Tag Archives: beauty

Mirror, Mirror, on the wall

she knows what it looks like, what it looks like to them, the watchers, the hangers on, those quick to judge, quick to point, quick to make assumptions.

She knows what it looks like, the fading beauty, still vain, but with less and less reason, standing for hours on end in front of her mirror, that mirror, the magic mirror.
They think she’s shallow, self obsessed, no-body sees the pain , no, not pain, the mounting terror as her reflection stares back at her and the question, always the question, but these days it sticks in her throat, takes longer and longer each day to say out loud the words that used to trip so easily out of her mouth
“mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest one of all?”

The mirror has a brooding quality, it seems to hunch against the wall, sucking up the air in the room, a dark presence.

She can remember other days, other times, when, her feet light on the stairs, out of breath from the games of chase with the young, widowed king, her husband, her lover, she would rush to the mirror and it seemed to glow with all the sunlight from all those summer days.
Then, she could throw out the question, carelessly, sure of the answer, already alight with love and desire.

Of course, she knew about the child, the little baby.
Sometimes, when, she remembered, she would pick it up, coo at it, it seemed plain enough, just a bundle of fabric and wriggling limbs and a pink rosebud mouth, often, she forgot about it for days on end.

Time passed, her philandering husband, whose passion had so delighted her, didnt change.
She caught glances at table, other hands in his when the household went to walk, a slither of silk moving quickly down a corridor when she visited her bed chamber.
She was realistic, shrugged, found her own entertainment.
Sometimes, she heard the child, babbling, laughing, tottering around the knot garden.

She overheard conversations in corners, knew that she was meant to overhear
“The child is becoming a beauty”
“The child looks like her dear mother”
“The child has the eyes of a saint”

She went to look and took action.
Told the household that she would take more interest in the little girl, that she would be like a mother to her, would cleave to her.

She cut the childs’ hair herself, hacked off the long black curls, made sure the fringe was uneven, lop sided.
She choose clothes for the child, over -sized, over patterned, in colours most guaranteed to to clash againts the milky skin, the deep red mouth, the violet eyes.

The mirror is still there, still re-assuring, just part of the ritual.
She takes longer now, eyes travel over every part of the body, re-assseing, looking for change.
She runs her fingers over her collar bones, her ribs, her breast bone, takes comfort in what she feels.
She is still beautiful.

The child is bigger, goes through an awkward stage.
Legs and arms too long
Carrying a little extra weight
Nose too big for the face.

The queen is attentive, quick to offer sweetmeats, the juiciest cut of meat, cakes decorated with rose petals.
Drops sweet raisins into the rose bud mouth
She watches the flesh gather on the childs’ belly and thighs and takes delight in this.

She has become fixated by the mirror, visits daily and then twice a day and then 3, 4 times.
Each time, she stares more intently, more carefully.
She eats less and less, intent on keeping those bones visible, cutting through her white skin, a skeleton of perfection.

The child grows taller, the additional flesh falls off, she becomes wilowly, drifts around the building, hair grown out, clothes outgrown and still, even when she should look ridiculous, even clown like, she is beautiful, breathtakingly beautiful.

The woman broods, watches the child from behind corners, sees how others watch her, they way that they used to look at her.

She sets the child heavy outdoor tasks so that her hands become rough, reddened, her face sun burnt, but the childs’ beauty is simpy enhanced and the exercise tones her body, gives her curves, planes of desire.

And then one day, it happens, as she knew it would.
It is dusk, she finds now that she prefers to use the mirror in gentle light and she asks the question and receives her answer.

The mirror looms above her and she swears that the glass has darkened, mottled.

From her deepest despair, she hears that voice, that hated voice, raised in laughter in the gardens and holding onto the walls to steady herself, she moves slowly, suddenly feeling so, so old and looks out of the window.

The girl is in the garden, leaning into the pond, looking at her own reflection on the still water and laughing with the joy of her own beauty.

The woman pauses, looks down and wonders where exactly this will end.


Looking for Mr Right – on the night-bus – 11


Jay looks down and wonders, not for the first time, if it is his hands that are the problem, the root of his stubborn and unwanted single status.
He considers them carefully, short, stubby fingers, palms that are freakishly fat, the whole, oddly small, out of scale with the rest of him, they are a throw back to an earlier, provincial time, a tell for all those that can read, can see behind the gym buffed, waxed and tanned present to the past, the overweight teen from Walsall, taking 20 minutes to pick up a copy of Gay Times from the WH Smiths in the precinct, in the days when the only gay in the village was a statement of fact and not a TV catch phrase.

