Moth Woman by Sharon Boyle (1st place, Jul20)

The mirrors are back-chatting again, sliding in unwanted comments while reflecting for all they’re worth.

‘Give it a rest,’ I say to one over the mantelpiece as I pin the flower fascinator in my hair.

‘That’s enough,’ I tell another – bathroom – as I brush my teeth.

It sheeshes back. ‘Au natural? Jesus, if I could turn myself the wrong way round I would.’

The toothbrush hovers. The taxi will be here in ten minutes. I have time. It’s courage versus cowardice.

‘Cowardice all the way,’ booms the bedroom mirror cheerfully.

I buckle and pack a centimetre coat of foundation on my face before adding kaleidoscopic hues of makeup, so that my face is now indeed a made up version of the truth.

In the taxi I rummage for my purse wondering if I have enough for a tip when I spy myself in the compact mirror. ‘Acceptable,’ it whispers grudgingly.

I’m on my way to Cousin Lilith’s wedding – her fourth. Family rumour believes that Lilith is a honeymoon worshipper; an incurable dreamer; a silver-line thinker with no endurance. But I believe Lilith is neutralising the fact that the only other cousin, me, has never treated the family to a nuptial knees-up.

 

There is a scandal. It will be family gossip for weeks. At the ceremony Lilith refuses to say I do – instead she’s opts for I do hope so. Folks squint and shuffle. Someone cracks out a one-syllable laugh. The groom grins like a loon. The minister raises his eyes heavenwards and continues. Granny Hanagan, sitting in the front row, is apoplectic, her face turning heart-attack purple and her lips mouthing obscenities.

We manage to calm her down and change venue, setting to the serious business of abandoning all decorum on the dance floor. The lights dim and I relax, growing light on the bubbles of fake champagne. I’m sitting at the family table with those who know how to mollify the angsty:

Dad – you’re always beautiful to me.

Mum – inside there is a butterfly waiting to get out.

Aunt Lou – have you had laser treatment again?

God Bless them. All quaint phrases to euphemise the curdled blistering that covers the right side of my face. Au natural, I am half-Halloween girl, a phantom of my own opera, a one-woman freak show, but I shrug off these thoughts and ask Mum to dance, only to stop mid-rise. I spy with my portwine-stained eye Granny Hanagan standing behind the glass swing doors looking like Hannibal Lector in lipstick. She’s having a good gawp before entering the hall, deciding if the company is worth her precious while.  I dither as she opens the door. I could still make it to the dance floor but she sidles in, salutes Mum and plumps down in the chair vacated by dad who’s whooping it up to Chic’s Le Freak.

‘A frickin’ buffet?’ she declares, lifting her nose to indicate the food table. ‘No proper set meal? Wedding on the cheap, this.’

Granny Hanagan is a serial complainer; a teller of how things really are and who considers it her hobby – one practised and perfected. She stares at me.

‘Are you losing weight?’ she eventually asks.

‘Two pounds,’ I say.  ‘Surprised you recognise me.’

Her eyes narrow and she takes time to search underneath my smothered sham. When I can no longer bear her I escape to the bathroom where I too take time to stare at myself – my hobby. During my primary school years – the pre-cosmetic era – I sported a hairstyle that veiled my face like a set of curtains.

I tuck in strands that have come loose from my topknot and nod to my reflection that, yes, enough time has passed for Granny Hanagan to have found another target to torment. I’m about to leave when I hear a strange voice at the other end of the bathroom. A woman is peering into the wall-wide mirror.

Way too fat for that frock, doll.

My neck hairs prickle – the woman’s lips haven’t moved.

You look like a stuffed sausage.

The woman turns to me. ‘God, I look like a stuffed sausage in this thing.  I need to junk all mirrors.’

The dress is tight, I’ll give her that, bandaged round the middle. And red? Maybe not the best choice but she does have something else.

‘Fabulous tits,’ I say, winking.

 

Back at the table I’m careful not to catch Granny Hanagan’s eye but I do catch her whisper of, ‘What a spectacle.’

I have wiped off my make-up, that’s what she’s making a high-horsed commotion about.  I am no longer a butterfly, but its dun-hued, patchy-looking cousin, the moth.

‘You know,’ I say, ‘underneath your clear skin you have a tongue that is sticky and nasty, like flypaper. As a granddaughter, I am jilting you.’

To the tune of her gasps I take to the floor, waving to the curvy lady and passing Lilith and her husband, both giddy on gin and prudent promises of perhaps-forevers.

The disco lights glint and wink, telling me that I am indeed a spectacle. The mirrored walls scream that I’ll be tomorrow’s gossip. But like the moth that I am, I jig and whirl under the lure of flashing lights, thinking, I do hope so.

2 thoughts on “Moth Woman by Sharon Boyle (1st place, Jul20)

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