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Saving Face

2009 May 30
by Kaye Linden

1149036_dont_open_the_door_1I stumble into my bathroom at five, turn on the light, start the shower. When I look into the antique mirror my mother’s face stares back. What the hell?
“You’re supposed to be in bed,” I say.
“I don’t feel like sleeping.” She reveals two crooked front teeth in a raggedy smile.
I grab a washcloth and wipe the mirror but it streaks soap over my mother’s face. She grimaces. I spray Windex and wipe it clean.
“You know,” she tilts her head sideways as if examining a picture. “You’re starting to look like me.”
I lean against the sink. “Jesus, what does that mean?” I examine deep grooves along the sides of her mouth, mismatched jowls, red spider veins on her nose, a tanned hide. “How long have you been standing there, Mom?”
“I can’t get ready with you staring at me!”
“Don’t use that tone of voice with me,” she says with a frown.
“Why can’t you leave?” I ask.
“As long as you look like me I can’t leave.”
I turn out the light, but she is still there when the light goes back on.
“You know dear, you really should start using night cream. It helps save face as you age.”
“Mom, this conversation is ridiculous.”
She starts to cry. I reach out to touch her but the mirror gets in the way. “How did you get behind there anyway?”
“I’ve always been here.” She smiles.
“Go away,” I shout at the mirror.
“Don’t worry. I’ll look better after you start using cream,” she winks.
I look into a hand mirror to get a clear picture of myself but there’s my mother again. I hang it on the shower rod behind me but now hundreds of mothers stare at me …in front of me…behind me…staring from all angles…so I rip the mirror off the shower rod and throw it in the trash can.
My mother frowns, furrowed lines, memories of time spent in the sun. “You can’t get away from mirrors, but you can pretend it all isn’t happening.” Her eyes fix on the night cream.
“Will you go back to sleep if I use it?” I ask. She nods.
I unscrew the lid on the jar, dip in three fingers and slather cream over the mirror.

11 Responses leave one →
  1. Joseph Bastow permalink*
    May 30, 2009

    Freakish yet jovial. What would Ernest Hemingway say about this stream?

  2. May 31, 2009

    Yes, I think Ernest would have loved this piece. He rarely wrote about his mother, although her presence is certainly close in a lot of his writing. This is a great piece of literature. I can sense a lot of marble lying around on the floor, for much has been discarded here to reach the essential. In fact, I think I see a piece in my mind right now–something I should discard quickly, but my o my, it is bright and shiny.

  3. Carolyne Wright permalink
    June 1, 2009

    Wonderfully succinct (yes, the result of much editing for such concision), and with a light touch . . . of the macabre! There is a nod to “The Portrait of Dorian Gray” here, but I like this better!

    June 1, 2009

    JUNE 1ST 2009


  5. June 1, 2009

    This writer has wit ! What a rare find. A gem of a story . Look forward to reading more of her work.

  6. Joe Ponepinto permalink
    June 1, 2009

    As other commenters have noted, a wonderful combination of horror and humor. Ms. Linden deals with a truth many of us must “face,” and does so in a witty style. Well done!

  7. Claire Gebben permalink
    June 2, 2009

    This short-short says it all. Whoa, Janus looking over our shoulders. Kaye Linden is a great writer. Who did the art?

  8. Helen Sears permalink
    June 3, 2009

    Kaye Linden offers the perfect overlay of gentle humor when confronting, if not the unknowns, the disconcertings of the human condition. She is a master of tone, timing, and just-enough.

  9. Mercedes permalink
    June 17, 2009

    This reminds me so much of Sylvia Plath’s vision of her mother, swimming closer to the surface in the mirror. I loved the smearing of cream on the mirror – a form of witchcraft? Nicely done, a deft touch.

  10. June 25, 2009

    Sign me up! This author’s story makes me smile while filling me with an eerie sensation that sends shivers down my spine. Creepy! Excellent short story, I love it.
    Cannot wait to read more from this author.

  11. Mary Stebbins Taitt permalink
    April 14, 2013

    cool!! I see not only my Mom, but also my gramma. Mostly my Mom’s voice comes out of my mouth. (And speaks in my head.)

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