Jennie in the Mirror By Don Morgan
“We are dancing in Paris. I see us in a small apartment near a busy intersection, we barely have enough money to live and I am spending it all on paints and canvases. I try teaching English but no one cares and then we hit on a plan to open an American Midwest Dancing school and make millions!” Jennie said with a shriek.
“Millions of laughs,” said Hannah, curling her lip. “plus that means I have to learn how to dance.”
But Jennie snorted, “What? You don’t have to learn how to dance- if they knew anything about American dancing, they wouldn’t be asking us to teach them, stupid!” Jennie gave Hannah a big grin and they both burst out laughing, “What can we lose!”
Dana looked skeptical. “Yeah, well, I’ll get back to you on that, OK?” She produced a deadpan smile.
Jennie had a picture in her mind of a small apartment on the second or third floor with a window, a complex window with many panes, over the street. The apartment would be almost bare, the beds little more than cots; she liked the simplicity.
Browns and tans delineated with fine black lines. Paper with a heavy tooth would give the light texture- she only had to darken the contrasting paths.
Watercolor could also work, she thought, and grasshopper spit for color. Could she get
that much grasshopper spit?
Hannah interrupted her. “I just want a family, a good husband, handsome like Willem,” she giggled, “and a nice home. Nothing complicated.”
“Not me,” Dana said, “I want parties and travel and fun. Who wants a bunch of kids, a gray old apartment smelling like poop and a raggedy ass husband who spends more time at a bar than at home,” she said with a frown.
“Maybe it is just a dream or a feeling but I have a feeling of what it would be like to live somewhere different, like Paris. It is like another me- another me living inside of this me- and the other me lives in Paris whether I ever go there or not.” Jennie said.
“My other me just wants a family and a baby,” said Hannah nodding.
“Well, you better have your own boyfriend,” Jennie said looking at Hannah, “cuz I think Willem is taken.” Jennie grinned and looked at Dana.
Hannah smiled and looked away.
“You have a boyfriend?” Dana and Jennie shouted almost in unison.
“No, not really. Maybe. I don’t know.” Hannah replied, a little frightened by the excitement.
“Not really? Sort of, maybe?” Dana asked.
Hannah’s eyebrows raised in a playful grin, while her lips pursed. “Can’t say,” she said.
“Oh, oh!” Shouted Dana, as they both stared at Hannah for a moment.
Jennie went on, “Well, I am not even sure I want to marry. But if I do, he will have to be very special,” she said, looking pensive with the right corner of her mouth lifted. “Somebody different, special,” she looked thoughtful, “maybe a Martian and we will speak a secret language that no one else will even understand.”
Then she looked at her friends a little surprised and asked, “Have you ever wondered what you will look like when you grow up, I mean get older?”
Dana and Jennie were in briefs and t-shirts on cots under the single window in Hannah’s room, the window was bright with moonlight, the room was dark.
That was the summer she and Dana spent with Hannah at her grandfather’s house by the lake, the summer of her freshman year in high school. Some memories last forever.
The wind whipped the fine snow at her tennis-shoed feet into a white flame- it squirmed and danced, flirty as a negligee.
Then came a gust and blew the snow-flame away.
Jennie felt like skipping.
She was in Paris, France. She could hardly believe it.
She kicked at the white powder at the edge of the sidewalk and watched it blow into the air then gracefully settle back to the sidewalk.
The world had suddenly become a place of promise, full of surprises and opportunity.
She peeked into a shop at a yarn cap, she went in found and bought a black sweater she liked.
The previous day, when Jennie left the Bay, she took the wrong clothes. Winters are different on the central coast of California than they are in Paris. On this, her first day in Paris, she had gone out shopping to buy the proper gear and was now returning to her hotel, the Fleur-de-Lys. (The white snow nearly obscured the rough pencil outlines of the buildings on either side.)
The Fleur-de-Lys was an old fashioned hotel on a small side street with narrow sidewalks, the street in front of the hotel was just wide enough for one car.
There was a doorman who opened the door for her and said something to her in French; the sound of his words reminded her of striped hard candy. She smiled and nodded back to him.
Another man at the counter said something as she passed– she nodded again smiling.
The elevator had accordion sliding doors the color of coffee that allowed her to see what was on each floor as she passed. There was a woman in a long brown coat and a tan floppy brimmed fedora, on the next floor, a cleaning lady mopping the floor and then her floor.
