Thursday, January 25, 2007

Beauty and the Beast

Various things happen when a woman reaches a certain age. There is a moment in her youth, when she unzips her make-up bag and wipes a sponge around a peachy cream in a silver compact, she loads a sable brush with beige powder and looks into the mirror ready to start her work. She scrutinises the face in the glass and pauses. She thinks "What is there to do?". She uses her thumb to flick the powder from the brush and the cosmetic dust explodes into the sunny morning light flooding the bathroom. She lets the water run warm from the tap, holds the sponge beneath it and the foundation runs in rivulets down the white porcelain and into the drain. She zips up the flowered make-up bag which came free in a glossy magazine she never read. Fresh-faced and perfect, she goes out into her day. There is another moment in a woman's journey when she unzips a larger and all together more expensive make-up bag. Rubbing at tired eyes, she fingers the duelling scar slashed across her cheek by the egyptian linen sheets. She gazes at her face and thinks: "Where do I start?" and then "How long is this going to take?"

I am at,indeed, past that "Where do I start?" moment at the vanity table. As the fine laughter lines begin to tell around my eyes and jaw, I begin to see my mother in my face. As she was when I was a child, plaiting my hair and tieing it with yellow silk bows, turning grey wool socks inside out, folding them back to slip over chubby feet. But as I begin to see my mother in my face, the real McCoy slips from me. I look at her carefully coiffed and greying hair, her hesitant walk and white stick and I think: "My mother is getting old. I really do not want my mother getting old. She never told me she would get so old. When exactly did that happen?" Now, instead of baking sultana cakes and folding vests, she wears elastic stockings on her legs, an electric whirli-gig seat climbing the staircase instead of her.

Last night she rang to say: "Daddy and I have had a little accident". It was late and I was lying, melancholy, on the sofa contemplating sleep. My husband again away in London. It was oblivion dark outside and the wind so strong off the sea that it had twice pushed open the frontdoor like a bar-room heavy. Eventually, I had snicked the lock to keep the rude wind where it belonged. "We wrote off the car" I heard her say, the gusts now knocking at the sash-window. "We're fine. I broke a rib, that's all, and your father is a bit bruised." They had been crossing a carriageway, given the nod by the driver of the car in the lane nearest to them but unseen by the driver of the car in the other lane. A classic accident. As she speaks, I play it out in my head. My father, ressured by the kindness of the other driver, slowly, oh so slowly, old man slowly, pulls out and across the road and whoomph. Slammed into by the other car, spun round and round in squealing, metal-shrieking fear. Twenty minutes on the side of the road waiting for the paramedics; panic attacks under a yellow airtex sheet in a metal framed bed in the accident and emergency cubicle. "It could have been worse," she said, cheerily. "Because I'm blind, I was relaxed when the car went into us and everyone was very nice." I should have been there. I should have draped them in foil blankets and given them sweet tea, held their soft papery hands and told them they were OK. I do not want them to go out any more. I want them to live in a wardrobe, safe from the mishaps of old age. I will bring them food in plastic trays, a torch and a wind-up radio. I will keep them safe from harm.


kinglear said...

Cherish them as much as you can and see them as much as possible. When they are gone, there will no longer be Mum or Dad to turn to. It'll all be down to you, which is quite lonely and grown up.

Newmania said...

That was "sweet funny and touching.".. as they say. Its a bit like being trapped in you mothers stangely musty wardrobe ,for a man ,but gendre related panics aside ;a great snack.Some lovely images .
I did a course on poetry years ago ( to meet women..) and looked at very short stories like this .As a form it has possibilities. I like the narrative element, perhaps resist a simile here and there..Hard when they are soooo goood
I `m suprised what an ace you are actually .I heard you mentioned on Doughty Street and then you were spotted on that icky Rachel`s blog..( She stands for victim`s everywhere you know ..shudder).To be honest I was expecting a preenathon..but au contraire

You are quite clearly a glittering genius and I look forward to the next installment


Anonymous said...

Dear Wife-in-the-North
I linked to your blog from Andrew Sullivan. I live in the Maryland suburbs of Washington. That thing you wrote today about your Mom and Dad, and about putting on the makeup, was very sweet. You seem to be having a problem adjusting to a rural setting after living in London. I had the reverse problem. I moved from rural Virginia to Washington. The difficulites work in reverse direction, too. But I have learned that the excitiement or boredom of life is really more in you, the person, than in your surroundings or physical location. You are just having some adjustment problems. Eventually, gradually, gradually, gradually, you will know alot of people and have alot of things to do, and places to go. I think a blog is a very constructive thing to do, as well as creative. You don't seem to have a name, but being from England, I guess it might be Elizabeth, or Mary, or Jane, or Anne, or Catherine. But then, again, I suppose it could be Brenda.

Nikki said...

You say what I'm thinking about my own mother...she recently told me she has a bit of high blood pressure...and I immediately told her to move across country so I could take care of her.

Her response?

"Nikki, sweetie,...I'm not even 60 yet and my hips are still good. Relax."

...did you catch that? The woman with high blood pressure told me to relax.

....good grief.

wife in the north said...

Re kinglear: your points are well-made. Noted
Re newmania: trapped in mummy's wardrobe ? Mmm. There is a thought to conjure with.
I think the blog is an amazing invention. I wonder if they are studying the whole phenomenon at university yet? My thought on it was 200-300 years ago I would have been writing elegant letters to my sister Charlotte "Dearest Charlotte, the weather here is ghastly, but the tedium was broken by a welcome visit from the curate ..." etc. (Aside from your comments about the very talented Rachel,) I believe you to be quite clearly a person of extraordinary discernment. I may write to my sister Charlotte about you. "Dearest Charlotte, today I received ... "
re anonymous: actually I always wanted to be a Brenda
re nikki. yep, yep, absolutely

Boctaoe said...

