Saturday, 27 November 2010

SILVER LADY

Despite my early Friday finish I had a feeling that I wouldn’t be putting my feet up this afternoon.


I’d got home from the office, parked up, and glanced at the adjoining house. The heavy wall to ceiling velvet curtains remained in their ever ready position, open and guarding, like two regimented soldiers. The pristine, white, lacy net curtains moved as if touched by a ghostly hand, and then raised up to reveal the artist behind the theatrical performance; Mr Roger Bruce, waving a piece of paper. His little round face beamed, as should his head but it never did. I thought all bald men had shiny heads, almost like it was compulsory, but he didn’t.

I told my husband, Derek, that I reckoned Roger had rummaged through his died wife’s belongings (when it was the right time), and stumbled upon a stash of compacts with shine control powder. He could have used a long handled powder puff to apply a liberal amount of the cornflower concoction to his noggin. In fact I recall commenting to Derek that Roger had a ‘makeup bag’ odour about him, and joked it was Jean’s ghostly aura lingering around her husband. She’d died before we moved in, four years ago, so we never knew her, though thanks to Roger we felt we now did.

Roger was at the door now, stood in the threshold, waving the paper at me like he was surrendering. It’s funny because he never set a foot out of the house, not even onto the steps until he’s changed from slippers to outdoor shoes. I waved to him in acknowledgement as I exited my silver Mini and opened the boot to gather the fruit and veg that had spilt out of their bags.

‘Hello,’ I said, walking up the steps to my house. I looked over the short hedge that divided the path up to the Victorian terrace and put the shopping down.

‘Hello Donna. Have you had a good day?’

‘Yes, thank you, Roger. How about you?'

‘Yes. I’ve been in the garden sorting out those weeds and repotting…’

‘Very good,’ I interrupted. Get to the point. I’m dying for a brew, I thought.

‘Sorry, I do veer off sometimes. Well I was potting up at the front, when the postman turned up. Not the usual one, the one in the delivery van, and you were out at work, obviously, and so I have a package for you.’ He gave me the delivery note he’d signed.

‘It’s a heavy thing you’ve got there. I don’t think I’ll be able to pass it over the hedge, plus it’s quite bulky packaging. Do you mind?’ he said stepping back and welcoming me with his arm.  

‘Yes of course. I’ll just pop these away,’ I said indicating to my shopping, ‘and then I’ll come right over.’

I can’t think what the package is. I’ve not been on Amazon for ages so it won’t be books. I pop the kettle on ready for a cup of tea.

Roger is right where I left him. I walked down my path, turned left into his. At his threshold I removed my shoes and popped on a pair of moccasins. He gave me his apologetic face which I remembered him showing me the first time I entered his house.

‘I’m sorry, but my wife insisted on this policy of outdoor shoes outside and indoor shoes indoors. I know she’s gone now but I just can’t bring myself to change that habit.’

Roger guided me into his front room where the package was lent on the side of the sofa. I’d forgotten how modern his house was. He’d totally refurbished his house after his wife’s death. He’d said he liked how I’d done ours and he wanted a fresh start to life. I remembered thinking that I’d hoped he wasn’t going to copy my style. He’d only wanted to borrow my design magazines he’d seen me throwing out. Actually, Roger had done a fine job. Café latte walls and brown leather sofa set, plain carpet and a complementing rug in front of a chrome fire. A few bright art pieces on the wall, cupboards and shelves finished off the room. I never paid attention before when he’d invited me for an inspection; I was distracted by deadlines.

‘Here it is. I was trying to figure out what it might be,’ he said as I went to lift it. It was heavy and would have been manageable but for the packaging.

‘I think I might have to open it here, if that’s okay.’

Roger rubbed his hands together like a giddy school child receiving a gift. His eyes lit up as he went into a kitchen draw and returned with a pen knife and a black bag.

‘After you,’ I said and let him unravel the parcel. 

He cut the plastic cords and wound them up tight; securing it with tape he produced from his waistcoat fob pocket and dropped it into the bag. Next he prised open the flaps and opened the tall upright rectangular part like a door, and revealed a similar but slightly smaller shape disguised under layers of bubble wrap and brown tape. Roger pricked a bubble with the knife and jumped at the sudden sharp sound and turned to me as if to gauge my reaction. Another time I would have readily popped the wrap but he was eager to see the prize and I felt uncomfortable getting a cheap thrill in Roger’s front room. I indicated with open palms for him to continue.

He scored the brown tape artfully and peeled off layer after layer after layer. The object was now a third of the size. Roger lifted the rectangular object from the protected nest and laid it on several cushions on the sofa. He kneeled down and continued with his task as I stood over as foreman.

