask, he goes on a date with his own wife. Returning, he begins to write notes to destroy the triangle he created. He can not merge with the mask, therefore he perceives the connection of the mask with his wife as treason, as treachery. This lasts almost two months. The hero’s wife meets with a mask, and the hero writes notes, designed to explain everything to his wife. Having finished the notes, the hero tells his wife how to get to his refuge in the house S. The wife comes there and finds three notebooks, where the hero described all his thoughts and feelings – the contents of these notebooks and is the text of the novel. In conclusion, the hero writes to his wife, where his mask lies, and says that she can do anything with her.
On the blank pages of the last notebook, the hero makes notes for himself. He describes how he sat at home and waited for his wife in House S to read a notebook with his notes. He hopes that exposing the mask will hurt his wife, that she will be ashamed. After all, she also wounded the hero by her “betrayal,” so they are even. He believes that any solution is better than a similar love triangle. Without waiting for his wife, the hero rushes to the house S. Wives are not there. The mask is still in the closet. On the table, he discovers a letter from his wife. She writes that from the first minute she guessed everything. But he, who at first strove with the help of a mask to regain himself, from some moment began to look at the mask as an invisible cap, but not to hide from others, but in order to escape from himself. The mask became his other face. Wife writes that the mask was not bad, he just did not know how to deal with it: in the end, the mask did not change anything. The wife accuses the hero of not wanting to know anyone but himself, and considers his behavior a mockery of her.
After reading the letter of his wife, the hero tries to understand at what moment he made a mistake. Two remarks of his wife hurt him most painfully: first, the admission that, exposing the true nature of the mask, she continued to pretend that he had succeeded in deceiving her; Secondly, the reproach is that, despite many excuses, he also backed them up with no real action, it just sufficed that these notes, which in effect make him look like a snake clinging to his own tail. The hero feels that the mask was not so much a mask as something close to a new, real face.
He decides to give the mask another chance. Having put on a mask and taking a wind pistol, the hero feels that his mood immediately changes. Before, he felt that he was already forty years old, now he feels that he is only forty years old. The masked self-assurance makes itself felt. The hero tries to find his wife, but without success. From obedient, weak, blinded by jealousy, the mask turns into a wild beast, capable of everything. Hearing the tapping of the heels, the hero hides around the corner and lowers the pistol guard. He does not know what he will do, it will be decided in the last moment when the woman is within a shot distance. He hates people. Steps are getting closer. His last words: “I will never write again.” It is necessary to write, apparently, only when nothing happens. “