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The full-length mirror hung on the inside face of the closet door in Mum’s sewing room. Now, closets were the common hiding place, but not the one in Mum’s sewing room. This closet held no secrets, because its door was always open.
(Later, years later, the bag which held the chocolate would reduce all mystery to lowest terms, terms long since moot to the otherwise fully-fledged acquiescence I called self-acceptance.) In the meantime, however, that mirror hung, tall and impermeable – to assault, to age, to accountability. I stood facing it, across the seasons of my life, and watched myself grow up.
Mum was a dressmaker. She was a professional. Kaye Williams’ personal assistant, Hy Yaple, was one of Mum’s customers. Mum was serious. And, her sewing room never had any other intent; it was its own part of the house, like the living, dining, kitchen, bed, and bath. Its walls were lined with every photograph of every year of our childhood, and a montage of the intersecting years of everybody else’s. The sewing room was the family encyclopaedia, my entry updated faithfully every time the next dress left the machine ready for a fitting. I was never sure if, standing like a paper doll waiting for the white tabs to fold over my shoulders, it was the dress which needed fitting or I who must be made to fill it. I only knew that Mum had made a new dress, and it was for me.
I was a horrible child.
The straight pins gathered force against me in their march down the side seams of my belligerent body, Mum commandeering them all through pursed lips grasping the Second Unit. Turn, she’d snap. Turn. Turn, And, turn I would, until the hem was up and I had revolved to full frontal position for inspection. Invariably, with a consistency that rivaled chaos itself, the last pin never matched the first, out they’d all come, and around we’d go again. My body was crooked. Nobody knew. And, my attempts to stand both still and straight were impossible. What stared from the mirror was a confrontation in my image, the rendering of a child whose body refused to align and whose spirit could not be pinned to anything.
Attack: puberty. Enter one skeleton, clanking in all directions, pressing at tender flesh wherever it could – out from both knees, shoulders (good for fitting, mom pronounced) birthing a killer chin and the bridge of one stubborn, aquiline nose. I was Alice, Through the Looking Glass, the contents of whose “Drink me” vial had sent her head straight for the stratosphere with no thought for proportion or grace. I couldn’t look at my own face. Turn, Mum said. Turn.
If I were Joe Salorino, I wouldn’t even like me, I imploded. I’d pick Valerie Gorniak, too – she, with flesh where bones were not and those round lips that I would never own. And, my legs. My legs were separated below the knees by what appeared in the glass to be a space big enough for a whole third one which, in moments of despondency, spoke directly from the grave of my imagination. Why did the other girls have straight ones? Stand up! Mum snapped. Turn!
Polyester gave, one hundred per cent, the solution of its own generation; rubberized and fortified, the suffocating stuff asserted itself around a body which refused to be draped, like the shell from which this Botticelli would never emerge. I would, I was certain, gladly give both arms for the matched breasts of Venus di Milo. Zeus, busy with Barbie, gave no heed.
Somewhere between the outsized white pumps planted in the grass at graduation, the Pliance perm, and the plucking of one eyebrow into two, the mirror and I came to terms. We would convene discreetly now, to foreshorten a fresh nose or line-enhance an upper lip. The image in the mirror had become an all-consuming conceit, as its body retreated from the sewing room toward an assembly line’s progeny, the “rack”, the adornments of The Store. Mum sat quietly, head bent beneath the hanging arm of the sewing lamp, her fingers traveling beside the presserfoot as if nothing had changed and her only daughter had not found herself utterly lost beside her own mother.
A decade blurred by, bewildered, undeliberated. A move toward the autonomy of a second-floor apartment with an exterior stairwell in the rear, far away, ten full minutes from umbilicum and, from there, a corner lot to call my own. The full-length mirror stayed behind, a testament to inevitability.
The ultimate wedding was a date, set, sewn in the deadline of The Dress. The mirror hung heavily now; French lace, pearls, lustrous combed silk, a daughter’s design, a mother’s designation. Fertile hips and bloating belly bore the mid-summer night fittings, and my mother bore all my rage, fright, and terror at each turn of the hem-line. I was despicable, and struck out at the hands which had sacrificed themselves to the delusion that one such as I could be made to feel beautiful bound in a bridal gown. I had succumbed, not to the shot gun, but to the clock, and hated that my husband – to – be was somehow the sweeter one. Mum loved him. His mother said he loved me. Somewhere in the middle lay the truce, waiting for the appropriate signatures and the notary’s seal. It would not be signed until three years hence, once the license was dissolved, exactly seven months after the day she died.
* * * * *
There’s a cheap imitation propped against my bedroom wall now. I stand, and face the glass. The image it bears is a stranger to its old reflection. I listen, quietly now. Turn, she says. Turn.
© Ruth Ann Scanzillo
circa 1998/finished 12/3/14.
all rights reserved. No exceptions, please. Thank you.