‘It’s still a weight. Could be a finely framed painting,’ he said much to himself.

The last of the bubble wrap came off leaving some generous layers of white tissue paper. Roger stood up inviting me to reveal the object. I tore the paper gently down the middle like two curtains and pulled them apart. I jumped back startled for a moment at the pale determined face looking at me between the tissue paper. It was me; my reflection. Pulling back the paper further showed off the silver frame. It was a posterior relief of a naked woman, stood on tip-toe holding onto a branch, as she leaned back holding the back of her head. A veil draped off her arms and shoulders to the ground. The tree moulded round from the right of the frame showing off some of its bloom, as roots and branches reached out to the left, framing the bottom and top of the mirror. I lifted it up and rested it carefully on my right hip as if it were a small child.

‘This,’ I said, ‘is Great- Aunt Hilda’s mirror. Something I always admired as a child. I would spend ages in the summer when we’d stay over wondering who the naked woman was.’

‘What a fine example of Art Deco. I’m right, aren’t I?’

‘Yes. It belonged to her mother; a wedding gift, I think. I don’t know how I’d forgotten about this, even after hearing about her sudden death. Fit as a fiddle in her late nineties and then she was found dead in bed.’

‘I’m sorry. It’s a blessing though, in her sleep.’

‘Oh yes.’

I looked across at the rubbish and suggested I returned to tidy it up after taking the mirror home, but Roger insisted I find the perfect place for it at once.

‘I’d like to see it hung, if you don’t mind. You know, see it up on the wall in a setting; appreciate it beauty.’

‘Of course you can,’ I replied, understanding his sentiment.

At home I placed the mirror in the armchair so that it sat cradled by the left arm.

‘Cup of tea first and the shopping away,’ I said patting the frame.

I had started a new tradition to cook something new from my many cook books, every Friday and if it was successful, incorporate it into my monthly menu schedule. Today I’d chosen gammon poached in cider with clove and mustard glaze followed by fruit crumble and vanilla ice cream. According to the recipe, after preparation, I had approximately two hours and twenty minutes, plenty of time to find a place for the mirror.

Everything had a place in my house. If it was bought by Derek and me it was chosen with a lot of thought as to how it would fit in with other objects and the black and white art deco theme. Of course Great-Aunt Hilda’s mirror was perfect. I stood in the living room and turned full circle. I never did like mirrors above fires for obvious reasons but they always seemed perfect there.

Opposite the fire place was the open arch of the hallway leading right to the front door and left to the kitchen and backrooms. There was a copy of Hopper which I loved but was always unsure of its location there. I took it down and replaced it with the mirror. The atmosphere seemed to change instantly as if the mirror had come home to rest.

Wafts of gammon and cider entered the hall on the slight air current and dispersed in the main room. I went to the cupboard under the sink for a yellow dust cloth and Mr Sheen. I dry dusted the silver form and polished the smudged glass. When I looked in the mirror my mind wondered about the many faces that had been reflected there and the many different rooms that the bare, silver lady could have gleamed.

‘Mirror, mirror, on the wall, when will Genie come to call?’ I laughed at the chant I used to sing as a child when I was given the task of cleaning it.
I refocused and looked at myself and saw I had an onion skin stuck in my fringe. As l leaned towards the mirror to remove it a shadow seemed to dart behind me. I spun round but saw nothing. I walked through the arch but again, nothing. I shrugged and looked back in the mirror and teaselled my Pre-Raphaelite hair before the aroma reminded me I needed to check on the food.

A little while later, after washing the pots, I opened up an extra bottle of cider I’d bought and enjoyed this rare treat; I usually drank wine. I put my feet up on the kitchen chair and leafed through a magazine. Engrossed in the gossip, I was startled by a heavy crash and clinking of glass, as if something had fallen. I knew it wasn’t the mirror, that would have knocked off several ornamental figurines from the sideboard underneath and probably break the Tiffany lamp in the process.

I wasn’t going to get up as all was now silent and it was probably outside anyway. I then became aware of an overpowering scent of blossom and a soft quick padding sound across the oak floor in the hall. I got up and went to investigate and gasped at the vision. There were pink petals covering the floor leading through the arch to the living area. I followed the trial and picked up a white shimmering veil, discarded on the back of the leather chair.

‘Derek?’ I called.

I spun round at a noise coming from the archway. The mirror reflected my shocked expression as I saw a silver hand cover my sight and felt it’s coldness on my eyes. An icy breath whispered mockingly, my husband’s name, in my ear.

‘Genie?’ I asked.

A chilling hand covered my mouth as I dared to question my tormentor.

We froze as keys turned in the lock.

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