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Triona Buckley

The mirror had been a gift from her Aunt Joan on her twenty first birthday and, like her Aunt, was rather aged and decrepit. “It’s French, you see - very old!” exclaimed Joan as the gilded mirror revealed itself beneath mountains of tissue paper. “And very expensive” mouthed her mother, glancing suspiciously over her shoulder, “so be careful”, but from the first moment Nicole had laid eyes on it’s three faces, she had hated it - it was ugly, almost vulgar in its ornate and blatant call for vanity. Why would anyone need to see themselves from three different angles, all at once ?, she thought, whilst thanking her Aunt profusely for the honour of receiving such an heirloom. However, as much as she disliked it, today she was finding it decidedly hard to keep from gazing at herself in it - from every angle. She didn’t scrutinise any particular feature - she just gazed into the glass, letting her image flow over her, wondering how it was that all the different bits made her look the way she did.
And what way was that exactly? “Who knows” she cried, throwing her arms out in an attempt to dismiss her new-found personal awe but clearing her dresser top clumsily instead. The sensation of Deja vu struck her as she bent resignedly to pick every thing up. “How do you expect to control your life if you can’t even control your own limbs?” her mother’s voice echoed from countless other occasions Maybe I should blue tack everything down .

She made her way to the kitchen she, still suffering with self-fascination. Indeed the glass panel of the kitchen door held her up a good five minutes as she repeatedly cat-walked towards it, trying to pass judgement on the images presented to her. Bloody Adolescent . She decided to make breakfast;a pursuit more worthy than idle adoration. Luckily the pan she used to heat the milk had long since lost its reflective silver sheen. She began to set a place for herself at the table but instead became entirely adsorbed in the distortions which her spoon provided. Big Nose, Little Nose, Fat lips, Skinny lips, No chin, Witch-chin, Egg-head, No head, Sour smell, Sizzling sound, Huh?
Realising what she’d done, she ran to the cooker, whimpering with frustration. IDIOT !!. She removed the eruptive milk pan from the hob and surveyed the extent of damage. There were still streams of curdled milk escaping through cracks between the gas rings and hob-top and the cooker was covered in a sticky film of separated milk, her pan was burnt and smelly - completely ruined.

“Bloody Hell, Nicole”, she scolded herself aloud as she tried to scour the pan out, soon giving up the effort. Fuck it . She dumped it in the bin.
She’d tend to the cooker later. Yeah, sure.
She decided that she’d treat herself to something special for breakfast, she was sick of muesli and hot milk, toast and marmalade, maybe she’d try that cafe, on the edge of Dillworth St. - what was it called ? -. she passed by it every morning on her way to ‘Costume Continent’, where she worked. She’d always thought of people who went to that cafe as terribly......well, leisured, but also very organised, in a strange way, - that they managed to slot caffeine sipping and croissant munching into their obviously busy and hugely successful lives...... Well, the “clientele”, as they were known in those chic chrome and maplewood surroundings, certainly gave off that impression - the rest of the working world had to make do with take-away coffee and flashed past the window enviously. I’ve never looked organised or busy in my life - chaotic and flustered were more her style, she’d never look like she belonged to a place like that, but then again maybe it was only the calming effects of the serene cafe that gave the “clientele” the illusion of perfection.....I’d love to find out . Well, she hadn’t anything pressing to do that morning - it was her day off, which perhaps explained her absent-mindedness . She hadn’t had a day off in months. She didn’t quite know why they had been denied her . Mr. Leahy -“Please, do call me James, Daaahling”- seemed never to have heard of the concept bloody swindler and seemed to assume an air of completely exclusive concentration funnily enough whenever she attempted to approach him about it.

Yes, this bit of time off was long overdue. She had intended to go shopping in a garden centre to replace the terracotta pot she’d broken in her mother’s the other day. “Honestly Nicole, you haven’t an ounce of grace in your body....why don’t you look where you’re going, dear” Gee, that’s a useful hint, Mum.....Ah feck it- less of the martyr act - she knew that if she didn’t go to the cafe today, she never would.
“Today is the day I become Clientele”. she told herself (using what she imagined to be her most convincing ‘Go-get-’em’ accent). She was trying to emulate the advice of the “Simple Guide to self-assertion” manual which had absorbed her for three wasteful hours lthe previous week. In trying to pluck up the courage to buy it she had sensed the suspicion of an over efficient rude, more like shop tidier being directed towards her, He seemed to follow her all over the shop and so eventually she had left it behind her. Pa-the-tic She snatched her bag from the kitchen counter and ignoring the fact that she had just knocked the phone over in the process, waltzed determinedly out the door.

