Rayna sat in front of the mirror removing her makeup and wondering who she would discover underneath.* Her cheeks had felt hot all afternoon, a warm flush that suggested her stars were shifting. But she had to focus on the dictation she was taking, the click of keys as her fingers flew across them. A long afternoon! Oh, there were some of these brazen young girls in the office who went practically bare- you could see the pin-prick glow of stars right through their makeup. Rayna grew up with a proper standard of modesty, and she was not about to abandon it for any new fashion fad. Showing off your Truth-Face to the world! She rinsed the rag, pale now with foundation, under the faucet and applied it to her face again.
Rayna closed her eyes, scrubbing cool dampness firmly across her face. She set the rag down, cupped her hands full of water from the sink, and rinsed her face with it. Outside the door Smoky mewed, impatient for her dinner. Rayna’s normal evening routine was well-plotted, Monday through Friday. She took her shoes off and hung her coat up when she came in the door, filled the kettle with water and set it on the stove, spent three minutes in the bathroom taking down her hair and cleaning her face, poured Smokey’s dinner into the blue ceramic bowl and then poured her own cup of tea, sat down at the table and began a new page in the letter she had been writing for six months now.
Today the kettle was beginning to whistle softly behind Smoky’s mews, and the bobby-pins were still in her hair. Rayna pressed her lips together, set the rag down in the sink, and lifted her eyes to meet her own gaze in the mirror.
Only three stars glowed softly now: two points of light on her left cheek, one on her right.
Rayna stood quite still. The memories of blushing excitement of a hundred evenings in this same room swirled around her ears. Home from middle school, home from highschool, flipping the dog-eared pages of her little book to see what the constellations meant. A girl’s stars changed constantly. Not so a woman’s. Her stars had not shifted in two years… she didn’t need to reach for that old, watermarked book. She had long since memorized every constellation that mattered to her.
There was a rushing in her ears. The wings of those old memories buffeting her. The face looking back at her from the mirror – delicate, tired, suddenly and strangely tinged with gray – blurred around the edges.
Smoky mewed again, voice rising to indignation. The edge of the counter was cold and hard under her hands. The world settled back into focus. And still, unblinking, the face of a widow looked back out of the mirror.
Isn’t it strange that a person’s definition can change, far away from them, too far away to see? She had not even known his address for the last six months, ever since his regiment went off radar. This afternoon when the hot flush blossomed under her skin for the first time, she had not known what it meant. Rayna’s thoughts felt echoing and distant. She fumbled for the door-knob, opened the door, and Smoky closed her mouth in the middle of her complaint and stared hopefully up. Rayna went out to the kitchen and poured Smoky’s dinner into the blue ceramic bowl. She lifted the kettle from the stove and a background shrieking that had almost seemed part of her own tumultuous thoughts ceased. She poured the water into her mug, took it to the table and sat down. Yesterday’s page of writing peeked out from beneath the fresh sheet of paper, cheery and inconsequential.
The bluebirds haven’t come back this year. You remember the noisy pair, don’t you? Maybe they are delayed by the weather. . .
Only three stars. On her wedding day, her face had shone, the golden points sprinkled like confetti across her cheekbones, the bridge of her nose, even a few winking on her forehead: betraying her joy, her confusion, the molten love so hot in her chest. Who she was, writ across her face for only her husband to see beneath the veil.
She would keep wearing her ring, of course. No one in the office would know that anything had happened. Smoky was crunching in the corner, tail swishing slowly, happy that routine had been restored. Rayna picked up her pen and began to write.
Dear Sam . . .
* * *
* This is the spring 2022 prompt from the First Line magazine.