He looks at his reflection in the window, hair, carefully, artfully tousled, eye brows threaded, not too much, not too queeny, just enough to give definition, frame the face and the new experiment, tinted eye lashes and he smiles, pleased, but the pleasure lasts only seconds and then his home alone or more accurately, soon to be home alone state kicks in and stares down, accusingly, at his hands, traitorous hands and sighs.

Jay knows that he looks OK, he spends secret hours looking at images of men, not for the obvious reason, although there is of course that too, but to compare himself, to see where he comes on the continuum of male attractiveness. He is a 7, maybe in the right light, an 8. So, by all the laws of gaydom, he should not be single, but he is and this when he is prepared, reconciled to consider a 6, perhaps even a 5.

He looks around the bus, two little baby queens, foundation slipping now, wrapped around each other, 2 squeaky care bears, he is careful to avoid the eyes of the skin head man, tattooed knuckles, union t-shirt, body held together with rage. He knows where eye contact will end, a angry exchange of body fluids in the far corner of the park at the end of his own street.

The bus halts at lights and suddenly, there is banging and gesticulating and someone smiling and waving and mouthing at him, it must be him, from another night bus, also halted pointing South.
A guy is waving and smiling, pointing at him, Jay looks carefully, the man/boy/man looks familiar. It takes Jay a second or two to place him, a bar tonight, Soho probably and the man dressed in Gap chinos and baseball shirt, either so hip that he is off the page or simply off the page. It’s the kind of look that makes Jay anxious, edgy, makes if difficult to do the maths, could be a 9, could be a 4.

And then, both buses pass each other, the man is still mouthing something as his bus vanishes down the road.
Jay goes back to considering his hands.


I can’t believe it, there he is, the most beautiful man I have ever seen and he’s inches away from me, two layers of glass and some cold night air between us and I don’t think, don’t weigh up the action, I just bang on the glass, try to get his attention and it works, he looks up and I know I’ve got the goofy smile on and on the cool-o-meter I am scoring a very low 2, but how often do you see someone that beautiful on a night bus.

Of course I saw him earlier, he was standing, back against a pillar,watching the room, while all around men looked at him and knew he was out of their league.
I’m with Agnes and tonight Mathew we’re channeling Breakfast club, brat pack, Pretty in Pink and we’re working irony and penny loafers and I want someone to come and quote any line from Heathers, but no-body does.

Agnes isn’t a fag – hag, not as such, just says she meets a nicer class of boy in gay bars and she’s my partner in costume and she knows every line in My Private Idaho and makes a knock out Mohito and she understands the thing about beauty and the thing about beautiful boys, so we spend a lot of time together, mostly just looking.

I’ve thought about it a lot, what makes a man beautiful, it’s more complicated than you’d think, so many men are almost beautiful, nearly beautiful, beautiful light, but when you see the real thing, it takes your breath away, makes you want to sit down and just drink it in.

And he was it,almost perfect and of course he didn’t ‘t know it and I looked more carefully, trying to see what he sees, trying to catch the glitch, the imperfection that keeps him awake at night and it takes a while, but then I got it. His hands were tucked behind his back, he wasn’t not holding a glass, not making a performance of lips, tongue, teeth, mouth. There’s something about his hands he doesn’t like and it’s that flaw, that probably imagined flaw that makes him even more precious.

He moved towards the bar and I tucked myself in next to him, not too close so that I could enjoy his profile, but close enough so that I could see his hands, watch him as he ordered a drink, proffered a twenty pound note.
His hands were small, neat, slightly fleshy, I closed my eyes for a second and imagined them tracing shapes on the small of my back, imagined his ring finger in my mouth and my teeth nipping the skin and when I opened my eyes, he was gone and from across the dance floor, Agnes was waving at me and pointing at the bemused, gawky twenty something hipster she was carefully reeling into her circle of seduction

So, I headed home, off the the south bound night bus, thinking about the man at the bar, wondering if could track him down, get into some conversation, but it wasn’t a plan, just late night day dreaming and then, there he was and then he wasn’t.
Ships, well night buses that pass in the night.

I text Agnes, remind her to stay safe.

