‘How old are you?’ he asked.
‘How old do you think I am?’ she said.
She too was wearing a mask, so he had only clothing choices, posture, eyes, mouth, and voice to go on. She was tall. Her hair was thick and dark, though he wasn’t sure what that told him. ‘I’m no good at this,’ he said.
‘No good at what?’ Her voice clear, low, unhurried.
‘At ages. Guessing.’
‘You don’t have to answer,’ she said. ‘Keep it to yourself. However old you think I am, that’s how old I am.’
Later, still masked, on a couch in a different room, they drank bitter clear liqueur from tiny glasses. ‘Have you noticed,’ she said, ‘how I haven’t asked you about your age?’ She licked her lips. Her tongue was deliberate, and pinkly vibrant.
He said nothing, and nothing was expected, then after a while, ‘No, I hadn’t noticed,’ he said, ‘but I’m aware now.’ He thought some more then said, ‘I did notice that you didn’t query the relevance of my question.’
‘Which question?’ she said.
‘The one about your age.’ He thought he’d only asked her the one.
‘Didn’t I?’ she said, and perhaps she smiled. He detected for the first time a delicate perfume, hers, a hint of white flowers, and something else, something suggesting softness and marshmallow, and then it was gone, absorbed in the incense burning from another part of the building.
Later still, when he was alone with the realisation that they wouldn’t meet again, with the knowledge that she’d been accurate in calling their encounter a one-off, he was puzzled by an inability to recall the details of the mask she’d been wearing, other than its having definitely been a mask. Its shape, colour, texture and material, how it had been secured, all was lost and absent. All seemed important, particularly as he’d never once sighted her full face. This vagueness bothered him, and the bother would thrive and sometimes visit, surprising, as the years peeled away.