I’ve stood in front of mirrors, how many times now? Every time I think I can see myself, but can’t remember, when I step away, what I look like. On occasion I have tried to take mental snapshots to put it together, but the complete picture is illusive, as though I’m a collage of other people’s features The flaws are memorable, the new lines, the crêpe skin. I’ve stared into the eyes of that stranger trapped in glass, trying to see her soul, but she looks straight through me. 

I’ve given up on photographs. I turn away when the camera gets close, or I see someone skirting around the edges of a room on ‘occasions’. I understand now, why my mother pleads with us not to capture her diminishing presence; my heart cries for her when I hear her muted wail. I can’t relate to the photographed me. I’m not who I think I am. It’s not vanity, I’ve been saying this all my life. 

Sometimes I’ve wondered if a professional snap would do it. Maybe I could lie across a faux leopold skin rug in a negligee. They’d have to powder me up though, and place fillets in my bra. Or maybe my mother, my sister and I could have one of those portraits done, like the Queen Mother and her girls. We could drape our shoulders with royal blue silk and look something like the family my mother always wanted. Perhaps I could sit centrally amongst my children and I could see myself through their eyes. Would I look like a mother - wise and warm?

School bags have been tossed on the floor. I rummage through them, taking out lunch boxes that smell of bananas and cheese. As usual there are school notices - another raffle, another dress up day. There’s a carefully folded paper in the bottom of one bag. I take it out and flatten it on the floor. My granddaughter finds me and we sit down together. ‘Who’s this?’ I ask, pointing to the stick-figured woman in the centre of the page. The woman is smiling, a large, red smile with yellow teeth. Her eyes are bright blue dots and eyebrows arch in surprise. Her hair, dark and yellow lines, has been tenderly drawn to caress her face. Skeletal fingers extend from single-line arms, and reach out to little stick children by her side.

‘It’s you’, my granddaughter says, bewildered that I couldn’t see it myself. 

‘Of course it is. I look beautiful.’

‘You are,’ she says and leaves me on the floor, believing, for the first time, that I can truly see myself.

 

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AuthorAmanda Apthorpe