The Girl in the Mirror
By Angela Batchelor
The woman set down the tray with Spanish coffee, pastries and custard on the table. She served the gentlemen, leaning on the fireplace mantel, cognac and whiskey. The woman smiled and nodded listening to them brag about their casino winnings. She overheard their spouses talk about club gossip and sales at Neiman Marcus. Exhausted from a week of hosting dinner parties the woman excused herself from her soon-parting guests. Her husband called it a “mere migraine.” She wanted to escape his obnoxious bravado.
The woman, tall and bony, sat down at the vanity in her upstairs bedroom. She looked at her Fashion Fair face in the mirror and touched the crows’ feet that clawed at her eyes. She unfastened her antique earrings, placed them in a velvet box and unhooked her ruby-studded choker. She slipped a tissue around four fingers and dipped them into a jar of facial cream. She smoothed make-up remover with circular strokes over her left cheek, then her chin, right cheek, across her forehead, down her nose and under each eye. The woman slid the sepia smudged tissue from her fingers into the wastebasket. She picked up the brush and wrapped her hair around her head. She clipped bobby pins along the crown, tied and knotted the silk scarf in the front of her forehead. She propped her elbows on the vanity, palmed her cheeks and cried.
“I despise him,” she said.
The woman stuck her finger in the gold-rimmed tumbler, sitting on the vanity, half filled with Corvasia. She batted the ice cubes.
Separation was Roger’s scare tactic. For him leaving required taking initiative. Roger only made the first move in a competitive stance. Otherwise, he waited for his wife to take action. When she did, he criticized and belittled. The woman had become resentful. However, she, the mother, the lover, the mad painter, managed the house, his business and the family.
“I’m still angry.” The woman looked closer at the teenaged reflection. “Twenty-one years ago I loved him, I adored and worshipped the ground he walked on.”
The woman wiped her wet finger on a tissue. She glanced from the mirror to the tumbler. She picked up the tumbler and swirled the amber liquid. Spices and vanilla rose with each swirl and sniff; lingering sweetness; smooth finish with no heat, only numbness. Six years sober, with a new life in Christ she put down the glass.
August, hot and humid, she and Roger met at an office party, roller-skating. Roger Remy, a client and ten years her senior, caught her before she fell. They skated from the Giuseppe Mazzini statue to the 107th Regiment Civil War statue and back to the picnic table, where they isolated themselves from their coworkers. They talked about her internship to study oil painting in Paris, the denouement of her church choir tour, and how Roger thought women made better wives and mothers than business cohorts.
“If you were my wife, I would treat you like royalty– a house in the country, a nanny, and a cook. On weekends we would frequent the opera, museums and art galleries.” Roger held her hand. “Our children would have your long silky hair and doe eyes. We would vacation in Paris and Rome, even Disneyland.” He smiled.
“That’s not the plan I have for my life.” She glanced him over: bowl-shaped Afro, squared pearly whites, open collared polo shirt, creased denims and penny loafers. “Lets just get to know each other before we plan a family.” She smirked. “My mother lost her life scrubbing toilets and taking care of four snotty nose children. My dad worked two jobs so his daughters could go to college and not scrub toilets.”
Roger laughed. “And I would do the same for my daughters.”
Six months later, he took her on six dates, to a Broadway show, an opera, Tavern on the Green and to a gospel concert where they sang and shouted till midnight. She immersed herself in his indulgent chivalry. He always opened her car door, met her in church on Sundays, sent her roses on Mondays, and hired a cleaning lady to clean her loft on Fridays. Summer heat morphed into autumn landscapes and winter sun into spring rains ending their transatlantic rendezvous. One year later, he found her in Paris and they exchanged vows at the French Consulate. She, swelled bellied and painted canvases, moved to the country where some suburban wives clipped coupons that expired before they got to the register, scrubbed the bathroom floor on their knees and starched white shirts by hand. She hired a cook, nanny and cleaning service. After her first daughter, she became a housewife, after the second, she got a part time job; her third and fourth imprisoned her to confines of the managing the household.
“My business is flourishing and I don’t want my partners to think I cannot support my wife,” Roger said, on their sixth anniversary. “Since you are a Parsons graduate, Jacob Lawrence protégé, and fluent in Spanish and French you will homeschool the children.”
“And my art.”
“I will have a studio built for you, the nanny can watch the children while you paint, sketch or whatever it is you artist people do.” He reached inside the pocket of his three-piece suit jacket that he no longer wore to church, and pulled out a velvet box. “I love you.” He handed it to her.
She opened the box. Antique ruby studded earrings and matching choker laid on white satin. “You always know just the right things for me.” She slipped the earrings into each lobe.
“Please wear it tonight at the dinner.” He hooked the choker around her neck. “A few associates and their wives will join us. Be sure to put on your chic Frenchness and that low cut black gown. It enhances your best features.” He stepped close to her, placed both his hands on her buttocks and pulled her into his hardness. He pressed his lips against hers and she melted in his arms. And it was always like the first night he took her, slow, graceful, rhythmic and in.
Hence, dinner parties commenced with every big score, every big contract every partner’s birthday and every holiday. Roger had an art studio built, which doubled as a garage, adjacent to house. After she settled in, he created an office in the garage.
“We can work together, I will manage the children, your art finances and you can help my business,” he declared.
When the children napped, he wanted to make love. When she planned her art and book talks, he held esoteric conversations with her friends. She did laundry twice a week; he said daily was more efficient. After the brood entered high school, he told her to get a job and forget about painting. She sold three oil paintings, and taught collegiate art history. He complained about weekend gallery showings and late night classes.
One night she sat in the studio dabbing paint on a commissioned piece. Roger entered, slamming the door. She jumped.
“Guest are arriving and you are painting,” he said.
“I have a migraine, and want to be alone. I’m sick of hosting these phonies.”
He grabbed her arm, spilling red paint onto black. “I pay the bills, you will follow my rules!” he shouted. “Since you’ve returned to church, you think you are high and mighty. Well, I’m the priest of this house.” He handed her the velvet box, a black gown, open toe sandals, and left.
The door slammed. Car engines revved. The woman knocked over the glass splattering liquid into the wastebasket. She slipped off her glittery gown and nylons, slid into her nightgown and headed towards the bed. Footsteps thudded up the stairs. She clapped off the light.