It was carried with utmost care. Four men from the shop three houses from the Garden View house and a little to the right carried it and climbed a long flight of stairs that didn’t seem to end. The heavy oak door opened to their relief and in they went, treading carefully on the red Afghan carpet. They couldn’t help but notice the lights shimmering from the chandelier above. The ornate lounge had nothing less. The heavy drapes were drawn to one side with a golden tassel and sunlight streamed in softly lighting up the labyrinthine patterns on the rich carpet. The sleek ebony table by the arm chair had a bottle of Merlot and an empty glass on a coaster stained delicately at the mouth with the faintest shade of red. A box of Bon Bons lay open next to the dark blue bottle. The doily under the silver bowl of fruit was perfectly placed. The marble mantelpiece had five polished candlesticks, a crystal vase, a clock and nothing more. Above was a huge painting of a sunset.
The Canterbury stand had glossy magazines and letters neatly organized. “Right here,” she said in the softest drawl, pointing at an empty space next to the cream upholstered Bergere chair and Ottoman. It stood as if it had been there for ages. “That’s wonderful,” she said and the men gazed at her lost smile before making their way out.
She tugged a little at the grey fabric covering it and to the ground it fell in a crumpled heap. Running her fingers on the rectangular gilt frame, she looked at the woman in the mirror. Her dark brown hair cascaded down to her waist gracefully. Soft curls enhanced her jawline. Her kohl-lined eyes had a distant look in them that one couldn’t quite read. The diamond earrings dangling from her ears seemed like they were made just for her. She picked up her purse and took out a tube of lipstick. Moving closer to the mirror, she parted her lips and painted them, with the colour of blood. Curving her lips into a satisfied smile she stepped back and looked at how the little silk black dress hugged her body, how the necklace gently touched her collar bones and how the pendant barely touched her neckline. Wasn’t she a beauty?
The box of Bon Bons were closed and kept aside. Another bottle of Merlot was opened and half empty. The clock on the mantelpiece kept ticking. A drop of sweat trickled down her flawless forehead as it began to throb. The view outside the window matched the painting above her mantelpiece. She shut her eyes and rested her head on the cold wrought iron frame of the window. It soothed her. She let herself down and dozed off into a strange slumber. A nightmare startled her awake somewhere past midnight. She stood up and went to the mirror. The woman in the mirror didn’t show the terror she felt. Wasn’t she a beauty?
There was a dinner party in this house the next week. As always, she made sure the guests had all they could eat and drink. More bottles of Merlot, Malbec, Pinot Noir and many more were opened and the guests were impressed at her taste. Every eye in the room was on her. The Mediterranean blue sheath dress she wore was admired by every woman and every man couldn’t take his eyes off of her as he waited his turn to take her hand and dance with her. The smell of dinner wafted into the room and that was a festive moment too. The roast was done just right, the dinner rolls and cream butter was sweet and not a bit sour, and the dishes were spread out for everyone to take as they pleased. The treacle for desert was something nobody could miss. Every one of her parties was like this- overflowing in food, wine and laughter. Close to midnight each of her guests began to leave. She sure knew how to throw a party. Compliments came rolling as they bid her good night and the heavy oak door was shut once again.
She walked to towards the mirror. Her make-up was intact, even after the long party, the expensive dress still creaseless, and her face radiant as ever. The distant look in her eyes remained as she looked at the woman in the mirror, still beautiful.
She looked around the room and her gaze fell on the phone. She hurriedly turned away and drew the drapes for the night.
Winter was nearing and all the homes in Water Lea Lane were preparing for it. Tiny snowflakes had begun to fall on the grass. The hydrangeas, peonies, wisterias that decked the hedges of every house were starting to wilt and would soon be covered in a blanket of snow. It was the time friends and relatives would visit more and even stay. She didn’t have family visiting her, but the neighbours of course looked forward to her grand parties. They often wondered how such a mysterious woman who spoke so little about herself went out of her way to socialize. How was she such a perfectionist? All they knew about her was that she moved here a year ago. What she did for a living, nobody knew, how she had so much money, nobody knew. She did seem to have the dream life, or that’s what every onlooker was shown.
Days went by and the housekeeper at Garden View house had scrubbed and polished the floor, dusted the carpet, cleaned the window panes that would soon become misty, checked the heating system and brought out the woolens. Winter delicacies were being made, sent around to the neighbouring houses and were received well. Baskets of goodies were sent back to her, and they sat on the kitchen table untouched. The housekeeper was asked to take them away to her family and she most delightfully did so.
Yet another evening when the sun was down, she sat on the armchair with a fat envelope and a glass of Merlot, contemplating if she should open it. An hour later she stood up, dropping the sealed envelope onto the floor and walked to the mirror. The turmoil inside her didn’t show in the woman in the mirror. How she wished she could be her. The woman in the mirror was still, such a beauty.
On the 22nd of December, she was looking her best in a flowing coral empire line dress. Wearing her finest gold bracelet and gold tear drops in her ears, she was sitting by the phone. Fingers tense, she hesitantly picked the receiver and dialed a familiar number, and disconnected it before it could ring. Today a bottle of Chardonnay was finished to the last drop and she sat twirling the stem of the glass, looking at it searchingly.
A year ago on Water Lea Lane, on a dark night, 22nd December to be precise, right in front of the Garden View house a tall gentleman stood with his hands on her waist and leaned in to kiss her lips. Her eyes closed and once he let go she looked up at him longingly and said ‘I hope this isn’t the last one.’
‘Of course not darling,’ he said, and his brown chiseled face made her knees give way. ‘I’ll give you a ring tomorrow.’ Saying this, the tall gentleman kissed her deep again and tucked a strand of her hair behind her ears. ‘You know those teardrop earrings are simply beautiful when you wear them.’ He drove away in his black Porche, leaving her dazed and smiling as she stared at the fading headlights.
Today, the Garden View house was unusually calm. The dying fire in the fireplace showed remnants of an envelope. Charred and ripped photographs from the envelope showed a once happy picture. An old magazine from the Canterbury lay open on the floor. It showed the picture of an award winning model with dark brown hair down to her waist and a beautiful smile that reached her eyes. The glass that once was kissed everyday lay on the floor in pieces. The Afghan carpet was stained in a deep red and nearby lay a woman in an elegant coral evening gown. A diamond encrusted Beretta lay in her outstretched hand, fingers lightly curled around the trigger. Her face was no longer flawless because a dark stream from her temple flowed to the carpet.
The mirror with the gilt frame stood as it did before with its intricate design and spotless glass. How cold the glass seemed, and how unearthly? It hadn’t a spot that one could complain of.
In the yard of the Garden View house, a wilted iris fell from its stem onto the icy ground. Within minutes it was covered in snow and the ground was white.
The smoky embers in the fireplace inside the house died and the five candlesticks on the marble mantelpiece continued to burn. The woman in the mirror continued to smile faintly, this time a lopsided smile. Her eyes were no longer distant. Her eyes spoke of love. Her eyes spoke of the insanity of love.
The woman in the mirror was still a beauty. The woman on the floor was not.