What would Elvis do ? – On the night-bus – 10

More and more he finds himself turning to Elvis as a moral compass when he doesn’t know what to do, of course, you have to be careful about which Elvis, not the bloated Elvis, hepped on goof balls and deep fried foods, lost in the jungle room surrounded by yes men and half clad teenage girls, but the young Elvis, the boy who sang songs for his mother and called all men sir, even when he knew that he was the next big thing, in the days before any next big things.

That’s the Elvis he thinks about, tries to channel, he’s got the shy duck of the head, the eyes looking upward, the half smile off to a tee, somewhere between Princess Di and the King himself, but it’s good enough, gets him through the day or more accurately the night.

Afterwards, when the union and human resources, a woman who patted his arm and changed her nail color to match her outfits, said he didn’t have to go back to driving, said he could have an office job, take long term sick leave, he paused and Elvis spoke through him, the Elvis from Sun Studios, hands at his side, deferential and he said that he just wanted to get back to work, the ma’am slipped out, but he didn’t think that anyone in that small windowless room had noticed.

So, back to the night shift, back to the night buses, back, because it was May to those morning walks home, sun shining, streets quiet, the off time somewhere between the early hours and the work day, back to the mug of tea and the fried eggs, fried bread breakfast.

Fat Elvis, deep fried chicken, jelly donut Elvis.

He sleeps in the bedroom he has occupied all his life, feet can touch the wall at the end of his bed if he stretches just an inch or two, makes him feel like a giant, squashed into furniture just that little too small.
When his mum died, he planned to move into her bedroom, is still planning to, has got as far as bagging up her clothes, stripping the bed, picking up an Ikea catologue, circling potential new bed-side tables, but knows he is not yet ready.

Elvis’ mom, watching her son on stage, hearing the screams of girls as he thrusts and plunges, face shiny back then with the sheer joy of performance.

After breakfast, the best cigarette of the day, smoked, these days, in the kitchen, knot hovering on the fire escape, plate scraped, surfaces wiped, dutiful son Elvis, homeboy Elvis and then bed, sleep.

When he first went back, the other drivers were cautious, circled him carefully, looking out for signs of slippage, but time passed and other stuff happened, Salim helped a woman give birth to twins on the Crouch End bus, someone left a brief case with 3 grand in it on the Muswell Hill Circular and he was old news.

Elvis in Vegas, forgetting the words, stopping mid song to stare at the audience who have come to see someone who used to be big.

He misses the old Routemasters, the days when the driver lived in a cab, kept separate from the passengers and the buses that actually needed driving, huge heavy steering wheels, double declutching to change gear, the smell of diesel.
Now, he is there with the fares, takes the fares, polices the fares and the bus is all power steering and reversing sensors and his job is to be the face of the company.

Elvis, his uniform specially altered, tweaked, carefully choreographed photo shoots, you’re in the army now.

The night- bus is easy, once you get past the drunks and the lost and the ever so slightly mad, flat rate fare, no change and there is room to drive, roads not deserted, never deserted, but a hint of space, a possibility of movement and sometimes, out in the suburbs, out towards the end of the line, it feels like it’s just him and the bus and the night and he wonders what would happen if he just kept driving, but that’s a James Dean thought, not the moral compass for a man on the 47 night bus.

James Dean, Jimmy Dean, flashbulbs light up the found art that is car/tree/car and your body, scarred with cigarette burns and sly slicing to your arms and wrists.

Find a happy place, take a deep breath, centre yourself, this is the 47, heading out of town, he gets a grip, stares in the mirror, checks out the passengers, checks himself, find the happy place

Elvis cradles Priscilla in his arms, his hands are huge, designed to dig and cut and work and freed from all of that when he opened his mouth and sang gospel like a black boy.

Mostly, he doesn’t think about what happened, not in detail, not for long. He knows that it is becoming a depot tale, one of the dark ones, the stories that don’t get told in the pub.

He didn’t even notice her, why would he, small, skinny, hair pulled back in a straggly pony tail, he had lots of time to look at her, afterwards of course.
She sat on the back seat, curled up into the corner, he saw it on the CCTV, afterwards and quietly, somewhere between Oxford Street and the terminus, the far suburb, the streets where foxes with unblinking yellow eyes watched the bus go by, she slashed her wrists and bled to death, unnoticed, just a huddle of black clothes, a sleeper who has missed their stop.

He doesn’t think about her very often, drive the bus, move the people, watch the foxes, ask what would Elvis do?