However, as she approached the turn-off for Dillworth St. she began to feel uneasy. Having examined her appearance in the reflections of every shop window on the way, she had come to the conclusion (about five shopfronts back ), that she was somehow now different to how she had ever looked before. She had then managed to convince herself that her body and poise were flawed in every way humanly possible. But surely if I am that ugly someone would have let me know before now ...lessened the blow . She fled to the next window (her breath-fog had obscured her view at the last one) and here her paranoia was quelled. Maybe it was the way the male window dresser winked at her as she gazed at the window in bewilderment who knows? but she knew it wasn’t purely a physical thing that made her look different, something wasn’t quite right....... she couldn’t pinpoint what it might be, nor narrow it down to any one physical feature. It seemed each reflection provided her with an image that didn’t seem to fit in with how she had ever previously perceived herself to be. Overwhelmed by a sudden sense of expectancy she turned away from the window. A similarly overwhelming sense of hunger also took hold, urging her to restart her journey. Yet Again. “Cafe_....Cafe_......” What was its name?. As she racked her brains.

She found the walk somewhat more trying than usual. Every step was an effort. It was as though everyone else knew where she was going and were occupied solely wioth preventing her from getting there. Was it her imagination or was she the only one headed in that particular direction? Her anxiety grew with the effort of forward motion. She bumped and stumbled against people with every step she took, and with each collision she felt her energy being sapped. People looked at her sharply each time as she excused herself, why were they glaring? She cowered beneath their gaze. It was as if they were using these brief and abrupt forms of physical contact to drain her will and prevent her from reaching her destination. Images of a universal conspiracy against her flashed across her mind, before reason managed to re-assert itself within her thoughts.

It’s eight-fifty in the morning, Nicole . She laughed at herself as she recognised the tall buildings all around her ; the same ones she walked past every morning but she was not used to walking with such a rushed and fierce looking crowd around her - seemingly the area employed more people than she had ever accredited. It occurred to her that she had her bosses’ early-opening regime to thank for the less strenuous exertions she made every other morning in her efforts to get to work. Grateful ? To him?. Imagine, bearing gratitude for someone who has been the bain of my life, one of the main reasons for hating the job so much. She tried not to smile as she compared the expressions of those around her with what her own would be like on any other morning.

She was so absorbed in trying to convey her sympathy to those swarming around her, without appearing condescending oh of course that, before she noticed it, she was upon the threshold of the cafe. Panic struck - she couldn’t do a volte-face now. That would simply serve only to make her look foolish to the “clientele” already inside, who seemed to her to be mocking her indecision. She kept on walking. An overwhelming sense of disappointment enveloped her. Little coward . I’ll never be “clientele”. She was just wondering how she could go back without any additional loss of face, when the valiant efforts of a weary looking, yet cheerful man at a news-stand grabbed her attention. She realised he would provide her with a viable means of returning to the cafe, image unscathed. Well Done . Thinking of all the other people she had seen in the cafe with newspapers she joined the queue. This way I won’t be wasting time, probably how everyone else in the cafe justifies their morning treat!. The image of herself walking purposefully into that cafe, ‘The Times’ tucked comfortably under her arm, came to her as a form of mental congratulations, causing her to smirk indulgently. “Mornin’ Luv, what’ll it be”? The words seemed to echo in her head, as if they had not been said to her for the first time. Looking up she recognised the suspicion with which the newsman ( having observed Nicole and her inane grin for a few seconds now) regarded her. “Aahm” she muttered, her eyes darting from bundle to bundle of stacked newsprint. Concentrate. Her mind had turned blank with the unexpected call for decision. None of the newspaper titles seemed familiar to her, the letters were blurred and any attempt to focus in on them made her feel dizzy. She blinked purposefully and shook her head as if to rid her mind of the demons of confusion. The Times, Nicole, say it. Trying to refrain from embarrassing her the man gently offered her some assistance, eager to serve the other punters. “The News-ah-the-World, is it luv”? “Yes Yes” she replied, rather urgently, in the hope of conveying some form of sanity. “That’s the one” she added cheerfully. Good God! “That’s Forty-five pence to you luv....take care now”, he added meaningfully, as she placed the money firmly in his hand and turned unabashed to face the inquiring faces of those behind her. Lost, once again, in her own thoughts, she moved with light steps towards the cafe and was already too far away to hear the newsman’s declaration of “Not quite the full shilling” as he served the next punter.

