Fiction: Mirror by Meg Hafdahl
by Meg Hafdahl
Sometimes she would stop and remind herself that Emily Dickinson hadn’t worried about such trivial matters as belly fat and chin acne. And the Bronte sisters had more to concern themselves with than the curve of their noses or the flush of their cheeks. And for precarious, fleeting moments, thinking of her literary heroines and their somber portraits made her hopeful. She was hopeful for a future when the niggling thoughts would fall away and she would be left with only a genuine love of her body, of herself and of the words she dared to write.
One morning she woke up to a visceral realization, a sharp stab to her soul that throbbed like a forgotten splinter. She knew, as she curled her body, knees to chin, that she had wasted so much energy. She had thrown time away, for the gnawing, hungry demons of self-doubt to crunch and devour. Since she was a girl, and she had been taught to despise her belly and her cheeks and her hair and her thighs, she had let her brain succumb. She could have been writing and creating. She could have been thinking of ways to help others, to be a better person. But instead she had let herself pick and pluck and worry.
Once the physical pain subsided she rose from her bed. She passed the mirror but she did not see the varicose vein winding up her leg.
Her husband appeared in the bedroom. He smelled of fresh coffee but his eyes were narrowed and his neck was covered in patchy red splotches she recognized as worry. “Honey! Come, it’s your mom!”
She followed him down the wooden stairs, her heart in her throat. The bedroom at the bottom, across from the bathroom with the orange pill bottles lining the sink, smelled of Vaseline.
Her mother lay in the bed, propped up awkwardly on a pile of pillows. She was the color of dirty dishwater, gray yet pale. A perfect circle of blood rested under her wrinkled nose.
“Mom!” She ran her palm across her mother’s clammy forehead, just as her mother had done for her when she was small and febrile. “You don’t look good.”
The old woman nodded. She wiped at the blood with a trembling hand. “Get my mirror.”
“No, you…” Her daughter stopped. “I mean you look ill.”
“I’ll call the ambulance, she said she felt like she couldn’t breathe before.” Her husband called from the hallway.
At that moment her mother leaned forward and began to hack into her own hands. Her entire, skinny frame shook with the effort. Another trickle of blood trailed down from her nose and hung over her dry lips.
“Get my mirror!” The old woman demanded.
First, she got a Kleenex and dropped it on her mother’s lap. Then she grabbed the tortoise shell mirror and held it up. Her mother sniffed. She raised her head and batted her thin eyelashes as she looked at her reflection.
“And my robe, the chiffon one, you know, with the lace collar.”
Her daughter obeyed.
She patted her mother’s bloody nose with a damp cloth. And then she carefully applied the lipstick, bright coral, as her mother made an O with her lips.
Her mother coughed, and she could hear the rattle, deep within the old woman’s chest, and she knew. The sirens blared as she slipped her mother’s arms into the robe’s sleeves and tied the sash around her slender waist.
“They’re coming.” She looked into her mother’s glassy eyes.
“Brush my hair dear,” her mother’s head fell back onto the pillow. “And spritz me with a touch of Chanel, please.”
Her mother was now a frightful ghost. The coral lipstick was a misguided blight on such a frail, gray woman. She stopped. Her hand hovered over the brush waiting next to a collection of creams and lotions. A bottle marked Chanel #5 glistened in the morning light.
“Hurry.” Her mother’s voice was a stranger’s, scratchy and weak. “They’re almost here. It’s coming. It’s coming.”
She heard the ambulance park outside of the house, and the flurry of feet as they raced up the brick path to the front door.
And then a thought, razor sharp, blossomed into her consciousness. She looked down at her bare legs, and the purple varicose vein that snaked up toward her knee. She had to fetch her stockings before they came in.
Or they would see.