One of my friends told me about a conversation he had recently had with a woman about beauty.
She said men age with grace and that women turn into hags.
Hag is such a bitter angry little word.
When I was young I was told I didn’t have much going for me in the face department so I should probably think about developing a talent.
I chose writing. And resigned myself to wearing a bag over my head- actually I spent a lot of time looking down. Same thing.
But on my worst day I don’t think I’d compare myself to a Hag.
Besides, I did spent a lot of time doing things where I didn’t have to worry about my lack of good looks.
I write, which is something that I do love to do. I rode motorcycles, I worked in a funeral home, I traveled. So I guess that was good. But I did most of those things alone.
But there has been a down side to my way of thinking and it’s a strange one.
I hate mirrors. I loath them. It doesn’t suprise me that there are so many superstitions about them:
- To see your reflection in a mirror is to see your own soul, which is why a vampire, who are without a soul, have no reflection.
- If a couple first catch sight of each other in a mirror, they will have a happy marriage.
- If a mirror falls and breaks by itself, someone in the house will soon die.
- Any mirrors in a room where someone has recently died, must be covered so that the dead person’s soul does not get trapped behind the glass. Superstition has it that the Devil invented mirrors for this very purpose.
- It is bad luck to see your face in a mirror when sitting by candlelight.
- Before mirrors, in ancient societies, if you caught sight of your reflection or dreamt of it, you would soon die.
- Someone seeing their reflection in a room where someone has recently died, will soon die themselves.
- Babies should not look into a mirror for the first year of their lives.
- Actors believe that it is bad luck to see their reflection while looking over the shoulder of another person.
- To see an image of her future husband, a woman is told to eat an apple while sitting in front of a mirror and then brush her hair. An image of the man will appear behind her shoulder
I bought my first full length mirror a month ago- and I’m almost 50 years old.
Mirrors creep me out. I hate them. I hate that I get judged by a reflection they capture – be it the one I see myself or the one other people see.
What angers me is that the image I cast determines who will love me, if they’ll be kind to me or not, if I’ll be treated with courtesy or disdain.
Because of a reflection.
Years ago I had one of those scream myself awake nightmares.
I was walking through my house and it was full of mirrors. There were heavy ornate mirrors, cheap ones, mirrors with no frames broken dusty mirrors and hand mirrors.
I went from mirror to mirror and I saw…nothing…I didn’t cast a reflection. I couldn’t see myself in any of those thousand of mirrors.
I started ran from mirror to mirror in a panic and I was shouting, ” I’m here. Why can’t any of you see me…I’m here!”
I was trapped in this house with mirrors and because I didn’t have a reflection I felt like I wasn’t real.
Like I didn’t exist.
Is it possible to be less of a person when nobody ‘beholds’ your beauty? Do you get to be real?
More real then a reflection?
A few years ago my husband sent me a series of pictures he took around New Orleans.
Most of them were tourist shots- the St. Louis cathedral, his lunch, a Voodoo shop where you’re not supposed to take pictures ( he sent me a picture of the sign ).
And one was a picture of a bottle.
And the bottle was full of something called a Toxic Baby.
I was fascinated with that picture. I kept looking at it. Wondering about it.
I had no interest in what was inside of the bottle- I just liked the name
So a few months later I booked a flight to New Orleans ( just in time For Halloween ) and went in search of the Toxic Baby.
When I got to New Orleans I didn’t google Toxic Baby. I didn’t ask my husband where I could find it. I just spent the week haunting the French Quarter.
I hung out at the Saint Louis Cemetery on Basin Street, where among a lot of other history I learned you might not want to wear flip flops because what was once inside of those crypts in some cases ended up outside of the crypts and bone looks like sand when it gets smooshed and you might not want that stuff stuck between your toes.
And I also learned that when a cab, a horse-drawn cab and bicycle cab meet in an intersection and none of them can decide who has the right of way you can learn about a hundred new ways to use over used swear words.
Just in case you’re curious- the end the horse-drawn cab will win because they have whips.
