The Man In The Mirror

She looked in the mirror that extended from her hand, a past ripened fruit on a gnarled, knotted branch. Those eyes were once dark olive ovals, lips would press like deep red petals.

It was summertime in a park, where children played and giggled and cried. She sat on the bench in the shade of a great oak. The smell of hotdogs wafted over from the stand a few feet away. A greasy man with greasy hands yelled out “Two for a dollah.” A happy couple passed and gave him a dollar.

She sat with her hands on her lap, as the sun shone off her dress, foaming like waves glowing down her legs. People passed.

Then he walked over and sat down. The light-yellow suit, the red tie undone as he crossed his legs and stared out onto the lawn. He took his hat off and rested it on his knee. Then he leaned back and stretched out his arm until it was only inches from her. He didn’t say a word.

They sat for a while as she waited. She knew the drill.

“Beautiful day, ain’t it?” he said as his chin climbed higher.

She turned towards him now. Clean shaven, strong mouth, silky hair. His sharp, pressed suit said money. Bored of his wife and kids. Maybe. Bored of being successful. Maybe.

“It’s very pretty,” she said as she looked at him. She smiled. He smiled back.

“It’s not the only pretty thing around here,” he said as he leaned in. 

Cars honked outside her room as he tied his tie and threw over his wrinkled yellow jacket. She still laid in bed; her limbs partly covered by the crimson bed sheets like streaks of alabaster on red sandstone.

“I’ll call you tomorrow,” he said with a nod of his hat, like a ten-dollar tip. She could hear the front door close.

She laid back and blew air up to the ceiling. She didn’t care if he did.

The face in the mirror still looked at her. And she looked back. She looked at her cheeks now, sunken and hollow as the voice in her throat. Wrinkles crept along her face like ravines in a draught, parched and dying. Still, she looked.

Muffled laughter filled a room with smoke and music and freshly cooked food. Families gathered past the bar amid the rows of red leather booths. She sat alone on a stool with her elbow on the bar’s metal railing, sipping soda from a straw. In her finger she twirled a curl of her light brown hair.

Something sat beside her, something that needed a shower. She turned and her nose almost hit the spot shadowed muscle of an arm. The arm swam up where it met a large, capped shoulder which met a muscular neck and turned into a stubble jawline.

She looked some more and found soft blue eyes that flickered purity beneath a sweated, soiled brow. A shy white smile glimmered at her. “Pardon me, miss,” he said looking at her as he put his dirt clad gloves on his lap and ordered a beer.

She watched him from the corner of her eye. A grin inched its way over her face and through her eyes. He was young, with the open wonder that youth brings, unattached to any girl or any dream. He looked back every so often. His grin turned to curiosity, and then from curiosity to interest.

The lights dimmed and the muffled laughter of the bar died down as the arms of the grandfather clock in the corner made their way round. He didn’t mind a little culture, a little experience. And she didn’t mind the soot from his clothes all over her sheets. So long as she could see youth once more reflected in those sparkling blues.

She watched him from the window walking to the train in the early morning glow. He looked over his shoulder and waved. Maybe a thanks for the night. Or maybe a thanks for the lunch she’d packed into the hard boxed construction bag he lugged over his shoulder. She smiled and waved back. Thanks.

A tear dripped down her cheek as she put the mirror back on the dresser. She closed her eyes. More men. In different times and places. All wanting different things. But to her it was always the same.

The doorbell rang. She heard the key turn, and a familiar melody rang through the hallway. “Hi Ma, it’s me,” said Clara. “I brought the groceries you wanted. I’ll just put them in the kitchen.” Her voice died off.

A few shuffles in the room next door and Clara sat down on a chair with a coffee in her hand. “Emma wants to come see you next week. She keeps saying ‘I want to visit Grandma.’”

Clara waited for a reply.

Grandma smiled. “It’ll be nice to see her,” she said. She looked down at her hands, wrinkled and worn. “Is Emma by  her father this weekend?”

Clara nodded.

Grandma looked over to the dresser where rested the shrine of her late husband. She lifted the picture in her hand.

“You miss Dad?” Clara asked.

Grandma shook her head with a frown and put the picture down. Then she walked over and sat beside her daughter. “You miss Ken?”

Clara played with the cup in her hand, looked up at the window and then back. “Everyday.”

“Then why don’t you take him back?” Grandma asked.

Clara looked at her, cold and steady. “Why didn’t you take Dad back?”

Grandma didn’t flinch. “Because taking him back couldn’t bring me what I wanted.” She’d thought about this before. Clara could tell. 

“What did you want?” asked Clara.

Grandma looked away, at the wall and through it. “I wanted to be admired. To be young.” Grandma paused and blew out a breath. “I guess, I just wanted to be wanted,” she said with a grin. Then the grin faded. “Some women want money or prestige or…”

“Dad sure didn’t have those,” said Clara with a nod of her head.

“No, he sure didn’t,” she replied, nodding too. “But I didn’t care, so long as he wanted me. Once he stopped wanting me, what did I need him for?”

“Well, for love, Ma. Didn’t you love him?”

Grandma shook her head. “I loved what he showed me, what he reminded me.”

Then Grandma leaned forward and looked at her daughter. “I’m on old lady, Clara. And old ladies have lots of time to sit and think and remember. And some old ladies still have enough courage in them to face the truths of their lives.”

She took a breath and continued. “I loved myself, darling. I loved a part of me. I loved that I could draw a man across the room. I loved the magnetism I knew they felt. It was power to me. My power. When we were together, your father was a reminder of that. Constantly. But his affair changed it all…” Grandma’s voice trailed off.

Clara was silent.

“It’s not pretty, but it’s the truth,” Grandma said.

“And what about now?” she asked. 

Her mother just looked. “What about it?”

Grandma walked over to the dresser and picked up the mirror and sat back down. She held it down to the floor, for the carpet fibers to reflect back at themselves. “Now I still love that woman. And I still love her power. But it’s not in me anymore. She’s gone. She’s in some young lady who’s sitting at the corner of a bar or on a park bench somewhere. Right now.”

Grandma paused. “So, why don’t you take Ken back?”

Clara played again with the empty coffee cup in her hand and looked up. She had to think before she decided to speak. “Because I’m scared of women like you. I’m scared that I don’t have enough in me to keep him happy. To keep him home.”

Grandma put her arm around her. “You know child, we probably have the same insecurity, you and I, but just different ways of living it.”

She brushed a tear from her daughter’s cheek and then pressed her cheek where the tear had been. “You still have opportunity, my dear. You can step into it. My love died away with the face in the mirror years ago. But you have a chance right here.”

Grandma got up and put the mirror back on the dresser. Then she sat down again. “You don’t have to be lonely, Clara. Or scared. Wouldn’t it be nice to have someone to sit with you when Emma comes to drop off some groceries?” Grandma looked at her dresser. “Someone besides a mirror and a memory.”

Clara smiled a tear away from her mouth. Then she covered her mother’s hand with her own and looked up and smiled again. “I’ll call him.” 

Culled from by Michael Isaac

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