Elvis, on that last night, hot southern night and the pills don’t work and the girls don’t work and the food won’t fill the hunger and you walk from room to room trying not to catch sight of yourself in mirrors and you wait for day to come.


The Ethel Mermans

Thursday is swimming day, it had a special rhythm, a tone different to other days.
It is a day of display, of testing their new reality, making public in the most dangerous way possible that which is the other them.

Thursdays start early, the mermaids meet at 10, sometimes even 9.30, eyes hidden behind shades, close cut crew cuts buried under baseball caps.
Faces still blurred from the night before,
the slight tremor in a hand, amphetamine shake,
king size cigarette, drag, and blow and smile.
Wordplay never wasted.

Step 1 – the look

In briefs, doing what these briefs need to do, stand in fron of the full length mirror, a sideways glance to convince yourself that you are the best, the most convincing, the realest of the unreal.
Breasts, new, still surprising when you run you hand across your chest and feel this new landscape, but becoming more familiar as each day passes and as promised, the scars are tiny, neatly hidden.
Now checking carefully, mindful of shadow on the skin, a dishonest gesture, a tell.
You strike a pose,
strive to hide the posing,
make it real.

Step 2 – the preparation

Legs waxed two days ago, but still you check for errant hairs, tell-tale roughness.
Nails painted perfectly, cerise, scarlet, day-glo orange…….
And then the hair – each wig removed so carefully from its temporary gym bag home
And then, with one practised sweep, on and shake, fingers carefully probing the sit, the lay.

Step 3 – the costume

The mermaids are not yet brave enough for bikinis, although secretly, in the one roomed flats, the shared houses they inhabit, they have tried them on, sashayed down invisible cat walks, hips before them and then put them away, waiting for another day when transformation is complete.
For now then, one pieces, square legged but in colors that scratch the eye balls, draw attention to the perfect breasts, the endless legs, the neat and gym toned buts.
Birds of paradise, busy, shiny plumage.
Look at me, look at me, these costumes shout.
And of course the swimming hats, their hair too precious, too pricey to risk the water.
These hats, ridiculous confection of plastic flowers, reminders of another age, worn with irony and panache.

Step 4 – the walk

The mermaids/merboys are ready.
Make up thats passes the waterproof test.
Gym bags bursting with towels and scents and body butter and todays’ choosen costume – emerald green, hot lime, passion pink.
Route to include at least one building site, they work the walk, enjoy the shouts, an afirmation of sorts
and then

Step 5 – the pool

Thursday lunchtime – ladies’ swimming, the changing room busy, bodies of all shapes and sizes, sensible black swimmimg suits, women focussed in making the hour work for them, not wasting time.
The mermaids entrance is just that, an entrance, they are somehow so much more than the women around them.
Changing quickly, costumes sensibly already on beneath Chloe or Seven jeans – perfect size 0.
Hair tucked into caps, shoulders back, each one sneaks a look into the full length mirror beside the shower cubicles and then …..
Each one hearing a movie soundtrack in side their head, they enter the pool…..


Snow white, ruby red.

They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
They see me at the mirror, hour after hour in close contemplation.
I know they think me vain, shallow, a woman obsessed with surface,
but they are wrong, I’m not beguiled by own face,my own form, this is not vanity,there is nothing superficial about this, this is the mapping of the beginning of the end of beauty.

The mirror knows the routine, a long measuring gaze and then a pause and then, the question
“mirror, mirror on the wall, who IS the fairest of them all?”

And as the years go by, the pause becomes longer, more fear filled, the question asked with eyes closed as if not seeing will make the answer more easy to hear.

After all, the mirror can only speak the truth and I have waited so long for this new truth,have rehearsed in my head how it will feel, how I will act, what will happen next?

Time passes , the ritual continues and yes, I have tried to cheat just a little, heavy velvet curtains to cut out the unforgiving daylight, candles strategically placed, creams and potions that promise to reverse the irreversible.

Oddly, though, I never really ask myself why I allow this to continue, why I torture myself, why I don’t simply smash the the glass, draw back the drapes, open the windows, start to live?

Trapped in our narratives, she and I travelling towards this moment, this point, this truth.

“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all ?”

A pause, heavy with everything I have feared for so long

“Snow white is far more lovely than you, Oh queen”

And only then, do I find the strength to hurl a goblet, glass on glass, sharp shards scattered, his voice stilled, but the sentence hangs…..

