Welcome to Flash Fiction Friday and the thirty-second piece of flash fiction in this series. This week’s is a 742-worder entitled ‘Bowing Out’ by novelist and short story author Marc Nash.
She sat where she had sat countless times before. In the harsh glare of the lights fringing her mirror. Fourteen naked bulbs to show her up in all her rawness. Stark like a Noh mask.
Fourteen interrogatory lamps burning into her face. Garlanding the looking glass, festooned like wedding arch colonnades. Though she’d only ever experienced those as scenery on the theatre stage. The lights so tightly focused, they barely penetrated the darkness beyond her.
Every evening and prior to matinees and premiers, her ghostly, disembodied head floated in the mirror as she caked it in thickly layered cosmetics. The bulbs’ other function, foreshadowing the dazzle out on the stage itself. If they couldn’t efface her features here at close range, then it augured well for her characterful expressions to prevail under the spotlights, tractor beamed in the footlights.
This particular mirror seemed as venerable as she. The glass had flowed, rucked and bubbled, like her own skin corrugated with wrinkles. Tarnished where the silvered paint had chipped or turned green with verdigris. Aping her liver spots and burst blood vessels. She loved the bulbs for blasting such imperfections away under their unforgiving blare. The mirror on her dresser at home was not nearly so forgiving.
It occurred to her that in all the years sat in place, she couldn’t ever remember a single bulb having popped. The divine power of the theatre, palace of illusion.
There was a time when other bulbs popped. Those of the Press cameras. Preview nights, gala performance evenings and end-of-run parties. Fluid, promiscuous alignments of leading men and first ladies, arm in arm with supporting cast members all beaming in the lens. Dissolved at the moment of the striking of the set, as each heads on to their next role. Another theatre, different dressing rooms. The same fourteen bulb guard of honour.
Sadly she had witnessed her own mind’s bulbs pop one by one. It was getting progressively harder to recall her lines. There were no unseen stagehands inside her head to replace the burned out filaments.
Now there was a dearth of good luck telegrams wedged into the mirror frame. While the best wishes cards accompanying bouquets of flowers had also dried up.
Neither wigs, nor curlers sat on her dresser. Simply not required any more. She could not get away with counterfeiting ages other than her true one, unlike in the past. Her skin so dried and cracked. Even the greasepaint could no longer suggest any glossy suppleness. It just seemed to disappear down the fissures in her brow and cheeks as it required ever greater volumes to recongeal her face whole. Far greater preparation time was demanded, when all she wanted to do was lie down on the ottoman and rest her weary eyes.
The cubicle was smaller than she was used to. No other background hubbub of fellow actors full of life and lusts. Exercising their voices along the full range. Practising the entire gamut of human emotion and intrigue beyond the world of the play, centred instead within these tiny rooms.
For she was of such an age now, whereby she only appeared in monologues. Wistful treatises of old women looking back on unfulfilled lives. Playwrights didn’t seem to credit the venerable woman with any ability to pursue relationships still. Seemingly audiences could only feel pity, not desire, at this juncture of her life.
Her hair pulled back by the band, face blanched or greyed out in hue, these were the only effects directors were after for her nowadays. Like a ghost. The bereft Trojan women. Her appearance was as if she had ceased the make-up process at the foundation stage. Her dressing robe and protective serviette towel barely having to be removed for the performance, as she played women confined to dressing gowns, asylum smocks or wrapped in a bed sheet.
She knew it wouldn’t be too much longer that she would be able to stare into that mirror and recognise the face staring back at her. Be it disguised or unadorned by emulsion. Her ministrations complete, she flicked the light switch off. The bulbs did not die immediately. She watched the reflected light in her satellite eyes fade gradually in the mirror. Until only the spectral outline of her death mask remained square in the flat plane of glass.
She was sat where she had sat countless times before, with only the green “Exit” light to illuminate her way.
I asked Marc what prompted this piece and he said…
I have always been fascinated by the multi-bulbed mirrors in theatre dressing rooms. Something about the bulbs being naked and so many, as well as how they frame the mirror like ivy. The many bulbs contrast with the single spotlight out on stage. And then there’s the transformation of the actor in the mirror under makeup and wigs.
Thank you, Marc.
Marc Nash is London born, bred and resident. He says he’s always resorted to the written word, thinking himself an observer by temperament. After a brief adolescent delusion that he could write lyrics, he passed over into writing stage plays for 10 years from University onwards and then when his twin boys arrived in the world meaning he couldn’t really hang around theatre bars at night, he tried my hand at prose fiction. His blog is www.sulcicollective.blogspot.com, he’s @21stCscribe on Twitter and is very active there. He has a couple of websites on the novels, http://marcnash.weebly.com and http://marcnashNIMN.weebly.com as well as a YouTube channel with 17 literature related videos (just type in sulci collective into the search function).
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The blog interviews will return as normal tomorrow with writer and publisher Will Sutton – the two hundred and fifty-third of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, biographers, agents, publishers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me.
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Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are weekly episodes, usually released Monday mornings UK time, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.