MayShortReads 09: The Beautiful Face


Selena’s best friend was her mirror. She began her day with it and it was the last thing she looked at, before she turned off her lights. Her mirror showed clear skin pulled taut over large, dark eyes, that topped a straight, defined nose, which led down to perfect Cupid’s bow-shaped lips and bordered by angled cheekbones. It filled her with joy and inspiration. Selena had an artist’s eye and she knew that the Maker had outdone himself with her face. The lessons of symmetry, balance, textures and contrast were carved out in precision across her face.

There was just one problem. Other people didn’t see her face in the same way. The mirror had surprised her, in her teens. Believing that she was dreaming, she had asked her mother to tell her what she saw. And what the mother described, was so different from what Selena saw in the mirror, that she decided she needed to have her eyes checked. But the results came back fine. The doctor had actually told her to be grateful for good eyesight and not hanker after features that could not be hers. At least, he had said, she didn’t have to look at her face.

The doctor was not a mean man, she knew, just blunt. She pondered the mystery of her two faces. Just to be sure, she took up her mirror once more. A single glance and all her cares evaporated. What a pity the world could not share in the bounty she had, where a single perfect vision could lift spirits!

She took to carrying a little hand mirror in her purse. When someone said something mean or hurtful, she’d take it out and dip into that little pool of serenity that she carried inside her mirror. Her friends noticed and the rumours began swirling around her. They would have called her vain, if they had thought her beauty merited it. So instead, they decided there was something wrong with her and attempted to bring her back to reality as they saw it. Their disapproval, their harsh criticism streaked her pretty mirror like the dark streaks that sometimes forms on old glass. So the hand mirror went back into her cupboard.

The large swing mirror in her bedroom still stood solidly by her, though and reassured her at the start of day and at its end. One day, it asked her how things were. As startled as she was to hear the mirror speak, the feeling didn’t persist. She had gotten so used to being alone in her thoughts.

“Oh, you know..”

“Yes”

the mirror agreed, swaying slightly as if nodding its head.

“The hardest part is pretending I agree with them. It’s like living a lie. But how can I, when every day you remind me that it’s not true?”

“It is not a lie. You see things one way, they see the opposite.”

“I was always told that the world sees you as you see yourself.”

“Indeed. It is a reflection, like everything else. Is your left, not my right and vice versa?”

Selena grimaced. That was true. Her reflection pouted back, in beautiful disappointment.

“Does that mean if I reverse, the reflection will reverse too?” she said, putting down her right hand and raising her left.

“Isn’t that true?”

replied the mirror, echoing her gesture in perfect opposite.

Selena’s features set in a grim line, which looked sober at worst, in reflection. Anticipating her next action, the mirror warned,

“Are you sure? You will still have to look at yourself every day.”

“No, I won’t.”

said Selena and took her mirror down.

The next morning, when she went out, seven different men stopped her on the road to talk. One of them asked her if she was a model. At work, people stared when she walked in. A week later, she moved into a new office that came with a promotion and was closer to the director’s cabin. She had to quit at the end of the month, because the building walls had mirrored surfaces and she couldn’t tolerate having to pass them every day to enter. One glance was enough to put her off her reflection.

She landed a new job in two days. Her new boss didn’t like her much but nothing she said would change her colleagues’ minds about Selena. They milled around the beautiful new girl, during lunch hour and hung around after work, trying to get her to go home with them. Selena could sense it when the stories began flying about her but none of them ever harmed her. Nobody ever got to escort her home and eventually, the admirers learnt to be content with watching her from a distance, waiting for one smile from her to get through their day. They stopped hanging around her desk too.

Selena didn’t smile as much any more. What was the point? It would only make a man fall off his bike (that happened once) or run into the printer making it fall over (this too). And by the next day, her boss and her cronies would have put out another story slicing Selena’s character with a new knife. But nobody would come over to talk to her. Her smile had become a prison and she was trapped.

Finally, when she was affluent enough, she tracked down one of her favorite artists. Once upon a time, she had hoped to work with him and he had shrugged her off, not noticing her among his admiring audience. But now, he met her with rapture. Even as she talked to him about commissioning a portrait, he held her gaze in respectful devotion and told her it would be his pleasure, his finest work ever.

The portrait was ready in six months. Selena thought it could have been done in four or even three months, just that the artist had prolonged it as long as he could to be able to gaze at her face longer. It was just as she remembered herself – the lips, the cheekbones, the eyes, the nose. But the painting did not speak to her the way her mirror had. She had it framed in expensive rose wood and took it away, telling the artist that she would hang it up in her bedroom. It went into her attic, the minute she got home. Selena never asked for a picture of herself again, not even a photograph.

When she died, everyone said she looked very well and it was true. She was the prettiest corpse that the cemetery had ever seen.

Magic Mirror (M.C. Escher)

Magic Mirror (M.C. Escher) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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7 thoughts on “MayShortReads 09: The Beautiful Face

  1. shreyaa singh May 14, 2013 at 14:40 Reply

    how beautiful this piece is written with sober wordings… definitely a tiny tale it is but has an everlasting effect.

    Like

  2. Atul Sabnis May 14, 2013 at 15:01 Reply

    The mirror is the real “hero” here, I like how it scales up. 🙂

    Like

    • IdeaSmith May 14, 2013 at 15:03 Reply

      @Atul Sabnis: Yes to the first thought about the mirror being hero. The scaling up was a happy accident; I didn’t even notice it till you pointed it out. 🙂

      Like

      • Atul Sabnis May 14, 2013 at 15:06

        That just tells you how much you were “in” the story. Always good! 🙂

        Like

  3. Anand Vaidya May 16, 2013 at 10:07 Reply

    The language is awe-inspiring. However, I believe there could have been a deeper connect of her with herself and probably higher things than just her obsession of self. The object of the story, from what I understand is more like of ‘giving up on material possessions (if I may call it)’. But I am not sure if it is realistic enough. Loved the way you write. The choice of words, made me feel I am reading a mix of Ken Follet and Chuck Palahniuk. The story could have been to a deeper effect. Engaged me throughout, I wish I would write too. But waited long time to see there was little meaning to it.

    Like

    • IdeaSmith May 16, 2013 at 13:00 Reply

      @Anand Vaidya: Thanks for that. Yes, there is much more that could have been done with this story. It’s difficult trying to get across an idea that’s punchy enough but also has e nough depth, in a short story. Still, that’s the writer’s challenge and I’m working on it. 🙂 Would love to hear your thoughts on the others too!

      Like

  4. Ronaan Roy (@RonaanRoy) May 31, 2013 at 22:01 Reply

    Well this is Dorian Gray isn’t it? It changes because it gives a perspective of what a beautiful woman has to deal with. But come on Ramya, isn’t this the expected perspective? You could have surprised us at least once with something like “As she became older, she found herself acutely aware that she was biased against the job candidates that were handsome, because she didn’t know how ugly they really were. In order to be fair, she found herself interviewing the handsome one for longer, just to be sure of their skill, and then realised the irony of exactly what she was doing.” And carry on with the story. Some such thing. You know what I mean.

    Like

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