If you want your Tarot cards read you can get it done right to the left or right of the cathedral doors almost on the steps themselves.
But not in front of the Cathedral itself.
You can also go to confession and end up in a bar in less then twenty steps.
I thought that was hilarious.
So I got distracted. I was there to look for the Toxic Baby and I had made no effort to even ask about it.
On my last day in New Orleans I decided to visit the Cathedral one more time ( it seemed like the right thing to do after all the time I spent in the cemetery) and as I walked out I turned the corner of St Louis Cathedral and I found myself a few doors down from the Pirates Alley Cafe.
Really? Pirates went to Cafe’s? Oh why not. I thought. Pirates have to eat to right?
I decided to go on in.
None of the customers were dressed up like Pirates that day but something about those dark walls, that long worn wooden bar and brick walls made you feel like you were a pirate.
So I head up to the bar-and there it was.
Waiting for me.
The Toxic Baby.
I took a picture of the bottle. I walked from side to side and took it in- the simple label and the promise that the drink tasted worse than it looked.
I found it, I thought.
I found the thing that brought me from Washington state all alone during Halloween.
It called to me and I went. Just because I like the way something sounded.
I remember standing there looking up at the ceiling and wondering how many other people ended up so far away from home because they liked the way something sounded.
It’s a wicked tasting drink I’ve been told. I wouldn’t know. I don’t drink.
It was two years ago that I ended up in search of and finding The Toxic Baby.
I hung out in a graveyard. I explored VooDoo shops and toured a VooDoo museum that was housed in an actual house. I wandered around the French Quarter and ate pizza by the slice and wrote stories and took pictures and did I mention I hung out in the cemetery a lot?
I’m a suburban housewife from a small suburban town and that year some of my friends to Disney World, some went on cruises others ended up in Hawaii.
I ended up in New Orleans staring at a bottle of The Toxic Baby.
And if I could get on a plane now and go back tonight-
Halloween is my favorite time of the year.
Not the holiday itself exactly.
I love Autumn, I love the Winter. I love the crunchy leaves. The cold dark mornings and the biting cold evenings.
I love considering the possiblity of those things that can happen when Spring comes.
But in the mean time.
I read the classics during the winter. Dickens mostly. This year I’m going to read start off with David Copperfield. Last year it was Great Expectations, but then I moved on to Through The Looking Glass, A Journal of The Plague Year and Turn Of The Screw.
On Monday I’m going to my favorite bookstore in Pioneer Square ( it’s a small independant store and the owner actually talks about books and writers with you) and pick up my Winter reading.
And then later this week I’m going Halloween Shopping.
I like to get that done before October.
Because once October hits, I want to celebrate and enjoy each and everday leading up to the night itself.
I want to enjoy scary movies and take in some not so scary ones.
That’s the thing about the holidays and life in general. It will sneak up on you and be down the road before you know it.
So make it count. Every moment.
Down the street from where I work is the waterfront.
It’s interesting for a variety of reasons.
Like there’s a couple of mummies in one place, a great fish and chips place in another and did I mention the mummies already?
Hands down one of my favorite things to do is to stand there, looking out at the water and when there’s a small group of people eating snacks and taking selfies I’ll turn to a friend ( this only works if someone I know is there ) and say
” So you know what they have to do here every morning?”
No my friend will say on cue.
” The City has to get out here early and look for floaters.”
” What’s that?”
” You mean who. They’re dead bodies. See the tide comes in and they get pushed up here and wouldn’t you know it?” There’s always a tourist looking down and there’ll it will be. A big juicy floater. Hitting the dock. I heard when they hit the piling it makes a weird knocking sound. Anyway. It’s bad for business. So the City gets out here early and fishes then out with a big giant hook
” Oh my God. That cannot be true. ” my friend will say.
I take a quick look around and at this point my little audience-and there always is one because people are nosey and eavesdroppers by nature. Anyway the little crowd is clearly on my friend’s side and I can tell the image of a bloated water-logged corpse being fished out of the water is something they can’t unsee- unless of course they can convince themselves that this is absolutely not true.