Tucking the Paper under her arm, she grasped the metal bar of the heavy cafe door and found herself pleasantly bathed in sound. Clinking coffee cups, sizzling sausages and the low hum from bread ovens. Matching these were the rich aromas floating from the kitchens, they aroused her hunger pangs even further, filling her nostrils and making her taste buds tingle. But before she had even begun to take in her physical surroundings, an eager waiter made a hasty beeline towards her. “Good morning, would you like to eat here or take away?”, he was immaculate, reminding her of a doll she had had as a child. The perfectly formed china face, with long lashes painted onto its eggshell coloured cheeks, and a beautifully fashioned velvet suit which comprised of not only a trousers and jacket but also a tiny pair of miniature shoes with real leather laces and embroidered tips. However, it was not only what the doll had looked like that reminded her of the waiter, but also the mechanism of speech it had beneath its exquisite clothing, activated by a touch of it’s belly button. “Eating alone or waiting for a friend?”...... “Smoking or non-smoking”....... “Window seat or booth” he rattled out impersonally, much as the doll would ask “How do you do?” or “Would you like to play” Such charisma they share!. “Alone, non-smoking and booth” she replied with a strength and decisiveness of voice hardly recognisable as her own. The Doll, shoes squeaking and bum wiggling, led her to her seat and before she had even managed to glance at the menu he held out to her, he seemed to de-materialise.

She didn’t care, she wanted time to adjust herself - the plush seat cushioning her back, the immaculate table and various gleaming sauce and seasoning dispensers seemed to cry out for a DO NOT TOUCH sign. I could get used to this. The Doll ushered a cutesie young couple to a nearby centre table, reminding her of the purpose of her visit: breakfast.

The couple held hands under the table, occasionally touching each other’s glowing facial features lovingly. Public place - give it a rest . She imagined the words they gently passed from lip to ear and felt incomplete and empty. Hunger. Feeling intrusive she sought solace in the sumptuous descriptions of Breakfast Dishes. ‘Chocolate Crepe with maple syrup and strawberries’ Mmmmm............. ‘Exotic Fruit-basket with natural bio-lowfat yoghurt (optional)’ Feeling full already?............... ‘Lightly crisped bacon, turnover eggs and a selection of Herb sausages, served with sauté potatoes’ Stodge. The selection was certainly varied but the decision did not lead to her usual sense of rising panic.
“Would Madam like to order?” the Doll appeared from behind her, placing her complementary mineral water on the table with a flourish of napkin, he smiled his cracked little smile at her encouragingly. “I’d like a few more moments to decide, if I could, thank you” she returned to her menu, as he forced a “certainly madam” through his clenched teeth. I’m impressed - No clammy palms, No Ums or Aahs, No...... Why was that man pointing at her? A boyish looking blonde guy seemed to be in mid-explanation with the Doll who was looking perturbed and uneasy. Eventually he handed over a menu before speeding off towards the swinging kitchen doors. Who was that man ? Did she know him? She did vaguely recognise that sideways smirk. Stay Away, Blondie Boy.. He was headed straight for her, wearing an ominous look of recognition. Ah, Shit anyway. She tried to convey her yearning for solitude and remembering her paper, quickly opened it out, exposing the bright ‘News of the World’ title for all to see. Oh! Great impression, very classy. Desperately she mashed the front and back pages together and threw the paper on the seat beside her. “Nicole, How’re things?.............mind if I join you?” Great, he knows me and .......who is he? He had well established himself in the seat opposite before she told him to go ahead and take a seat. Eh, Why?
“How’s business these days, huh?
“Er, Fine, fine..you know....” He must be one of Leahy’s cronies. Great! Shop talk, just what I’m looking for!
“Skiving off is it? Or do you always get to have such a leisurely breakfast?
“ No, I.....was.....just.......” Anger rising
“ Planning this evening’s viewing!” he nodded at the paper beside her, opened at the TV page.
“Actually it‘s my day off thanks and I’ve been due it for like six weeks, so It’s not as if I’m.........”
“Whoa...Okay, Okay, no offence, I didn’t mean anything” Not half, Smart arsed little Twit “Easily flustered aren’t we? I’m quite sure ‘Costumes R us’ or what ever will do just fine without you for one day....although they might miss their mannequin!” the side-ways smirk reappeared as he sniggered silently.