The door to her room had large brass numbers on it and large windows inside that gave her an excellent view of the heavy snow settling on the city. Beneath the window was a bed, a polished brown wooden dresser on the right next to a full-length mirror and a makeup table on the left that had a large oval mirror and a small mahogany bench in front of it with scroll tops, fitted with a cream brown hand sewn cushion.
And in the midst of all this mahogany polish sat a small crimson hat with a net. Jennie grinned and nodded, just the right touch of color.
The room was a little chilly, so she adjusted the valve near the crème colored radiator in the bathroom and heard the gurgle of water entering the pipes, soon she felt the room warming up.
Outside, the snow moved across her window in the reluctant slow motion of a satin slip moving against a woman’s body. Jennie felt grand.
She sat on the bed and looked around her room, the light from the windows muted by the falling snow.
She slipped her tennis shoes off without untying them, then her socks. Her feet were small but wide, at least they were smooth not like Hannah’s, she thought, that grew gnarly as ginger root. O, Hannah, Jennie saddened.
For years, she’d had dreams about Hannah dying. She would wake in the middle of the night crying, frightened. Sometimes calling her, waking her out of bed to hear her voice and know that she was OK. “Those days,” she said out loud to herself.
But Hannah did die, Jennie remembered with a note of sadness. What bothered her especially was that Hannah died without her knowing. Her cousin and one of her closest friends, Jennie thought she should have felt it somehow.
Living was lonelier without her, people more distant because you couldn’t trust them. She could feel it in the shapes and spaces around her.
Hannah died on a Saturday afternoon and Jennie didn’t know until Sunday. Life shouldn’t be like that.
The paper published a grainy pointillistic picture of Hannah that she didn’t even recognize, an alien from another time or planet.
When you die, you take all of your life with you, what remains are things that separate into simple, meaningless objects.
Jennie gave away all of her things, except her home, the witch’s cabin, before she left for Paris.
People thought she was crazy. Jennie smiled. Jesse barely acknowledged the fact from his bourbon-laced swamp. She supposed he thought she had cancer or something and was going away to die.
Instead of talking to her about it, Jesse licked it, sucked on it, prepared it like a new reed for his saxophone. This is what he made sing now in the misty light of the single spot that shone on him as he played. (The bright jingle of glasses; the waitress sweeps away the last customers.) Jesse used it to make the night his, only his.
The women and the drink didn’t really matter any more. She didn’t blame him, what really surprised her was how far apart they had grown even though they had promised over and over to love one another and to support each other.
She hadn’t expected that.
“I just can’t take the drinking and what comes with it anymore,” Jennie said when she told him she was divorcing him.
“OK,” he replied, “but why are you divorcing me?”
Good question, she thought, they didn’t live together anymore, they hadn’t for years. She lived at the witch’s cabin by the lake, he lived in the home they once shared in town.
“It is time.” She said.
Jennie carefully unbuttoned the blue blouse she was wearing, loving the way it shined in any light. It was gathered across the chest and had ribbon-like ornaments over each breast. It was perfect for a portrait. That and well placed hands.
Her jeans and the pantyhose required some wriggling making her wonder if there wasn’t an easier way. She wasn’t fat but the pantyhose did not want to come off easily.
She stood in front of the full-length mirror studying her body, her waist wattled by the elastic bands in her pantyhose. She smoothed the indentations with her fingers, thinking how moist and supple her skin was when she was younger and the fine down that covered her body, so much more innocent.
JW had loved those tiny blond hairs. “On your arms, stomach and even on your butt!” He had exclaimed.
“I don’t think you know much about the human body,” Jennie had replied, smiling.
JW laid his head on her stomach, kissed her belly button and carefully fingered her pubic hair. He was smiling too.
She still had the painting, “A Young Man and the Lake”- JW standing at the end of the porch at the rear of the cabin wearing only a T-shirt staring out at the lake through a small cove. The theme was summer and his buttocks, there was lots of white and green and a blue sky. JW’s upper body went white with the bright clouds.
She looked into the mirror. Now, her skin was a little tight, the hair on her arms was longer and tawny rather than blond and there were spots, not a lot, not dark but there.
Jennie unclasped the bra and let it fall off onto the bed and removed her panties.
That summer at Grandpa’s house with Hannah and Dana had been a real revelation to her. She learned that Dana, the school whore, had never even had sex.