I call for the Huntsman, my lover, my obedient servant and set him the task.
It’s easy, straightforward, I send him off before he can see what the mirror shows.
His hands are greedy, needy on my body, grasping for comfort, for reassurance of the rightness of this act.
I let him know how grateful I will be ………………afterwards.

Alone, I sit on the floor, broken glass all around me, there is enough mirror left in the frame to reflect a thousand refracted broken me’s, all staring back, all waiting for it to be over, this time.



Hermione and the extreme makeover.

A departure for rubiesandduels……….fan fiction – my lovely Yrs 7 & 8 & 9 writing group have set themselves a half term challenge – a 300 word story using a favorite character from a book they love.
So, i am joining in and have chosen a book I know many of them have enjoyed.
Apologies to any fans of the Harry Potter cycle.

Hermione sighs and decides to risk another glance in the mirror, thinking that perhaps this time the angle will be better, the lighting more forgiving, but it is still her face that stares back at her, eyes just that tiny bit too small, lips tight, skin pale and of course the hair, thick, ill disciplined, out of control.

For a moment she thinks about the other girls at Horwarts, the Slytherins, impossibly tall,slim, poised, They move through the corridors, quads and staircases like long legged racehorses, their size zero jeans, this seasons’ Converse peeping out beneath their wizarding robes, even the Hufflepuffle girls work a look, ankle socks, Irregular choice shoes and quirky rucksacks.

Hermione looks down at her own sensible supermarket trainers, as her mother said, trying to disguise the slight shudder that any contact with magic seems to produce in her
“well, you’ll only get potions and stuff dropping on them”
and of course she is right, but not in a cool geek way, more in a I get easily distracted and forget where my body begins and ends sort of way.

Hermione knows it shouldn’t matter, knows that she is smart, hardworking, reliable, but for one mad moment she wishes she was beautiful too and once the thought is there, she cannot get rid of it.

Which is why, 2 weeks later, at the start of the Easter holidays she finds herself walking down Diagon Alley, telling herself that this is a sensible errand, that she needs to pick up a potions revision guide, that all she is doing is getting ahead with her incantations coursework.

The shop is still there, its pink sign reads
“Totally Nu U – charms and incantations for a new, beautiful you”

Hermione looks around, although the alleyway is busy with shoppers, there are no face she recognizes, so she takes a step toward the door, it springs open with a perky ping – it’s a easy bit of magic, but effective and she almost falls into the shop.
The girl behind the counter, an ex-Slytherin if ever there was one thinks Hermione, moves with that easy grace towards her and smiles, showing perfect white teeth.
” A basic complete makeover package, I guess” she says before Hermione can even speak
” come over to the mirror, let me show you what we can do” ans she gestures to the huge mirror that cover the whole back, wall of the tiny shop.

Hermione cannot help herself, she looks in the mirror and yes it is still her, but somehow more, Hermione to the power of ten.
She is slightly taller, slightly thinner, her skin glows with health and confidence, her eyebrows have reshaped themselves to perfection and her hair, her hair is straight, shiny, under control.

The girl clicks her finger and the reflection vanishes to be replaced by the real Hermione, mad hair, worried face, chainstore jeans just an inch or two too short, Hermione can hardly bear to look at herself.

“of course, there are costs” says the girl with just a tiny telling pause,
Hermione draws herself up to her full, less than impressive height and fingers the bag of coins in her pocket – the money she has earmarked for a new bestiary, earned from hours of private tuition to the most glossy, most thoroughbred of the Slytherin girls, but the assistant catches the movement and shakes her head
“oh no, this isn’t about money, the magic has other costs” she pauses and then continues “this costs smarts” and then seeing Hermiones’ confusion, she explains slowly and clearly and in great detail.

Later, travelling home on the packed underground train, Hermione leans back in her seat, tired but pleased with a task well done, the new revision guides, the bestiary, a pocket guide to magical beasts weighing heavily but satisfyingly in her knee as the man beside her pushes her further into the corner.
The train stops between stations and she looks at her reflection in the window, pale face, unruly eyebrows, hair defying a half hearted attempt at a tidy in the station loos only ten minutes ago and Hermione smiles at herself, yes perfection would have been nice, but give up the brain the size of a plant, become ordinary, a little dim – no thank you and teh she dips happily into the advanced potions revision book.


Chapter 17 – licensed hackney cab – part 2.

