Sitting on the edge of the bed, I feel the warmth of the early morning sun. Its subtle heat cocoons me making it difficult to stay awake. My eyelids are heavy; my skin tingles and every inch of my body wants to cave in. But I quickly remember why I got out of bed at 6 am sharp in the first place and fight the urge to curl up and let my body sink into the covers and my mind sink into unconsciousness.
This is where I feel the safest. This is the only place where I can slow down. My brain is used to going a hundred miles an hour; worrying, analysing, over analysing whatever’s already been analysed. But not here. I can forget here.
Coffee is brewing downstairs. I can hear the faint bubbling noise the water makes as it boils in the machine, followed by a drip-drip beat, and then a sudden burst of the sweet smell of Arabica beans invades every corner of every room, so inviting and familiar. The house comes alive as everyone follows their daily routine. Heels clicking hurriedly on the wooden floor landing; hairdryers buzzing in the bathrooms; softly spoken chit chat at the breakfast table; one by one departing until the big iron door is slammed shut for the last time leaving the two of us alone.
I sit patiently on the edge of the bed feeling a little anxious from the events of the past year, wondering what took me so long to come back. Ninety-two seconds pass as I stare at the neon green alarm clock on the bedside table. It looks absurd and out of place in the one room of the house that has managed to escape the claws of modernity and change. Finally, she comes in. Following her trajectory from the door to the dressing table with total undivided attention, it strikes me how this frail woman’s every movement is still so graceful and elegant. That trait definitely skipped a generation or two, I muse.
There’s this discernible stillness that she commands when entering a space. Apart from the tiny particles of dust dancing around the sunrays that penetrate the window, it seems like the world stops revolving and I feel forced to hold my breath as if the smallest of movements would interfere with this ritual. She sits in front of the mirror reaching for the iron clad key that opens the top drawer of her ageing wooden dressing table that holds all of her most prized possessions. She takes out a tortoise shell case that holds pressed powder, a round brittle hair brush that she’s used for 20 years and a red Revlon lipstick. Humming Blue Danube by Johann Strauss, the first song she taught me to play on her grand piano, she places each item lovingly and carefully in front of her, glancing intermittently at a picture of her husband that was taken the year before he died.
Her cotton white hair with silver streaks, that to the touch is just like silk, catches the sunlight and gleams, almost sparkles, creating an aura around her that makes her look angelic. She gently brushes back her bob with the round brittle brush and not a single strand is out of place. She inspects it in the mirror meticulously, turning her head from side to side and when she’s satisfied she places down the round brittle brush exactly where she picked it up from and opens the tortoise shell case. Her fingers are long and bony; her joints slightly swollen from sewing crochet doilies, the top of her hands sprinkled with little brown spots that give away her age. Inside the case is a thin round sponge which she pats onto the pressed powder and then strokes her cheeks, then her nose, then her forehead. Her face fascinates me; it tells a story of pain and joy, of struggle and achievement. It’s enigmatic. She has almost lived a century and yet her skin is still plump, full of colour, and apart from the trademark family wrinkle – a deep crevice on either cheek stretching from each arch of the nose down to the chin – she barely has any. Her eyes are full of life, concern and love for the things and people around her, yet there’s an emptiness that will never be filled again. She carries her past with a remarkable lightness of being and even though she has experienced so much, she somehow defies the passing of time.
Still humming the work of Strauss, she places the tortoise shell case exactly where she picked it up from and reaches for the red Revlon lipstick. The final touch. The grand finale. The first time I ever bought a lipstick, I bought the same one. The same make, the same shade. I remember standing in front of my bathroom mirror trying to emulate her precise method, but ended up with it all over my teeth as I awkwardly stretched my mouth for precision. She puckers her thin lips and does the bottom and the top in two swift movements with astounding accuracy. She presses them together to make the texture smooth and even, the half heart shape of the top lip emphasized by the rouge tint. Looking at me through the mirror she winks slyly, a little crease forming at each end of her mouth. Still in her dressing gown, she looks more glamorous than I’ve ever seen a woman look.
As the tortoise shell case, the round brittle hair brush and the red Revlon lipstick go back in the top drawer where she keeps her most prized possessions, I sit on the edge of the bed still watching her with total undivided attention. She locks the drawer with the iron clad key, gets up and walks to the window and I snap out of that beautiful, dream-like condition. I no longer feel anxious. I feel free and I feel light. It’s strange how such small, seemingly mundane moments can be so cathartic, but suddenly I understand why. We need moments that make time feel inconsequential, moments that are so pure and so dear to you and are so embedded within you that it only takes a second to transport yourself and escape.
Written by: Nicole McLennan