Just discovered your blog (via Andrew Sullivan) and connected instantly to it. I am laying a load of guilt on you if you don't blog regularly. You have a way with words which is quite poetic

Anonymous said...

Kinglear is right. It is all very well being a London career woman, or a high flying internet blogger, and being so busy with one's own life and worries that it seems fair and understandable to see less and less of our parents. But you can guarantee that once they are gone you will regret the time you didn't spend with them, the things you didn't say. And the one thing that is beyond doubt is that they will adore you and would give anything to spend more time with you and your children, even if they never say it for fear of making you feel guilty or obligated.

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to say I love your blog. I followed Andrew Sullivan's link and was delighted to find another literate blogger to read. I hope your parents are feeling better. I swapped roles with mine a few years ago with hip and knee replacement surgeries. Suddenly I was the one sitting by their hospital beds, fetching various things, and asking the nurses and doctors pointed questions. I hate being an adult.
Best wishes from Seattle--Karen

Caroline Hunt said...

Since everyone's having a love in fest about your blog I may take this opportunity to say how much I'm enjoying it as well. Funny, truthful and so compelling I have to read it every day.

However don't let all this praise go to your head and effect your writing :)

wife in the north said...

re caroline:
you are quite right to warn of the danger. I completely lost the plot of my life let alone the blog for a while when I realised people were reading it.

Newmania said...

Don`t worry WOTN . If your ego were to shoot heavenward and explode is a gazillion fiery splinters that would be just as much of a laugh for we skulking lurkers .
OOOOOO AAAAAAaaaaaa…………….

Come on , come on surely something else lending to wryly lyrical; treatment has occurred .My life is constantly ironic and quirky Its just that I write like a dyslexic robot .
Incidentally, I like the way you don`t actually know all about it , blogging I mean . I only started doing this a few months ago everyone else seems to know everything don’t they ?The sneaky swines.

Anonymous said...

A little more from Daniel (the anonymous guy)
I would beg to differ with the other anonymous person who said that you would regret the time you didn't spend with your parents because you are busy leading your own life. You gotta lead your own life. Your parents are sure to understand that. They wouldn't want you clinging to them. I am sure they are very proud of you. It is nice to visit relatives for a day or two, but after that, don't you just get in each other's way? I think, just acknowledging that they are precious to you is enough. In the cycle of life, you look at your own children, and see in them, the way you used to be, in the eyes of your parents.

Anonymous said...

Daniel - You might like to know that 'Brenda' is the colloquial name for the Queen in these isles, used by a certain famous satirical magazine..

Now, if only the real Queen would start a blog about the trials and tribulations of being a monarch..

Anonymous said...

Daniel, perhaps there is a difference in perception between the male and the female in evidence?

Wife, it is nice to see a new internet superstar early. You write exquisitely. We await the book!

Newmania said...

Its WITN isn`t it . I know one of the producers of Woman`s hour( it is a far less levated position than I imagined)
I mentioned that a new star (WITN) had flared in the firmament and she was interested. If thanks to me you become rich and famous would you give me some money...?

(Its for my sisters eye operation)

wife in the north said...

re newmania: you want money rather than my vote then? That makes a pleasant change. Have to think about that one - I would need to get Gerry Adams to speak my words wouldn't I?

Newmania said...

Strange things happen as a terrorist gets older. One day he rummages in his bomb making kit and thinks “What else is there to do ?“. The next moment he`s invited to London ,for tea , and he has to pretend to be politician…
I was thinking more Mariella Frostrup but you can’t tell. That sexy Bahamian voice in the gooey drink ad , Tia Maria, was Nursey from Black Adder.
Right I `m attaining stalker status now so I `m off. I `ll be back in a week and if there is nothing sly sensual and strangely beautiful here THERE WILL BE BIG TROUBLE

So called WITN.!

( No pressure)

Philipa said...

I was asked why I don't write like this and didn't answer, but I'll tell you why. Because when I was a girl it took at least an hour to carefully put make-up on, only to be met with a 'why bother' reaction. My sister, who always looked fabulous, was the pretty one. Still is. Even at that age I realised the impotence of powder and paint. Now I don't wear make-up at all unless social norms demand it - it's like wearing a uniform, most of us conform.

I had the classic accident, not my parents. Only the car that pulled out didn't look at all and I was on the back of a motorbike. The rider jumped off and I was left to hit the car, then plough into the road the other side. As I was carefully bundled into an ambulance, paralysed from the waist down and down my right side, with a broken neck and wearing an oxygen mask, I remember the driver of the car, that hit me, speaking urgently at me, close to my face, close to the mask - she was desperately trying to be forgiven before her chance was gone. I remember thinking how utterly selfish that was.

If I told you the rest of the sorry tale you just wouldn't believe me - there's only so much awful stuff that can be believed, even if the rest is true.

So you see, that's why I don't write like this - telling the truth just makes people think I'm feeling sorry for myself when those are simply the facts of my life.

I like your writing. It's warm and celebratory. But it's not for me - I'll just read yours. Your life sounds nice. Perhaps you could publish your posts as a book?

paulmerrill said...

Yes, like the others have said, you have some beautiful writing here.