Now the drugs don’t work They just make you worse But I know I’ll see your face again
‘Cause baby, ooh, if Heaven calls, I’m comin’ soon Just like you said, you leave my life, I’m better off dead
All this talk of gettin’ oldIt’s gettin’ me down my love
Like a cat in a bag, waitin’ to drown
This time I’m comin’ down
Now the drugs don’t work
They just make you worse
But I know I’ll see your face again
‘Cause baby, ooh, if Heaven calls, I’m comin’ soon
Just like you said, you leave my life, I’m better off dead
But if you wanna show, just let me know
And I’ll sing in your ear again
Now the drugs don’t workThey just make you worse
But I know I’ll see your face again
Yeah, I know I’ll see your face again
Yeah, I know I’ll see your face again
Yeah, I know I’ll see your face again
Yeah, I know I’ll see your face again
Never comin’ down, I’m never comin’ down
No more, no more, no more, no more, no more
Never comin’ down, I’m never comin’ down
No more, no more, no more, no more, no more
Never comin’ down, I’m never comin’ down
No more, no more, no more, no more, no more

Your morning rituals, your new rituals are predicated on sickness, on measuring exactly how sick you will be today and when.
A good morning starts with vomiting, instant sickness pushes nausea, your constant companion, into background noise, a steady trhumm.
It reminds you of your first weeks in London, when sound threatened to over-whelm you until you learnt to live with it, to push it to the back of consciouness and to finally not even hear it. At first the constant desire to be sick seeemed impossible, you could not imagine living like this, but now, some months in it is simply there, your own internal traffic noise.

A bad morning delivers the worst kind of sickness, a dry retching with none of the cathartic release.

The worst kind of morning means that you swallow the cocktail of coloured pills and are then horribly, noisily sick.These mornings frighten you, you know you should tell the hospital that the drugs dont work any more, but you shrink from that, shrink from any talk of re-admission, shrink from admittting that something,something more, is going wrong.

So, ritual 1- look at the pillow, measure how much more hair is there.At first there was a terrible fascination, you would stroke your head and feel the hair move in your hand, come away from your head. You thought about simply shaving it all off, speeding up the inevitaibale final outcome,but found you couldn’t.
You have always loved your hair, sleek,shiny, cared for.
You have,over the years, spent hours in hairdressers, consulting colour charts,discussing celebrity hair-dos, feeling the stylists’ hand on your head, manipulating your hair.
Having your hair cut, coloured, styled has been part of another pre-illness ritual, the management of your body hair.
Eyebrows plucked,legs shaved, bikini line waxed, you wonder how much time you are saving now and manage a smile, the concept of time saving is bitter sweet and that thought is enough to trigger another wave of nausea,this one so bad that you need to sit down, consider going back to bed, hiding for a little longer, but you need to move on,there is ritual 2 to complete and if today starts to feel better, a good day,you may even reach ritual 3.
But before that,you need to tidy the pillow, get rid of todays’ evidence. This is more complicated than it sounds as you have become unwilling to touch your own hair and have had to develop strategies to manage this. So, cover pillow in a large tissue, close eyes and quickly scoop up the tissue, bundling todays’ loss into an untidy package and then carrying it at arms length,you take it to the outside bin, always the outside bin,even on days when you can hardly walk, you always make this one journey, lift up lid, look away and drop.
You always wash your hands when you have done this.

Ritual 2- The Mirror
The mirror is in the bathroom, full length, with a frame of naked light bulbs, an ironic nod to Hollywood.
Before, before all of this, you would spend hours here, examining each new line as it appeared, plucking the odd unwanted hair,choosing outfits,practising facial expressions before you presented them to your students, your husband.
At your sickest, just post-surgery, you installed or more accurately, had installed [the idea of you moving furniture then was laughable] a chair in front of the mirror and each day you would sit, slump, and stare at your reflection, but now, you feel better, stronger, the chair has gone and ritual 2 is completed standing up.
The first movement is quick, a fleeting glance, a quick assesment,just to check, just to make sure.
Look two is all about the hair , the pillow has already alerted you,given you an inkling of how bad today will be,but this look is a full assesment, a proper measurement. Your hand moves instinctively towards your head, but halts, you are repulsed, sickened[ and god knows you don’t need any more reason to feel sick] by the feel of bare skin under thinning hair and you have mostly trained yourself to look but not touch because you know that one touch will lead to obsesive stroking and the inevetiable tears and you are learning to ration your tears, save them for the really bad stuff.