And, it was during that summer, that Hannah took them outside one night to watch her mother and Willem make love through the bedroom window. This was a first for Jennie.
Jennie recalled waking the next morning and standing in front of the bathroom mirror looking at herself trying to imagine what Willem thought when he looked at Hannah’s mother. She lifted her brown hair with its incidental curls over her head to see her breasts barely visible against her chest.
Her body was a simple French curve with no ornamentation. She was smooth and her hips swelled more than they should, her stomach not fat but featureless. She wondered how she could be such a child.
Then she noticed JW in the garden outside the bathroom window, his face pressed against the glass with his hands shading his eyes. Jennie smiled.
A child, a child’s body, but he liked it.
It was another year before she got up the courage to drag JW to the cabin and lose her virginity. It was a little harder than she expected and it hurt but not too much. The biggest bother was explaining the blood in her panties to her mother.
And it was a few months after that Willem raped and killed Hannah. If he had only known how much she liked him, all he would have had to do was ask. Men could be so difficult to understand.
Jennie’s body didn’t change much until her senior year or, at least, she didn’t notice any change. Then, one day she was getting ready for one of Dana’s parties and she found that her clothes didn’t fit. Her hips were round and her breasts full and her waist was long and narrow.
Back then, her stomach had a satin smoothness that drew attention and her buttocks were saucy and proud. That summer, at the cabin, she painted a portrait of her back on bare wood, she thought the whiskey color and flame-like grain was sexy, she liked the dimples just above her butt and the nice angle her buttocks formed with her body.
That is how she got Cody, the macho guitar player at her father’s nightclub, the Long Branch, Jennie recalled.
“How could anyone have such a beautiful body,” Cody said, kissing her hips and cool buttocks.
“You just like girls,” Jennie said, “we are all alike.”
“Bullshit,” he said caressing her hips, “not everyone smells like cookies or has such satiny skin. Not everyone smells so much like… you,” he said with a grin, “I just want to eat you.”
“That might not be so bad,” she said, smiling coyly.
Their first time was in the back of his pick up. The next day, he played his guitar for her sitting on the tailgate of that black truck. Watercolor on white vellum for the gloss, the red body of his Les Paul shone like an apple.
Their love affair lit up the town and made her father very angry.
She Goes into the Bathroom
The walls of the bathroom were paneled with wooden slats from shoulder level down and painted a blond cinnamon brown. The incandescent lighting in the glass lampshades was warm.
The tub was filling and moist vapors were rising from it. While she was shopping, Jennie bought some lavender soap to go with this first bath and looked forward to soaking in it. The aroma itself was relaxing and almost put her to sleep once she slipped into the tub of hot water.
Moonlight echoes on the ever-repeating surface of the licorice black water as it shifts restlessly in sleep sleep sleep.
For a moment, she dipped into dream and thought of the moonlight on her cold skin and the lake. The sheen with the sound of the rippling water, glancing moonlight.
She had painted it many times. And in many different colors depending on what the customer was looking for. It made her decent money and it got her started.
Then, she did the Indian Girl in the Forest and her Grandfather’s House. They brought her attention, money and business; that is how she became Jennifer Leqte, Inc.
She got her start working at an artists’ community not far from Santa Barbara, California. She and about 10 others painted original paintings for interior decorators meant to compliment the colors in a room, ambiance they called it. They got to create their own paintings but with colors that would coordinate well with the designers’ intentions.
She left The Bay with Cody to go on tour with his band and wound up four years later working at that commune where her parents found her and begged her to come home. Her father was fixing the witch’s cabin up for her.
A couple months later, Jennie did come home and shortly after that Jesse followed.
Jesse played saxophone and had lived with Jennie while she was at the commune. Jennie’s father gave him a job at the Long Branch in the jazz band where he flourished and became a local star.
Years later came the web site and reps, one in Russia, one in Australia and Minas in Europe. Of all of them, Minas was the only one she ever met. He came himself, all the way from France, on his own money to visit her at The Bay.
“How is the future born? Is it born with you? Born in you?” Jennie asked herself.
There is no hotel in The Bay, just a few motels catering to fishermen and artists. He stayed in the nicest and she met him there and took him to dinner.
Jennie was unaccustomed to Europeans, his manner and his gentleness overwhelmed her. He was so polite and friendly.
