Without a Mirror

The backs of her pale stockings were splashed with mud, and the toes, peeking out from white sandals, were torn and laddered, exposing shell pink nail varnish. She began to climb the side of the canyon, pushing the sagebrush to one side, ducking beneath willows. Her high heels pierced the mud, slowing her down. She considered taking off the shoes and stockings, she could walk much more quickly without them. Her mother's words echoed between the clack of crickets. "A woman cannot be considered well-groomed without hosiery."

At the top of the canyon she wiped her face with the back of her hand, and saw it smeared black with mascara. She sat down beneath a huge cottonwood, and opened her white satin handbag. A lipstick, hotel keys, a hair comb, and a dried sprig of lavender that had been in the bag when her sister gave it to her. A few coins jingling loose in the bottom. No mirror to check her face. No water. No phone. No sense. She sat for hours by a small pond, more of a puddle, hoping to see animals drink there, guaranteeing the safety of the water. She sat very still, but not a single creature appeared. She wondered if she should sit somewhere else, maybe her perfume was keeping the animals away. Were you supposed to sit down-wind or up-wind and how did you find out which wind was which anyway? Was it to do with the way the moss grew on the trees or was that something to do with the sun? There was no moss on the trees that she could see. But she did note the sun setting behind a distant mountain, clearly indicating west, although she didn't know if she should be heading north or south, to heaven or hell. She heaved herself back to her tiptoed feet and set off, in a direction that she followed by intuition, but didn't trust. She hadn't spoken to anyone for 18 hours, which was probably the longest period in her life without talking. She considered trying out her voice, but she didn't want to hear what she might say.

As she moved across dry yellow grasses towards the blue mountains that broke the horizon, a flap of wings and a rising of dust made her turn her head. A small flock of birds landed, pecking the dry earth. They almost formed a line, their beaks darting rhythmically, like a panel of judges deliberating her survival. She will. She won't. She will. She won't. She clutched her handbag and broke into a run before the verdict was in. She had waited for life all day and now it arrived she escaped it, past rocks and twisting trees, then remembered that snakes came out at dusk. She stopped. Why didn't she have a mirror? Why couldn't she check her face just once? She chilled as night moved across the land, scraping away the heat. She wrapped her bare arms across her body. Her dress had cost $300 and the colour was perfect with her hair. A deep red, more than crimson, less than plum. She felt too visible, like a ladybird lost in the house.

She began to tell herself a story, one with a happy ending where the prince would find his bride. Goosebumps brailled her arms. She would love a glass of champagne. There had to be some somewhere. A small copse ahead, the shadows deep and the trees singing through their leaves. She skirted round it, she'd seen too many films. So she missed the pool of water that lay in the centre, speckled with leaves and twigs, but otherwise pure. She dusted down the skirt of her dress as she walked. It would be a shame to dirty it. She had lost an earring, gold dropped behind her, but didn't know it. Without a mirror she didn't know much at all.

About the author:

Tania Casselle is a freelance features writer. Her fiction has appeared in the book anthologies Harlot Red (Serpent's Tail, 2002) and The Sensitively Thin Bill of the Shag (Biscuit Publishing, 2003).