” Well they can’t walk out. They’re dead you know.”
” You made that up. It’s not true.” My friend will say for the little group.
” Fine it’s not true.”
” Really? It’s not true. You were just kidding. Admit it.”
” Sure. ” I’ll say clearly not meaning it. ” I’m just kidding. Really.” I’ll say as unconvincingly as possible. ” Just kidding.”
A week after his wife, Leah Frost ran over a dog- wich was actually a euphemism between husband and wife for ‘the woman you hit with your car and dragged for almost a mile down a gravel road’ Sal Frost was nearly driven to running over and dragging his wife down a gravel road when Leah started to hear the ringing phone.
Sometimes the phone- which she said had one of those oldfashioned ringtones- and not one of the new ones that you could download on your cellphone that sounded like chickens or maniacal clown laughter or something by Mozart- rang while she was in the bathroom washing her hair, or when she was reaching for a carton of cranberry juice out of the cooler at the grocery store and sometimes it seemed to come from right beneath her feet when she was in the kitchen pouring herself another glass of wine ( which she did a lot of since she ran over ‘the dog’)
On these occasions, if he was around she would grab his arm and whisper frantically ” can you hear it Sal? Can you hear that phone ringing?
After the millionth, it could have been the billionth time for all he knew at this point, Sal looked at her with a look that shouted, “if I hear about that phone one more time…just one more time Leah I’m going to put you in the same ditch with that “dog”…do we understand each other? Are we clear on that?
They did understand each other. Perfectly. So instead of saying anything about a ringing phone Leah’s eye would twitch like crazy and on some occasions the entire left side of her face would twitch and Sal would glare at her and she would not say a word.
He didn’t care if that drugged out dingbat he was married to went into a grand mal seizure as long as she shut the hell up about that ringing phone.
“Really Sal? “He would ask himself as he would watch his wife standing by the mail box or smoking one of her several packs of cigarettes a day.
Did you really sign up for this?
And when he considered his wife’s talent for scoring a smosgasbord of pharmaceuticals on a monthly basis from one of her several Doctors that had in all probability led her to running over ‘the dog’ and he wondered…
What the hell was life going to be like when she hit 70 in a few years? Would hitting the big seven-oh slow her down? He thought not. In Leah’s universe there was still plenty of time left to run over ‘dogs’ or overdose on whatever the hell she was taking that week and would she do it in the privacy of their home?
She’d probably do it at the Opera like last time, or at the art museum like the time before or the three or four times it happened at poetry readings. For God Sakes. Who the Hell OD’s at poetry readings?
His wife. That’s who.
Sal looked up and wished he had the nerve to walk into her bathroom and start opening bottles in her medicine cabinet and start throwing the contents back into his throat until what was left of his life was burned out of his bones once and for all.
After one such thought- and there were several like that around the Frost household now days Sal was outside when he heard…faintly from the back yard a phone ringing.
Not one of those new ringtone that sounded like robots or singing birds or cats meowing.
It was an old-fashioned ringtone it was deep and rich and trilled as it ended, briefly before starting back up again.
He walked slowly to the back of his house and he could hear it- it was louder but not by much. He walked all the way to the fence line and there…it was louder here.
It was coming from the house next door.
The old abandoned house next door with among the other messages and spray can artwork on the walls was something written on the ceiling. It said,
” We’re so cold here.”
But he could hear it ringing now, it was non-stop and it was so loud.
So he walked into the house through a side door that led into a kitchen with a sink and a wooden chair in the center of the room and one the window ledge there was of course…
And it was ringing.
The wires were neatly coiled next tot the phone and the receiver was off the cradle and yet…it was ringing Sal noted with wonder.
Sal walked over to the phone lifted the receiver to his ear and a calm, cool women’s voice asked hin if he would accept the charges.
” Person to person call from Riversleigh Manor to Mrs Leah Frost, will you accept the charges?”
