Friday, June 20, 2008

Still Life with Self-Portrait - Part 3

Please read Part 1 and Part 2 first, if you haven't done that yet.

Brown Lady of Raynham by Dorothy, Viscountess Townshend (née Walpole)

That late afternoon, soon after my grandmother’s guests left, I climbed to the attic with a mirror.

The shadows were getting long. I realised that, in my hurry, I had not thought of bringing a lamp with me. Disappointed, I decided to return another time, when I noticed the tinderbox on the dressing table. It must’ve been in a drawer and I had left it outside, although I didn’t remember doing this.

The wicks still had a good length and, after a few attempts, I succeeded in lighting the candle ends. Their flames flickered, then settled into a slow dance of shadows on the rotten bed sheets.

I sat down in front of great-great-aunt Antoinette’s portrait and, holding the mirror at arm’s length, I juxtaposed my image to hers. She seemed to be smiling that evening, in the candle light, so I curled my lips upwards a little to mimic her smile.

Lady Wetherill had been right. I was surprised I hadn’t noticed the resemblance before. The perfect oval of the cheek, the cascading black hair, the proud arch of the eyebrows, the full and… cruel mouth. It was almost as if I had served as a model to the anonymous painter.

I didn’t think I was like that, but I had never truly contemplated myself in a mirror before. In fact, I had always thought of myself as a tomboy and not as the young woman I was seeing now. How much more did we share beside the physical appearance?

The hairbrush was on the dressing table. On a whim, I took it and started brushing my hair with it. How good it felt, soothing, almost as if a light hand were stroking my hair.

I smiled. I had everything I needed. Even a better mirror than the one I’d brought - the portrait itself.

I gathered my hair to the left and used the gold hairpin to keep it in place. I dropped the shawl and pulled my dress down a bit, to reveal just the upper roundness of my shoulders. That was better.

A breeze tickled my exposed skin, made the candles’ flames flicker.

I tied the green scarf around my neck.

On the table, I noticed a silver timepiece, a small watch that could be worn as a medallion. The watch had a cracked glass, but the tiny needle marking the seconds continued its fine movement on the dial. I was amazed it still showed the right time. Or was it?

An urgency knotted my stomach. It was almost eight o’clock. In the sumptuous dining room, they would have supper soon. They would wait for me but not for long – they were used by now with my childish indiscipline and Mrs. Adair would give me some bread and milk later in the kitchen.

But I would have to return soon, while I could still take one of the candles with me. It was dangerous to find my way in complete darkness; many steps were rotten and one could easily fall through them.

An owl sent a plaintive hoot into the settling night. A flame died. The attic had become just blackness beyond the wavering glow of the candles.

In the third drawer, I found the antelope gloves. They were small and only slightly worn. Did they still carry the marks of her admirer’s hopeless kisses?

Carefully, I pulled them on my hands, wondering if they still held inside the disease that had killed her. If I could somehow catch it over the gap of years. They fitted me perfectly. They felt warm, as if their owner had just dropped them on the dressing table. I suddenly imagined a whip in them, cracking on a man’s bare shoulders. I imagined his blood spraying from the cut on the fine leather.

But there were no stains on the gloves. Just the patina of age that has somehow quieted the lustre of the pearls.

I took one gloved hand to my nose. There was a faint scent of lilac and lilies of the valley. I closed my eyes.

To be continued...


Sarah Hina said...

I love how the years collapse, and the characters' identities merge, under the glow of candlelight.

The gloves are my favorite touch. Like slipping on her skin...

Jon M said...

A sensory, sensual experience. very visual stuff too! I've done my meme, miss!

Akasha Savage said...

vesper - just to let you know I've tagged my tag!! :D

Lisa said...

I'm feeling a lot of tension now that it's dark and dangerous. I'm looking forward to the next installment. Great sensory details Vesper.

Mediterranean Views said...

Where will that scent of lilac and lillies of the valley (those of my grandmother's garden) take you? Can't wait to find out....

Vesper said...

Sarah, you read deep... Thank you! :-)

Thanks, Jon! :-) I'm off to read your answers...

Great, Akasha! :-)

Lisa, I'm very pleased I could make you feel that... Thank you for reading and for your kind words. :-)

Amy, not always to a nice place... Thank you for reading! :-)