When they told you about chemo and radio-therapy and steroids and all the other drugs and the side effects, you stopped listening prperly and heard only fragments, so you know that reallly you have only yourself to blame. Someone did tell you, probably in careful, not overly technical language exactly what would happen, you just werent paying attention, you had a vision, when you thought about being ill at all of a delicate languishing, palely loitering,le dame aux cammile.
You saw yourself, transluscent with suffering, cheek boned, elegantly thin, surrounded by grieving friends.
That is npot the reality, this is the reality.
The face that stares back at you in the mirror is as far from that as possible.
You have no eye brows,
No eyelashes.
Your hair has fallen out uneavenly, leaving strange tufts of different length.
The steriods have caused your face to swell, features lost in a layer of puffiness. It even has a name, this swelling – steriod moon face.

The woman in the mirror looks old, odd and very very plain.
She looks like the kind of woman who still lives with her mother.
She looks like the kind of woman who has never been loved.
She looks like the kind of woman who children laugh at in the street.

Your mirror ritual is the only time you allow yourself this careful self regarding.
You try to avoid your reflection at all other times,particulallry when you have not prepared, steeled yourself, to meet this new you

Sometimes you catch this image and dont recognise yourself,the first time it happened, you saw this older,heavy, ill looking woman coming towards you and you smiled and she smiled back and then when recognition came,you walked slowly back to the car and sat, cryimg until the nausea forced you home.

Today is going well, you have been only moderatly sick, your face looks no worse than yesterday.
Today, you are going to try ritual 3.
You take a deep breath and look again into the mirror while you let the shabby towelling robe fall away from your shoulders.

Ritual 3 – The breast- the absence.

There are a variety of types of mastectomy in use, and the type that a patient decides to undergo (or whether he or she will decide instead to have a lumpectomy) depends on factors such as size, location, and behavior of the tumor (if there is one), whether or not the surgery is prophylactic, and whether or not the patient intends to undergo reconstructive surgery.
Simple mastectomy (or “total mastectomy”): In this procedure, the entire breast tissue is removed, but axillary contents are undisturbed. Sometimes the “sentinel lymph node”–that is, the first axillary lymph node that the metastasizing cancer cells would be expected to drain into—is removed. This surgery is sometimes done bilaterally (on both breasts) on patients who wish to undergo mastectomy as a cancer-preventative measure. Patients who undergo simple mastectomy can usually leave the hospital after a brief stay. Frequently, a drainage tube is inserted during surgery in their chest and attached to a small suction device to remove subcutaneous fluid. These are usually removed several days after surgery as drainage decrease to less than 20-30 ml per day.
Modified radical mastectomy: The entire breast tissue is removed along with the axillary contents (fatty tissue and lymph nodes). In contrast to a radical mastectomy, the pectoral muscles are spared

This has to be done carefully, in stages.
You start with the left breast, the only breast, the remanining breast.
Since the surgery, you have become gentle, tender to it. Sometimes you wonder if it feels lonely, unbalanced.
You find yourself stroking it, caressing, but this is not desire, you treat it more as if it were a pet, a snoozing fat tabby.

REassured, comforted, you turn your head and look downward.
The scar is still red, puckered, swollen, you have been told that it will all calm down, settle, but right now, its a vivid slash across the white skin.
The scar marks out exactly where the surgeon incised to remove your breast.
A spoon dipping into panacotta and removing a mouthful would leave exactly this mark, this absence.

Ritual 3 has an additional element, touching the lack, this doesnt happen often, it makes you so sad that it can only happen on days where nothng else bad will happen and as today is a hospital day, you stop, this is enough for today.

Before you put your dressing gown back on, start to dress, prepare yourself to face the day, you take another look in the mirror and from no-where a blast of rage shoots through you, it catches you unawares, you didnt think you had this energy inside you.

But now you are so angry, you look again at your body and rage against this illness, these treatments.
You rage against the unfairness of it all.
You rage against the exhaustion and boredom of being ill and just for today, you rage against your lost eye brows.

And then you go and get dressed and prepare for another day, you dont feel better, you dont feel anything.

The Taxi has pulled up outside the gate, looking out, you wonder if the driver is a resting actor, he is talking to himself, hand gestures, the lot,it looks like he is rehearsing a speech, practising a story before he tries it out on an audience.