Friday, June 25, 2010

The Vanity

In the evenings, she found her comfort in the cushion of an ottoman, sitting down softly in front of her own reflections–a three-mirrored vanity of Victorian origin. Despite its apparent antiquity, the surface of the dainty dresser was still polished and unmarred and housed one slender drawer whose brass handle is starting to show signs of tarnish. Each mirror, a center one flanked by two narrower ones, was lovingly farmed in cherry wood while the cabinet’s long and willowy legs fell curvaceously to the floor, ending in wooden cat’s paws. It was here, within the warm caress of a fine chardonnay, that she reviewed the items of the day as well as the articles of her life.

Organized atop her cherished repose were vials of scented oils and memoirs. On the right lay a horsehair brush, its silver back embossed with rose petals and vines, attended by a similarly engraved fine-tooth comb. There were assorted barrettes and hair ties and a jeweled French comb which held a particular place of prestige. Across the back, beneath the mirrors, stand several assorted perfumes, lotions, and crèmes of jasmine and lavender. A copy of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Adonais, its corners curled and tan, sits conveniently on her left as she picks up the silver-handled brush. Thumbing the horsehair bristles softly; she looks into the mirror on her left and begins to reminisce about the past.

Drawing the brush slowly through her hair, she remembers how her mother used to brush it every night when she was a little girl. She used to pull her golden tresses behind each ear and tenderly, cupping her cherub cheeks in the mirror’s reflection, assured her of the hidden beauty of which a looking glass cannot reveal. She imagines her mother still standing behind her in the mirror’s reflection, her eyes bright and full of life. Warmed by the memory, she gently sits the brush back in its proper place–not so far away that it isn’t still close to her heart. The image of her mother in the mirror slowly disappears, and yet the warmth of her touch remains.

Holding the length of her hair back with one hand, she fumbles for a barrette with the other while gazing into the center mirror, reflecting on the present. The French comb finds her hand and she began to secure her freshly-tended tresses. An ambiguous if not noncommittal gift, she thought; after all this time, what had he seen or not seen in me, she inquired of the mirror. Affixing the jeweled barrette, she examined each cheek in the mirror looking for that veil of beauty. Her features were still strong and angular, and yet her eyes were beginning to reveal the pangs of living. Thus pouring another glass of wine, she repositions herself with a huff and downs the entire ration.

Refilling her glass, she looks into the mirror on her right and tries to focus on the future. Her left hand drifts to the paperback and caresses its cover. It is soft with sentiment, and she is overcome by her loneliness as she recalls a particular passage of verse–The breath whose might I have invoked in song, descends on me; my spirit’s bark is driven. Far from the shore, far from the trembling throng whose sails were never to the tempest given; the massy earth and sphered skies are riven! I am borne darkly, fearfully, afar; whilst, burning through the inmost veil of Heaven, The soul of Adonais, like a star, beacons from the abode where the Eternal are.

Sitting the wineglass gently down on the polished wood, her gaze drops slowly from the mirror’s reflection and she begins to weep. Running her fingers softly over the tarnishing brass handle, the drawer slides silently out on its rails as she opens the cache of her secrets–bundles of aging letters bound by the confessions of undying love of which she was too good to reciprocate the affections. Where are you now, she thinks; that here in the remainder of my life, this cushion offers little comfort compared to the warmth of the love you professed to me. If I never said I loved you, it was only because I could not say it enough. Closing the drawer, her tears run warm with the absolution of which she cannot even forgive herself.

© Charles Coakley Simpson 2010

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