” Who is this? “
” Sir. I have a person to person call from Riversleigh Manor to Leah Frost. Will you accept the charges?”
Sal looked around the kitchen, could see the writing on the ceiling in the next room and the phone, the dead phone sitting on the window ledge in front of him. ” My, my wife isn’t here. This isn’t our house. I…I…”
” Sir. I have…”
” Fine I heard you. But how can a house be calling my wife person to person?” It occurred to Sal nobody should be able to call into a dead line and nobody should be able to answer it. But at this point Sal wasn’t tracking those little details.
” Sir I have a person to person call from Riversleigh Manor to Leah Frost. Will you accept the charges.”
Sal nodded. ” I mean yes sure. I’ll accept the charges.”
” Thank you sir. Riversleigh you may proceed with you call.”
Sal never saw the face of the person who rammed their fist through his back and into his ribcage. Never felt the hand yank his heart out and let it fall to the dusty floor.
And Sal was way beyond seeing anything anymore when a small foot, a woman’s booted foot stepped on it.
” I’m sorry Riversleigh.” The Operator said over the dead receiver. The party you are trying to reach is no longer on the line. Shall I try again?”
And then a voice, neither male or female, cool and dry whispered over the line.” No. No that’s fine. I’ll try again later. Only next time I do believe I’ll call direct. “
ONCE upon a time
a little old lady who smoked too much and drank too much and swore too much met the Devil on the path that led into the deep dark woods behind her house.
It was just before sunset when she saw the Devil, who did indeed have horns and eyes like a wolf’s and a head of long black hair that smelled faintly of tomatoes leaning against a Maple tree covered with flaming red and orange fall leaves.
Her name was Enid Oddworte and the Devil didn’t tell her its name but the Devil fancied Enid. She felt it in her dry aged bones. So it didn’t matter to Enid what its name was.
All she cared about was that in all of the world the Devil wanted her kiss.
But everyday the Little Old Lady said no.
“Why would you want a kiss from me?” she asked in her wine soaked voice as she took a long hard drag off of her cigarette. Then she blew a thin line of smoke over her shoulder and tossed her thin dark hair out of her watery dark eyes and smiled.
It was not an honest smile.
The Devil shrugged and it’s tail twitched from side to side, just like a cat’s. ” I don’t know Enid. I just know what I want. And what I want is a kiss from you. I would give up Hell, I would give up trying to get back into Heaven I’d do anything for a kiss from you.
Enid, who was usually a little drunk on her nightly strolls would walk away leaving the Devil with nothing more the the scent of unfiltered cigarette smoke and expensive perfume.
And it’s heart-because the Devil did have one. Sort of. Would ache just a little at the sight of her carefully picking her way back to her house in her platform shoes.
Then one day Enid said yes.
Yes she wanted a kiss from the Devil.
So she kissed the Devil’s slightly warm lips and the heavy scent of her cigarette smoke filled the woods behind her house and the smell of tomatoes and dark wet earth chased it.
For a little while.
Then the Devil put it’s hands on Enid’s shoulders and it pushed her back.
It’s Wolfish orange eyes blazed and she could see herself in them, burning.
Enid looked up at the Devil and whispered, ” I’d give it all up for you, if you asked.”
The Devil asked. ” What would you give up for me Enid?”
” My soul, my heart my life. I want this moment with you to last forever…”
” Mio ” the Devil said. ” My name is Mio Andira. And you Enid are my true love. I can deny you nothing. Nothing. If you want this moment to last forever. It shall. For you my love.”
And because The Devil- whose name id Mio Andira, was good to its word -Enid’s moment with her one true love on the trail that led into the deep dark wood has lasted forever.
You can see it for yourself- every day just after sunset- you can see Enid unable to leave the trail- unable to go back to her house or forward into the deep dark woods.
She is rooted to that spot, the very same spot where Mio Andira declared its love to Enid.
But she is not alone.
She has two things with her…because indeed Mio loved her- she has is that kiss that still burns just a little on lips and the endless scream- the one that started when her true love promised her forever
and gave it to her.