His hair was a close fitting foam of curls with some gray touches, he was dark but with a 5 ’o clock shadow (eyebrows and beard delineated with the precision of a compressed charcoal pencil, his features clean and clear.)
His eyes were very friendly and so was his humor, she felt comfortable at once. And she liked the way he cared for her, in some subtle way anticipating her thoughts.
For years, they corresponded via email about her business and her paintings- they became friends and he had come to call her Cookie. Jennie loved that name.
What she loved and remembered best of all was his smile; he smiled happily as though he had solved a riddle and he smiled as though he liked her.
She loved it so, she asked to take a picture of him so that she might paint it one day. He smiled and she took the picture.
Jennifer sat up in the tub, pulled her right leg toward her and lathered it with the silky lavender soap, then the other, then her crotch.
The vagina meant so many things to people, to men, to women. She had hated it since she was a child. It was ugly. And every month, it made her its slave.
When she was twelve and hair started to grow, she stole her father’s razor and shaved it off. But it kept growing and itching, so finally she let it go.
Breasts are something else, warm and shapely. Breasts are love, she thought.
Jennie slipped up and sat on the edge of the tub, squeezing a large sponge over her legs and arms to wash the suds away. Then she reluctantly got out of the tub and took a big towel to massage her arms and legs dry. It was warm.
The color of the room and her own coloring went together well, she thought. The lamp by the mirror to her right created a shadow between her breasts and buttocks that she could see in the mirror.
She turned so she could see her entire body. “A woman’s body,” she thought, “is made for bearing children; broad hips, strong thighs. And her breasts for feeding them.” She smiled at her own breasts. “No more children,” she said out loud to Jesse who was no longer listening.
He hadn’t always been that way; they both had a hard time after their daughter, Amy’s, death. Scorched, barren earth, that.
On that night, they had both paced without stopping around the house, neither of them able to sleep. Then he had grabbed her in the hall and begged her forgiveness for the things he had done, the things she didn’t know about.
She just had to know that he would do better. And he made her promise that they would always be there for each other, they would help and support each other, they only had each other. And she had promised. And she had tried.
They talked. At first, they talked and made everything right.
Later, she had to start the conversations but they still talked and it worked.
After a while, neither of them wanted to talk.
Something had been worried clean, something, she didn’t know what, was no longer of interest and the two wandered away from each other.
In a few years, that unknown uninteresting thing between them began to pinch and strangle them; it made everything awkward and uncomfortable. It became difficult to be around one another in anything but a social role.
Jesse pulled a harlequin darkness with him everywhere, full of masks and betrayal. Things were never what they seemed.
Jennie moved back to the cabin. That was years ago, now, she thought and smiled.
On tan cotton paper, moments of light left to the paper, un-shaded. Light pencil (HB number two) for her back, vine charcoal to define her shoulder blades and the muscles.
Upward strokes on her lower back near her buttocks, dimples above her buttocks hinted at with shadow and un-shaded paper.
There is a slight shadow by her spine; each vertebra in her spine has its own shadow- pencil, not shaded.
The outlines of her ribs, very delicate using HB pencil.
In the mirror, her breasts, meniscus and luxuriant on olive skin- each breast with a crescent shadow.
A horizontal line through her stomach and belly button, below that a warm pillow of flesh, all shading done with number 2 pencil.
Her hair is up, tied on the top of her head with a silk ribbon and her face is an outline. Her neck is long and graceful, her collarbone delicate and precisely defined.
Her legs warm and glowing in the shallow light, covered by the same almost invisible down she had had since childhood.
Her long lean arms with shadows that followed them like a loose gown.
The bench, the scrolls and cushion carefully detailed and shaded with pencil, much of the background, including the upper left corner of the mirror is missing.
Jennie sat at the makeup table in clean pantyhose and a satin slip. The room separated into patterns of light. That from the windows smothered and textured by the snow. On the closet door, a brilliant white triangle glowing softly, reflected from the full-length mirror behind her.
There was warm light on the floor near the makeup table from the bathroom.
The reflection from mirror to mirror formed a translucent crystal of cool luminance in the upper part of her makeup mirror.
Jennie smoothed colors from a small pot filled with dark powder- black, ash, deep purple and tan onto her cheeks, her lips and around her eyes.
She would be going out.
The phone rang, it was Minas.
Don Morgan was born in Wichita, Kansas. He has been writing his entire life.