Illustration by Matt Weismantel
Mirror, Mirror, in the Corner | Jo-Ann Kelly
Glamour is currency in Portsea. Most mornings the sun’s rays cut through cloud cover to sparkle off polished shop front windows on Ocean Beach Road. After 7.00am, these rays stream though millionaires’ mansions. It is then that mirrors wait patiently in shopfronts for the appreciating stares of Hipsters, Metrosexuals and Portsea Princesses as they rush by to order their ice latté macchiato from Bistro Elba. Mostly, however, they parade on the street runway secretly hoping to be noticed by a visiting model scout who could propel their dreams into reality. Air kissing, polo, Hermès and Gucci are the keys to society. I should know; I was one of the queens. I recall stealing glances over my shoulder as I passed by those shopfront mirrors, noticing how my Fendi boots and black stretch Levis hugged my curves. I marvelled at how my light-blue cashmere coat complemented my sapphire eyes, while protecting me from the glacial winds whipping off Diamond Bay.
That was two years ago, before I left Nathaniel. That was when I was a GHD kind of girl. Now I am more of a beer-rinsed, sundried-hair kind of girl. I swapped bruises, money, and my three-storey home for a suitcase, overcoming the shackling fear and anguish. I remember my ‘best friends’ Jennifer Montgomery, Susan Hastings and Elizabeth Goldberg, crossing the road that day to snub me as I struggled with my suitcase. They ignored my tears as they ordered three takeaway skinny lattés. I recall asking every real estate agent in town for a rental. They looked at my bruised arms and sunken eyes and told me there were no vacancies. Six months later gossip still winds its way to my ears.
"Did you know he has found himself a new model, ten years younger?" Jennifer Montgomery sniggered.
"I saw her the other day, she was in a tracksuit!" Susan Hastings sneered.
"And those sneakers, surely they weren’t Prada Cloudbusts?" Elizabeth Goldberg spat.
I sought refuge on a rural property fifty kilometres north-east of Portsea, owned by Madame Carly, a fifty-year-old widow. I arrived at her home late on a Friday night and even though I was one hundred and seventy-five centimetres tall, I had to arch my neck back to meet her eyes when she opened her front door. She appeared to glide across the floor to greet me, despite the fact that she was wearing stilettoes and an ankle-length bodycon dress.
Madam Carly left Portsea twenty years ago when she was cast out for failing to acquire the latest bobbed haircut: that, or her quick-witted tongue that could lash an obnoxious person into place. She was a well-known business woman in the region and a close friend of my late mother, renowned for wild parties and too many men. She grew olives on her property and regularly sold them in shops and restaurants around the Mornington Peninsula, as well as hosting a stall at the Port Nepean Markets once a month. The last time I saw her was at one of these markets, a couple of years ago, just before I left my home. I was buying one of her Chilli Jams, and she traced the welts on my forearms with her fingers before handing me my change.
"Take this," she said, passing me her business card, ignoring Nathaniel who was hovering nearby. "Call me any time you need, or just stop by to visit. You are always welcome."
I glanced down. There, inscribed on the card in red ink, was her address and private mobile number. I guiltily tucked it into my wallet before Nathaniel had a chance to see.
I settled in very quickly once I moved in with Madam Carly and looked forward to our crisp conversations and dry wines. On Sundays, at dusk, we sipped Chardonnay by the pond behind her house.
"My dear," sighed Madam Carly. She refilled my glass to the rim. "Day after day you wear the same pink and white rabbit pyjamas. I worry."
"I’m happy," I said, trying to smile. "This is all I want. The sound of your Appaloosas eating water lilies and a glass of wine."
"Sarah!" She scolded me in her high-pitched voice. "No more hiding. You need to let the light in. Don’t be afraid."
Madam Carly reached for my left hand and led me into her bedroom. Her house smelt like a mixture of dirty socks and Glen Twenty; it was the type of house where you had to open every window to breathe properly, yet she kept her windows locked. Red flickering candles lit her room and, in the corner, next to her four-poster bed, stood a gold-framed mirror.
"My darling girl," she said as she lifted the mirror. "Take this and place it on the left-hand side of your bed. For the next four nights, just before you go to sleep, look at yourself, brush your hair with ten strokes, and smile. Trust me, you will soar to new heights."
