For this week, I'm back to short story writing. I'm taking the WEP Challenge of Denise over at Write...Edit...Publish. This month's topic is Changing Faces. Hope you enjoy it.
The alarm clock shrieked and a gray-haired woman tumbled out of bed like a soldier answering the bugle call. The moonlight still glistened from the window and already, she moved with precise crisp movements. Like a soldier at camp, she pulled the bed sheets, fluffed the pillows, and covered the bed with a light blue duvet that mirrored the color of her eyes. Her movements, with staccato alertness, amused the man on the other side of the room. Dressed in his favourite blue suit, he watched her, his wife for twenty five years, and smiled at how looking at her still took his breath away. Her dark brown hair, now filled with what she called gray highlights, outlined her face the way a frame hugs its subject into a close and deep intimacy.
“Good morning” Helen said, as she went over to sit on his lap and hugged him close.
She looked at him. He looked just as good as the day she first met him. She noticed that his arms were buff as she eased their weight on her shoulders. He leaned over and briefly touched her lips with a wisp of a kiss.
“It’s a busy day today. I have to leave early,” he said.
She wrinkled her nose as he stood up and set her down on a chair like a child. The soft cushion of the chair somehow felt more welcoming than her husband’s lap.
“Stupid old goat!” Helen thought. “What did you think he’d do this early in the morning? Would you look at yourself?”
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Her eyes darted to the mirror by the dressing table and a strange woman looked back at her. There were wrinkles under her eyes and shots of grey hair stuck out from her head. As she brushed a strand of hair away from her eyes, she caught a glance of the woman’s feather-like hand, all wrinkled with veins as long as her dark brown hair, screaming out of her skin. Then the woman in the mirror shifted to the right, just like she did. The dressing gown she wore looked vaguely familiar though the color was faded and its soft woollen material was thin and looked tattered with age.
“Oh no!” Helen said. Her hand clasped her mouth, “that’s not me, is it?”
“Honey, a little help down here,” a booming voice called.
Helen stood up and called out, “Be right down, dear!”
Again, she glanced at the mirror. Yes, there was no way she could deny it. The old and gray-haired woman was no one else but herself.
“When did I grow so old?” she asked.
In the kitchen, the coffee machine made gurgling sounds as it spat out drops of coffee on the counter. As Helen stretched out her hand for the towel that hung by the window sill, the warm glow of the morning sun touched her soft sagging cheeks.
“Oh look, my daffodils have bloomed!” she said.
“Do you remember the time when we first got the house?” she asked. “The garden outside was the first thing you checked out. You said you wanted many golden daffodils to smile up at me every time I worked in the kitchen.”
“You still remember that? That was ages ago!” her husband replied.
Helen looked back at him. He was smiling. It was the same smile that made her knees weak and her cheeks glow into a blushing pink when they started to go out together. She turned away embarrassed.
“You were good with your hands. Remember how I teased you and said you’d be a farmer when you’re old and gray?”
“You did, didn’t you?” he said, “Maybe I will... someday.”
Helen turned and looked at her husband. He was busy reading the morning papers and the sun cascaded a light shadow on one side of his face. One eyebrow was slightly raised and his eyes were slanted at an angle. Helen knew this look. He did this every time he found something interesting.
Unlike her, he hardly changed, she thought. He was still good looking despite his age. His running regimen every day after work kept him fit. She’s been told that women half her age would find him very attractive.
Helen clutched her robe and remembered the gray-haired woman that looked back at her in the mirror upstairs. With a worried look, she glanced at her husband again. Why would he still want me, she wondered.
“Do you remember when the kids were growing up and you built that bird house on that tree up there? You painted it blue because you said it matched the color of my eyes even if Lucy wanted it pink.”
“I remember,” he said. He stood up and on impulse, put his hands around her waist, “Are you all right? What’s up with the sudden recollections?”
“I’m fine! I just remembered how things were before, you know, back in the days when we were both young and free and...”
“Well, you seem to be remembering a lot of things except that... I really need to go to work now.”
“Oh, I’m sorry! Stupid me, I haven’t even made breakfast yet.”
“That’s alright. I can get something at the office.” He gathered his things and planted a light kiss on her mouth.
“Don’t let the mirror fool you, my sweet. You are beautiful... old, gray, or whatever else comes in the years to come.”
As she closed the door behind him, she passed the mirror in the hall and the same old woman stared back at her. For a long time, Helen just looked at herself. She held out her hand and touched the lines that left puddles under her eyes, beside her mouth, and around her neck.
“You know he’s right,” she said to the woman who looked back at her. “You’re not a stupid old goat! You’re a beautiful old goat!”
And she walked back into the kitchen, her tattered robe falling loosely behind her jaunty trot.