That’s who he is, that smug little smirky guy standing at the shop window last night!
Memories of that horrible occasion leaped up from deep within her psyche where she’d struggled to bury them. Just as she had been cashing up at six o’clock, preparing for late night opening, Mr. Leahy had walked in, to collect the cash, or so she had presumed. Wrong.

With him came the most nightmarish of customers, a Play Director called Lorenzo who, having misplaced his leading lady insisted that Nicole try on every outfit he thought might be remotely suitable.
“ You’re just exactly the right proportions, Daaahling, just right for the role of ‘Clarrissa’ ” - a name he rolled off his tongue with such Lusty Leer that Nicole began to feel decidedly vulnerable. Standing in her various 18th Century Bustiere gowns, which exposed rather alot of her suddenly voluptuous cleavage, Lorenzo declared her “Magnificente” or “Exquisite” but always “ A little too staid, perhaps?” or “a little too conservative?”. Embarrassed and exasperated, Nicole hadn’t quite known what to do, especially with “James, Daaahling” following her every move.
“What exactly is it that you are looking for Mr....eh ....Lorenzo” she had asked hopefully. “Let-ah me see” he replied, continuing his in-depth assessment of her proportions. “Somezing more-ah....how you say?...Ah! Flamboyant! Yes Flamboyant” he cried, eyeing the 17th Century prostitute gowns behind her. It was then, as she turned ( to flee), that she had first set eyes upon the man who now sat opposite her. He had worn the same smug grin then as he did now and was obviously quite enjoying their little fashion parade. Something about the way he had looked at her had made her feel more self-conscious and more aware of her state of undress in a way that even Lorenzo ever could. He had seen her utter embarrassment and realised her complete inability to do anything to quell it. She had allowed herself to succumb to this situation, she hadn’t questioned it or tried to guide it’s outcome. But wasn’t that just always what happened? Wasn’t her life a series of these situations, running into one another, day after day? The actions and reactions of others monopolising every situation. Fear of being inadequate always stopped her from attempting to gain control. No wonder she had been so obsessed with how she looked all morning! Having observed her - for what...fifteen minutes?...half an hour?- this man had seen a side of her that she herself refused to acknowledge, she’d always hidden it, Or so I thought. So how then was it so obvious to this.....this... stalker?. Was it that obvious to everyone else? It suddenly dawned on her that that was what she had spent the whole morning trying to discover.
Now he’s playing with you Nicole, challenging you.
“Enjoyed that little spectacle, didn’t you?”
“Sorry, what....”
“Found it amusing, yeah? I suppose it brightened up your day!” she smiled sweetly. Don’t give it away
“I ...er...suppose...”
“Ah, come off it, I must’ve looked so stupid that night, Lorenzo pushing every gown he could on me and me just taking it.....putting them on”
“Lorenzo...that was the foreign looking bloke?”
“Uh-huh...the one making a complete and utter......”
“Fool of you!”
Revenge ! Revenge !
Still smiling, she summoned the Doll with a little wave.
“Ready to Order, Madam?”
“Yes please, Madam would like to order one cunning, obnoxious Git to be removed from her table”
“I’m Sorry....?” the Doll asked
Suddenly Speechless, Smirky?
“This man is not your husband?”
“My Husband?.....my bloody husband.....he most certainly is not ! ”
“Darling, don’t make a scene now!” hissed the impostor.
“Shut-up, you freak...did you follow me here or something....plan all this?
“I.....uh.....”
Feeling exposed? Smirky, vulnerable?
“This really is quite unusual, Madam, I....”

“Yes isn’t it? - Most unusual - that when I ask to sit alone, you allow some unidentified, obsessive weirdo to join me at my table and even more unusual that, although I’ve asked you to remove him, he’s still sitting there!”
“But Madam, he said...”
“Yea, I know what he said.” Her voice rose considerably at this point, not in her usual hysterical fashion, but with authority. “Listen, I’ll save you the trouble”
Picking up her bag she glanced at the dumb-struck expression of the face opposite her.
“Madam will not be eating with us?”
Ignoring the Doll, Nicole turned to leave.
“But Madam, your paper....”
“Give it to the stalker” she called, much to the shock and astonishment of the ‘Clientele’ all around her. Well, who cares about them anyway?........I did.
She swung open the exit door hearing the plaintive plea of Smirky “I only wanted to ask her out”
“Pa-the-tic” she exclaimed to all who would listen, but as she stepped onto the street she had a different thought....He did you a favour. He did you a favour.
Heading in the direction of the nearest garden centre, she stopped first at the news-stand, bought ‘The Times’ and continued on her way.

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