Madam Carly was not a person you could easily dismiss. So that night I placed her mirror on the left-hand side of my bed and, just before sleep, I smiled into the mirror and brushed my hair with ten strokes.
The surface of the mirror rippled and on the other side I saw Jennifer Montgomery, undressing on the end of her bed. I watched, captivated, as she slipped off her wig, revealing a bald scalp underneath, before peeling off her eyebrows and eyelashes. Underneath it all her face looked barren.
"Sarah, sit down beside me, it has been too long," Jennifer said, patting the doona. "You never call." I stepped through the mirror and sat down beside her. "Would you pass me my beauty spatula?? she asked.
I picked up the spatula from her vanity draw and handed it to her. She began scraping the foundation from her face, revealing skin covered with red, infected pustules. I watched until she was finished, then without saying goodbye, I walked back into the mirror and painted my fingers and toenails scarlet.
The next night, before bed, I again followed Madam Carly’s orders. I brushed my hair and looked in the mirror.
"Hello Sarah," Susan Hastings said. As I stepped through the mirror I realised she was lying on the concrete at the back of Fred’s Fish and Chips Shop, tightening a tourniquet around her left forearm which she stabbed with a seven-centimetre hypodermic needle.
"Sarah, pass me my purse," Susan pleaded.
I picked up her Gucci clutch and handed it to her, then watched as she threw five C-notes at a man standing in the shadows behind her. He stuffed the money into his trouser pants, spat out his cigarette and squashed it in the dirt with his shoe. Susan lay there, lifeless. I walked back through the mirror, took out my marigold lipstick and painted my lips.
Once again, the next night, I looked into the mirror and brushed my hair. This time when I stepped through, I heard someone moaning and retching, before the stench of vomit stung my nostrils. I was in Elizabeth Golding’s bathroom, littered with double-cheeseburger wrappers. I watched as she hugged a toilet bowl, her fingers forced deep into her throat, before another stream of vomit came pouring out of her.
"Oh Sarah," Elizabeth gasped. "I need to lose ten pounds before tomorrow night’s Rolls Royce Ball. I have to squeeze into my size zero Givenchy gown. Can you be a darling and hold my hair?"
I held her hair back until her stomach emptied, then walked back into the mirror and sprayed rosehip oil and lavender perfume over my pink and white PJs.
On Wednesday night, I brushed my hair with ten strokes and smiled into the mirror, knowing this would be the last night I had to follow Madam Carly’s orders. There I saw Nathaniel, sitting alone at a table in the Portsea Hotel, crunching on a grilled tuna salad. His previously smooth skin was lined and leathered, exposing the damage of too many years in tanning salons. Of course, he was dressed immaculately in his Saint Laurent jeans and Armani shirt. As I stepped through the mirror, I saw on the seat next to him a pair of pink feathered wings peeking over the top of a brown shopping bag. Someone must have left them there. He reached over to touch my face.
"Please come back, I miss you," he whispered in my ear. "I’ll buy you anything. I’ll take you back to London, Amsterdam and Rome, just like I promised. I’ll get you that apartment in Chapel Street and the latest Jaguar F-Type." He paused to take in my attire, his eyes lingering at the space between the two missing buttons on my pyjama top.
"You’ll need some new clothes too," he said, reaching for his wallet and slapping five hundred dollars on the table. His velvet voice delivered what I thought was every woman’s dream, but it was the sound of his fist slamming down on the table that brought me back to reality.
"Sarah, my love, now that’s all sorted order me a Space Barley and put your sweet derriere on my lap."
At that moment years of tears, screaming fights, smashed crockery and a stream of vile swear-words pieced my thoughts. I could no longer be bought. Without a word I purchased the cheapest house pint and walked slowly back to where he sat, keeping my eyes fixed on his. He didn’t seem to notice as he guzzled it down without a breath. Then, in less than ten seconds, he shrivelled up to the size of a prune which I threw into the dregs of his glass. I removed the wings from the shopping bag and secured them to my back. Without a second glance I flew back into the mirror. I was free.
Jo-Ann Kelly is a Southern Cross University student undertaking the Associative Degree of Creative Writing.