I tugged the silver-handled hairbrush through my mop of dark hair as I looked in the mirror. The signs that I would age like my mother were all there – lines around the mouth that had begun a descent downward, lonliness, but mostly surrender. It had crept into my once bright blue eyes somewhere along the way, the light notched down and barely burning, the gaze turned inward. I felt older than I was and at the beginning of the end. I was looked back far more than I was looked forward and the realization of it angered me. I threw the brush at the mirror in a fit of pique, fighting to change the reflection. “No!” I screamed.
“Mom?” Peter’s soft voice coaxed me to turn.
I stared at my shy and handsome son, who had his father’s eyes more each day – and they filled with questions. “It’s okay honey, my hand slipped,” I looked away and bent down to gather the broken glass on the carpet.
Peter helped me collect the little pieces of reflection that sparkled the floor and mocked me at the same time. I shooed him out and assured him I was fine. And when I turned I spied the spiderweb that had formed and spread from the point of impact – and the image staring back at me, like a spider, had several pairs of eyes.
The conversation at breakfast was a handful of murmurs and manners. “You still going on Friday night?” Peter packed a lunch of roast beef sandwich, apple, yoghurt and the last piece of cherry pie.
I peered over my coffee cup at Peter, even the way he held a knife mimicked his father and it stirred shadows I wanted to keep asleep. “I don’t have much choice,” I mumbled.
Peter flashed a mouthful of perfect white teeth. “You always have a choice, Mom.”
“All right, wise guy, then I don’t have a graceful choice to bow out. I’m on the planning committee, I could hardly ‘bail’ as you kids like to say.” I smiled for his sake and sipped coffee and craved the cigarettes I’d given up long ago.
Peter rolled his big blue eyes and planted a kiss on the top of my head before heading out. “See you tonight,” he called over his shoulder. And I was right behind him, running late, needing to rush to the shop.
Most of the morning was spent unsuccessfully cajoling customers into buying pieces and trying to find a service that could repair the two hundred year old mirror I’d smashed with my grandmother’s hairbrush. Both proved to be an exercise in futility. An afternoon rain that turned the bright Autumn day to grey tears convinced me to close early. No one would be antiquing in a rain storm anyway. I turned the sign to the closed position and went behind the counter to count the drawer.
I must have been lost in thought because I never saw or heard the woman enter. “Excuse me,” the voice was strong and clear but kind. I gasped. “Sorry dear,” she said, “I didn’t mean to startle you.”
She was a small woman with vibrant blue-green eyes and silver hair twisted in a neat bun at the back. “I’m sorry, but I’ve closed for today. What with the rain and all…”
The woman nodded, “Yes, I can see that, but you have such a lovely shop that I wanted to look around. You have a keen eye for placement,” she said as her own eyes wandered the pieces I’d so carefully arranged. “You have so many mirrors, I love how they give the place eyes.” I’d never thought of it that way. It was true I had a special love of mirrors but now it seemed the shop was crammed with them and staring at me.
“Thank you,” I said anxious for her to ask her question and leave. The rain had begun to pound on the roof and I dreaded the short but sure to be miserable drive home. “Is there something I can do for you?”
The woman continued to smile and shook her head. “No, I just wanted to say hello and tell you how much I appreciate your lovely things here. Will your husband be by to pick you up soon?”
“No, I’m not married.”
She was taken aback, her eyes told me so. “A lovely girl like you, not married? It doesn’t speak well of the male population around here does it?” she winked.
I smiled and shook my head. “No, I suppose not.” But I had no interest in the male population since the man I loved married another woman.
She patted my hand. “Don’t worry dear, I have a feeling your luck is about to change and my feelings are almost always right.”
I stared at my feet like bashful teenager and when I looked up she was gone. The hairs on my arms raised and goosebumps rose to greet them. How she had appeared out of nowhere and then vanished into the grey vapor of the afternoon was downright eerie. I went to the front of the shop and peered out the window at the pouring rain, not a soul was about, all no doubt, hiding from the sheets of grey like I did. I shook my head and bolted the front door and left through the rear exit.
When I got home I was cold and weary and wanted nothing more than a mug of soup and hot bath. The house was dark and still and rather than turn on lights, I stood, leaning against the door, listening to the rain thump and drum the roof and let him come into my thoughts. His maddening blue eyes, his voice saying my name, the whisper of his embrace came to me as a solid apparition, not a distant memory.
“You’re thinking about him, aren’t you?” Peter was there standing in front of me.
“Who?” I asked, pulling off my coat and making a show of tidying up my already immaculate livingroom, Peter on my heels like he used to do when he was little.
“It’s why you don’t want to go to the reunion, isn’t it?” Peter persisted. “He might be there. My father.” And he stood before me like resolute Oak, refusing to move from his spot of strength and advantage. “I know he isn’t dead, Mom. I’ve known for a long time.”
I pushed the damp hair out of my face and fell into a chair, unable to look my boy in the eyes – the eyes that reminded me everyday of the man I could never forget. “How long have you known?” I asked too tired to continue any charade.
Peter shrugged his broad shoulders. “It doesn’t matter. I know is the point. We’ve talked a few times,” he said casually but he gave that sidelong glance he always did when he tested the waters.
I felt a cold panic snake through my insides. “How do you know it’s him,” I asked though I never doubted it was.
“I look just like him,” Peter said softly. He bent down then and gave me a little hug. “I’m not mad, Mom,” he whispered, “don’t you be either, okay?”
I looked up at my son and wondered at his odd expression. “Why would I be mad?”
Peter left the room and minutes later I heard voices and the panic woke sharply and shot me to my feet. But it was too late because I stood in front of him. David. My David. I couldn’t speak. He was still beautiful, tall and composed. “Hello, Ali.”
“What are you doing here,” I found my voice but it was weak and a whisper.
“I’ve wanted to call a thousand times,” he said quietly.
“But you didn’t,” I said.
“Would you have talked to me, if I had?” David asked and took a step closer. And I couldn’t move, I was frozen to the spot. I couldn’t look away, my eyes were locked to his. “You never answered my letters, why?”
“You were married to another woman. Of course I didn’t answer your letters. I couldn’t be friends with you. I couldn’t and you know it.” I trembled and felt the girl I was then, pregnant and heartbroken, having read in the newspaper of his engagement to woman I’d never heard of before.
David moved closer and reached for my hands. “No, I wasn’t. I never married her.” He stepped closer still and said, “I never married anyone.”
My mind could barely wrap around those words. The walls I’d built over the years, the compartments I’d fashioned in my mind to tuck away the memories, to hide myself within began to dismantle. Leaving me with only questions I could not yet voice. “You never married.” I repeated.
“No,” David said and took my hand but I pulled away. I couldn’t think and I was angry and lost and wanted nothing more than to be left alone. To push David out into the raining night – to find my comfortable hiding place again – return to the shelter of my ignorance. And if my eye had not caught the reflection in the hallway mirror I would have. But my son’s face wouldn’t let me, couldn’t let me.
“Peter?” I called out and he knew I’d seen him. “Will you start a pot of coffee, honey? I think we may be talking for a while.” My boy smiled at me from the mirror and it was all the strength I needed.