The mirror whispers something I've known for ages: I'm no longer the fairest of them all. Not a by long shot. Jowls around my chin line. Love handles, but no love. When I lean in closer, I find that one long hair, a whisker, growing out of my chin on the left side, white and thick as thread. I pluck it every couple of weeks, but it grows back every time. Sometimes I forget til one of my daughters sees it, screams, and goes running for the tweezers.
I flip the light back off.
Back when my daughters were growing up, I was the envy of all the other mothers. Oh, Mimi, how do you do it? they raved after every one of my pregnancies. That shape with all those little girls.
Chasing after children, all day, every day, I used to joke. That's my diet plan. The truth is I didn't dare gain an ounce. Gaining weight was not an option. A month after every birth, as soon as I stopped bleeding, Jack wanted me back in my straight skirts and high heels, my white maillot if it was summer. His fantasy was that I could be mistaken for Liz Taylor. I never dared to let myself go, which is exactly what my daughters have accused me of ever since I left him. Oh, Mimi, you've really let yourself go.
* * *
All women lose their looks. Sooner or later. It's inevitable, like sun in morning, moon at night. No female escapes, no matter how much time or money she's got to spend on herself. Most women, though, lose their looks in bits and pieces, a wrinkle here, an extra pound or two there, then the drooping boobs, the sagging bottom, the thinning hair and thickening waist. But me, I lost them all at oncehere today, gone tomorrowthe same way I once lost a good watch and then a pair of rosary beads Jack had given me, no clue about their worth until I realized they were gone for good. I was forty-nine, hadn't even started the Change, when they cut me open and scooped me out like an old fruit. My female organs, turned into medical waste, carted off in a red plastic bucket to be incinerated who knows where. It was all those babies, six, Jack wanted me to have and then left me to care forone of whom, Malvina, the nurses held inside me, squeezing my legs together until the doctor showed up twenty minutes later. The trouble with my girl parts started then. So they tell me.
But I didn't let myself go. Never, ever let myself go. If I let myself go, what would I be left with? Nada. Instead, I was erased. No more wolf whistles when I walked along the beach. No men making way so I could get into line ahead of them at the bank or the post office, or helping me put the groceries into the car. They didn't see me anymore. I'd disappeared.
* * *
The mirror's some type of fake filigree, with gold, curly things around the edges, not my taste at all. I reach for it, wonder why I haven't thought of this before: Take the damned thing down! Who needs reminders? I'll put up a pretty picture, say of children picking flowers in a meadow. I've seen some nice ones at Kmart. Or an arrangement of my grandkids' school pictures. That's it! Right here in the front hall. That would shut my daughters up, all their complaints about how I don't display the grandkids' pictures properly. That I don't show enough interest in the grandkids, don't love them enough.
I get my stepstool from the kitchen so I can grasp the mirror better. It weighs a ton. The wall behind it is pure white, the rest of the walls tinged yellow from my True Blues. "Imagine what they're doing to your lungs!" Cass would say if she were here, and then probably make a note of it to share with her sisters. I lug the mirror into my bedroom, stopping every couple of steps to catch my breath. I rest it against my bed while I look for a place to store it.
Copyright © 2014 by Julia MacDonnell
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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