“Mirror, Mirror on the Wall” by Don Herald

MIRROR, MIRROR ON THE WALL

 

A middle-aged man stands alone on a darkened stage. A bright spot holds him in its cone. He is immaculately dressed in a well-tailored, light grey suit. A silk tie, deep red, nicely compliments an expensive shirt. There is a small flower on his lapel, a lighter shade of the tie. All of it is understated, elegant.

Silent, the man gazes out toward us, occasionally pulling at his French cuffs, more out of habit than nervousness. Several times, he touches his right cheek as if sweeping away an unseen fly.

He smiles. It’s as if he is remembering something important he wants to share with us but is unsure if he should.

He pulls down upon his suit coat and then casually re-folds his hands in front.

He begins to speak to us.

The voice is cultured; his words soothing and confident. It’s a voice each of us has heard before but can’t remember when, where or who.

_________________ 0 _________________

When I look into the mirror every morning, I’m reminded of other times. And, if truth be told, it was both the best and worst of times.

Back then, whenever I entered a room, heads would turn. It seemed that women of all ages wanted to talk to me. Immediately. Urgently. Not wishing to sound too full of myself, I must tell you that more than a few just couldn’t help themselves. They’d find any excuse to lightly touch my arm, perhaps a shoulder. I remember once – a sophomore as I recall – even stroked my hair much like she would have done with a favoured cat.

Olivia, my mother – God rest her soul – often called me pretty.

‘You’re a pretty lad,’ she’d say, ‘Sure to break many hearts in the years ahead.’

She’d always tell me about the latest fashions, showing me photos in gentlemen’s magazines. High style was her thing, that’s for sure. Now you might think it odd for a mother to do that with a son. But I just accepted that’s the way any mother would talk, especially if her son was pretty like me. These days, I guess the more acceptable word would be handsome.

‘Remember this, Vincento,’ Olivia was too fond of saying. ‘Clothes make the man. People, my darling, may not remember what you say, but they will surely remember if your shoes were shined, your pants pressed.’

One day, I think I must have been about nine or ten, I was watching her putting on makeup. I must confess that back then, I was genuinely fascinated by the entire process. It was just magical. My mother – well, she was what you’d call a natural beauty. Anyone who ever met her would undoubtedly say so. But when she had on her makeup, to put it simply, my mother was a knock-out. Strange as it may seem, I remember being very jealous of all that love and attention she attracted.

Anyway, she saw me watching and invited me to sit beside her – both of us side by side in front of the round cosmetic mirror over her makeup table in a tiny space she liked to call her boudoir.

‘What would you like to try, Vincento? Lipstick? Perhaps some eye shadow? Or maybe just a whisper of rouge on those pale cheeks?’ Her fingertips delicately brushed my cheek. I can still feel her touch to this very day.

With each offering, Olivia would hold out the item in the palm of her delicate hand.

I decided on the rouge powder. My heart felt like it was going to burst right out of my chest.

‘Excellent choice, my precious. Here, on one cheek, let me show you just how to do it, so there’s only just a hint of …’ She hesitated, not able to find quite the right word.

‘So there’s only just a hint of…’ she paused again, ‘…invitation.’

Admittedly, it was a most unusual word to use in that situation. But then again, in her life, my dear mother was all about the invitation.

With practiced strokes, she rouged my left cheek then leaned back to admire her handiwork.

‘Now, Vincento dearest, you do the other.’

And I did. As I recall, I didn’t do too bad a job of it either.

‘Beautiful, Vincento. You’re so pretty. Yes, so very pretty indeed.’

She kissed me lightly on the forehead.

‘My blessed heart, you look so handsome. No girl in her right mind will ever be able to resist you.’

Looking back now, I think that was the start of it.

From that very moment, I truly believed I was pretty. ‘Stunningly handsome,’ I recall my mother saying as I innocently posed this way and that – just as I’d seen her do so many times – in front of the full-length dressing mirror.

I chose to believe in my beauty, so it came easily for me to act the part. Confident. In charge. Worth getting to know. And when I was older, definitely worth loving if you were found to be in my favour.

I wore fine clothes; bespoke suits of only the most beautiful cloth. Soft leather shoes, hand-stitched, always polished of course. A gold Rolex. French cuffs, always accented with ebony links, the initials ‘VM’ embossed lightly on the dark bone.

But, as you well know, there’s far more to living the high life than just being a sharp dresser who’s always easy with his words. Sadly, I must report my flattering mother never revealed the secret to me. I had to learn that life lesson the hard way.

Standing here, I do confess to you that over the years, I’ve had many women – passionate, loving, attentive – in my life. For each, I was the irresistible light, and she was my delicate, summer moth. Now you may think that sounds outrageously conceited. But it is the truth of it.

Which, of necessity, brings us to Helen.

She was my soul mate. We spent eighteen marvellous months together. First, in San Diego where she had a thriving practice as a much sought after fashion photographer. Then the final six months when we were living on Canada’s Pacific coast.

Back then, Helen was big into yoga. When a teaching position at the famous yoga centre in one of the Gulf Islands came her way, she joyfully walked away from her glamorous life in California. Of course, I went along with her.

Looking back now, I sometimes wonder if she’d gradually become my light, and I was just her beautiful summer moth.

Of course, someone as attractive and socially adept as me found it easy to mix in with the yoga crowd. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to you that I was very popular, particularly with some of the younger female students.

That said, I’m sure you’ve already figured out how all this is going to end.

In my defence, let me just say that I was well and truly loved. I trust that now you can see that such behaviour was just in my nature. For the most part, Helen was forgiving. Oh, I’ll admit there were tensions between us at times about – what shall I call them – my overly familiar relationships with her students. But in spite of it all, Helen remained my soul mate.

Eventually, Helen had enough. One rainy night in late summer, we had a spectacularly noisy row. Hurtful words stripped bare our very hearts. Hidden feelings were drawn out between us; our relationship shredded beyond repair.

The next day I left on the first ferry out of Long Harbour. I headed for Victoria and a new life without Helen.

One week later, while riding a friend’s Harley on a section of twisting highway up the Pacific coast toward Tofino, I was side-swiped by a skidding Benz. Thankfully, I was swiftly airlifted to the Royal Jubilee in Victoria. The surgeons there did a great job of patching me up.

But my face… well, let’s just say that I’ll never be quite the same again.

_________________ 0 _________________

The man unconsciously touches his right cheek. The fingers linger for several heartbeats then return to his side. To some, it seems that this simple act is innocent, not full of subtle meaning. To others, it seems as if it may be an invitation, perhaps to forgive the man his many trespasses.  

The man turns slightly away from us as if to leave, then pauses. It appears as if he still may have more to say. In the white cone of light, a long, jagged scar is faintly visible beneath cleverly applied makeup.

He nods slightly, then steps abruptly into total blackness beyond.

The cone of light slowly fades.

The stage is dark.

 

Artist Bio: Don’s work has been published online in the US, UK and Canada. His stories often feature flawed characters who decide to do the wrong thing for themselves and others. A retired social worker and workplace behaviour consultant, Don lives in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada. He is a co-founder and active member of the Writers’ Group of Peterborough. Don’s published stories are available at www.donherald.blogspot.com.