A Short Story Inspired By This Painting


On Reflection

“Honey, you gotta stop rushing me, you know I hate these things.” Buzz Word was stroking his thinning hair back across his scalp. Fifth anniversary or not, he was none too keen on the person he saw in the mirror of the bathroom.

“Buzzy, I just know how long you take, we got time, I just want everything to be perfect, I want you to be my big handsome man in a picture that lasts forever.” She was excited and nervous as she shouted through from the bedroom. She took her dress from its hanger and lay it down on the bed, with the pride and tenderness of a new mother.

Buzz stopped staring at himself. There would be time for regret later, but before the act it was completely without point. He filled the sink with steaming water from the kettle, contaminated it with some cold and plunged his hands in, pulling a wash over his whole face at once. He allowed his face to drip into his soap and submerged his badger brush. In one movement the brush left the sink, took three fast circuits of the soap and landed on his face, carelessly smattering his cheeks and chin with lather.

Sadie dropped her robe from her shoulders. In the full length mirror she examined herself. From this distance she could reflect on her trained posture, but also her detail such as the lace trim of her new panties. Despite closing in on thirty, she had a body that she was still proud of; apart from her Worry, as she had taken to calling it. Of course, having not yet been blessed meant that her stomach was quite flat, and certainly not stretched. As her eyes lifted she settled on her breasts. She sighed, picked up the second part of her new underwear set and turned away from the betraying, polished rectangle.

Meanwhile, across the hall, a man with a pit in his stomach tapped his razor clean on the porcelain. He was staring at the image of his fingers running across his now smooth face (not the eyes, Buzz, not the eyes) and then dropping (keep away from the eyes Buzz) to his neck. He felt himself lucky not to have the impossible wilds of chest hair with which his father was cursed. The poor man knew not where to end his daily scrape, whereas Buzz had just a flourish of hair crowning the top seam of his undershirt. He pulled the plug on the scummy, flecked water and idly wondered how he could do the same to his marriage.

At her dressing table, a gift from Buzz two years ago to the day, Sadie peered as close to herself as she could without blurring her second face with condensation. Carefully she painted her lips, but even with this concentration she looked at her Worry, now cradled in the cup of her brassiere. Had Buzz realised the lump before her? He was so reserved at times, so quiet. Just recently the withdrawal had been worse, and Sadie feared of telling him of the Worry. It had been the taking of her mother, but she had been 10 years older than Sadie was now. It really was a Worry, she thought, as she lay down her thin brush and dried her lips on some weak tissue. She cursed lightly when some of the paper remained on her upper lip, but it didn’t ruin her gloss once she had removed it. Besides, she had bigger worries, such as making sure Buzz was ready in time. She wanted to enjoy the short walk to the chemist’s shop in this beautiful sunshine.

His left thumb pushed the button through the hole where it was received by the opposing thumb and its neighbouring forefinger. Buzz’s eyes rested on his wedding band. Maybe he shouldn’t leave. He loved Sadie, after all. But he had to be with Jane, and they had agreed that they would leave their spouses as one, tonight, and take the drive to Canton, Ohio, so far away from here. There was work in the Dueber-Hampden factory for them both; Jane’s brother had assured them. In the months of conversations, agreements and finally planning, Buzz had never seen this day truly coming. He snapped the collar closed and looked at the eyes staring back at him through the light mist. Taking the Brilliantine from the shelf, he palmed a little between his hands, warming it before flattening it over his hair. He took his comb and with each stroke of his scalp considered how he was to tell Sadie, and when. After we have had this infernal photograph taken, he mouthed at the man about to break his sweetheart clean in two.

The good wife, lost in the motion of brushing her hair, saw the bedside clock reversed over her shoulder. Looking around, she realised she had been dwelling a little, and that they had only a few minutes to walk to Billy Howard’s store. “Buzzy, darling, are you ready?” “I am now,” he said as he walked into the bedroom, fastening his tie, smiling an unsure little crease across his square jaw. Sadie’s thoughts brightened. (What a handsome man, how lucky I am.) But darkened so soon, as often happened nowadays. (How sad I am that I have the Worry, and what it will mean.)

She put the brush down, stood up. Without a word, she took his arm and they left the apartment block, Buzz locking the door behind them. They soon arrived at the chemist’s and Billy showed them to the back room, with the warm greeting of a man entranced by his new photographic equipment, and the money it might make him. He positioned his subjects as he had been taught; this was the classic composition, apparently. Any awkwardness that Buzz and Sadie felt left as they caught one another’s eyes in the camera lens. They smiled and thought as one, “I’ll share my bad news later.”

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