Short Stories

Old Mrs Craig’s Face.

Mrs Barbara Craig rested her elbows on the dressing table and stared out of her window down onto Liverstoke Street. The weather had been fickle this morning, but was currently cloudy. Mr Bannister at number 27 was pushing his recycling bin to the front of his garden. He looked up at her and smiled. They exchanged polite waves and he went back inside; Mrs Craig returned to observing the street and slowly running her fingers over her upper lip and chin feeling for stray hairs. Picking up her tweezers and plucking at the long black hair protruding from just under her nose she stared at herself in the mirror. She no longer winced at the pain plucking caused her, her face was immune after decades of this daily routine. She gave her face another feel and placed the tweezers back down. Looking back at her reflection she caught her own eye and sighed; she’d become so old. Once beautiful, clear skinned with flame red hair, Barbara now looked upon a weathered face, laden with wrinkles and sagging skin. “A caricature,” she thought. “A caricature of an old woman drawn by a talentless hack”. She’d lived alone for nearly ten years after her husband died. Her neighbours were all young couples or families and were mostly lovely, but she’d somehow acquired the affectionate nickname of “Old Mrs Craig”, which cemented her opinion that she was merely a crone. She did not like this, but knew they meant well.

She noticed the lines around her eyes, which she felt aged her the most. ‘Crows feet’, of which they were known by many, as well as ‘laughter lines’. She supposed the latter was more appropriate; she’d laughed a great deal during her life and not met many crows. She placed her palms on either side of her face and pulled the skin backwards gently; for a fleeting moment she recognised the young girl she had been several decades prior. Barbara’s late husband had always complimented her eyes but even with this make-shift face lift they were still slightly yellow and blood shot, as though someone had taken a photograph of them sixty years ago and presented it to her today. Barbara imagined what Charlie would have thought of her eyes now, were he still alive. She let go of her face and “Old Mrs Craig” returned.

Interrogating her blemishes further she rediscovered the three-inch scar on her forehead; hardly noticeable unless you had prior knowledge. She hated the long scar that had been prominent for so many years but was now faded and lost amongst her wrinkles. Her twenty-first birthday had been fairly uneventful, not counting the incident where she fell out of a first story window whilst having a secret cigarette in the bathroom. She had been taken to hospital for stitches, and it wasn’t long before her friends started calling her ‘Scar-bara’. In 1983, not long after her son turned seventeen she found herself with a new nickname following the release of the famous Al Pacino movie. A brief smile danced across her face as she remembered. She made a mental note to call her son to discuss his recent trip to Llandudno.

The clouds had shifted and the Sun now shone directly into Barbara’s eyes. She stood up and pulled the curtain closed slightly then sat back down. She blinked a few times to refocus on herself in the mirror and her eyes fell upon her liver spots; marks synonymous with age, unsurprisingly, she thought, in full force on her face. These were one of the things she disliked the most about her face; they weren’t present on every old woman’s face, so why hers? Opening the lid of her Elizabeth Arden face cream she put some on her fingertips and gently massaged the cream into her face. She’d seen a segment a few years ago on This Morning about liver spots and how they’re caused by exposure to the Sun; so it’s not really surprising that her face was liberally mottled with them. She’d lived in South Africa in her adolescence due to her Father’s job and could barely escape the sun. She’d had countless holidays abroad with Charlie and the children, including two weeks in Marrakesh in 1987 where they spent the majority of their time at the pool, and making the occasional venture into the local market. For years afterwards she’d served Charlie’s lamb stew with the carved orangewood ladle she’d bought there. The Summer of 1983 in England had been sweltering and Charlie had bought the kids a little paddling pool for the garden, which they loved; she hadn’t worked at that time and Charlie had just taken voluntary redundancy, so they made the most of every ray. “A good Summer,” she thought. She screwed the lid back on the cream and put it to one side.

Barbara opened the drawer of the table, took her hairbrush out, and ran it through her hair. As she relished in the gentle massage of the bristles against her scalp she remembered that her daughter had taken an evening class in Indian head massage in 1992. She smiled and reminisced about being her guinea pig. “She wasn’t bad at it,” Barbara thought. She stopped brushing for a moment, took a deep breath in an effort to choke back the tears, shortly resuming the brushing. When she had finished she pulled all of the grey hairs out of the brush, put them in the waste paper bin and placed the brush back in the drawer. Barbara looked at the clump of silver hairs in the bin and shook her head. To Barbara grey hair was the most basic sign of ageing, and she’d gone grey somewhat prematurely. “Not surprisingly,” she thought. Her son had put her through a great deal of torment as a teenager, which on reflection was no doubt due to him struggling with his identity. She’d become a Grandmother at thirty-two thanks to Madison, which would be enough to turn anybody’s hair grey, and between herself and Charlie they’d lost countless jobs, relatives and she’d even had an awful cancer scare about 17 years ago. Barbara had attempted to cover the grey for years with Garnier 7.64, but when Charlie died she had decided to not bother with maintaining the colour and embrace the grey, reluctantly.

A reflective sigh escaped her. Barbara pulled her dressing gown tightly around herself and looked at herself once more; her skin fresh and moisturised, her hair brushed and her face clear of whiskers. A pensive smile crossed her face as memories, both joyous and melancholic, presented themselves to her. She’d had a good life, really, and it was certainly never boring. Something quickly shifted inside her mind and she realised that she did not have to hate her wrinkles, her marks and her skin. She no longer had to view her face as an aged relic as she had done for so many years; she now saw it as the receipt of a life filled with love, laughter, and loss. She wasn’t ‘Old Mrs Craig’ – she was Barbara, the woman who’d lived, and she was never going to forget that.

Gregory Lawrence.

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