Friday, April 2, 2021

Bathroom Mirror

This mirror can be brutally honest first thing in the morning. The lines on my brow and fleshy, wrinkled undersides of my arms. The window full of light and luminating the sight of me. Gah!

Skinny Gran looked into this mirror once, long ago. Then her son built her a house in the House Paddock, next to the Apple Tree paddock. It was said her husband, Viking stock, went away to war a good man and came back a bad one. North Africa campaigns. One of the Rats. She survived the car accident, when her drunken husband and some of her children did not. Her son survived it too and left school at ten to go to work. He became adult, slicked back hair, weekly dances at the community hall, shearing teams. Skinny Gran moved with him here, to this house, when he married the daughter of a Dutchman and they staked all of their money into a patch of dirt on the south coast.

Skinny Gran died quietly. The men here die violently as a rule. The women are taken by a more interior means – clusters and squamous cells. For decades, a lifetime, Skinny Gran’s daughter in law, a merry-eyed woman with tight curly hair inspected herself in this mirror before making tea in an aluminium pot in the mornings, quiet time before the children awoke. Listening to the bulls and the magpies. Curly Mum’s daughters were babies and then suddenly they were teenagers, the oldest wielding a tight-lipped authority over her squally middle child brother. Sometimes when she looked in the mirror, she could see the straight brow and nose of her children’s’ genes, the Dutch, the Swede, the hard scrabble life land. 

Sometimes I wonder, as I look in the same mirror, whether Curly Mum thought of the farm as unceded Aboriginal land. It must have been a silent reckoning and certainly not of the times. The work, the constant work and interest rates and carting water for the cattle in the dry years. Her son was old enough now, angry enough and strong enough to take on his old man. Her son went away at fifteen.

Her youngest, who idolised her big brother, sat on a stool in front of the bathroom mirror and cried as Curly Mum stood behind her, cutting her hair into a blonde crown of curls. If only they wouldn’t fight, she said to her mum. Why do they fight? It was a Saturday and the midsummer light through the window was fierce. She was starting high school in a week. Her mum reckoned that there is always a week between a bad haircut and a good one.

They tiled the bathroom, took out the bath with its lion claw feet and installed a sliding glass shower cubicle. No one had baths anymore anyway and the water pressure was improved with the new electric pump. Curly Mum stood in front of the mirror, a towel around her waist, right arm raised and crooked over her hair, her left hand feeling around her boob, seeing if the lump was visible to the eye.

Two years later and, stepping out of the shower in the mornings with bright light shining in, confronting again the scars beneath her absent right breast. So … an Amazon now. Silences from her husband and fearful looks from her daughters. Trips to the city were a necessity rather than privilege. Clearances, cleared, remission. Twenty years. Her son returned.

Her son’s girlfriend was a sturdy, uneven girl who already had a daughter from another man. Curly Dill (‘daughter in law, love’) would seek refuge in the kitchen with Curly Mum when the two men, now bonded in mutual recognition after all those years of antipathy, became intolerable to her in the shed. Curly Mum found this kid’s activism around the forests and feminist thought tilting at windmills and pretty quaint. She’s pregnant, her son said to her one day. How do you feel about that? Curly Mum asked her son. I’m not sure, said her son.

Curly Dill gave birth on the side of the road on the way to the hospital. Not long after that, Curly Mum had a proper hospital bed delivered to the house, and a nurse, so that she could die at home. Which she did.

Grannie Violet had been sweet on Curly Mum’s husband from the days back when Skinny Gran was a single mum and her son was slicking back his hair and going to dances. So when Curly Mum died, Grannie Violet moved into her house and soon became grandma to the expanding progeny of this family. At first there was resistance from them, then acceptance as they realised she was staying for the long run. She would see herself age in the bathroom mirror, over the years. She kept her own house and worked still, cleaning houses and government department buildings, as her partner grew older and his heart condition worsened. Grannie Violet went into the house two days after he died to ‘collect her things.’ I’d like to think that she stopped in front of the bathroom mirror but maybe she didn’t.

Curly Mum’s son took over the farm when his father died. He worked full time at a sand carting company to pay back the loan incurred by his father’s lack of a will, and spent his nights in the calving season with a calf-puller, a torch and his four-wheel drive. He looked drawn and shadowed. The next woman to look in the bathroom mirror brushed her teeth, inspected her fringe, eyebrows and hair, before rushing her daughter off to the school bus that rumbles along the gravel road past the gates, every morning. She hoped for a future, any future. At the gates sit concrete casts of a pair of lions, an Italian plea that the people within own this piece of land. 

Yesterday, Curly Dill looked in that bathroom mirror, remembering this history. She first looked into that mirror when Curly Mum was still alive and she was 24, and in love with her son. If she looked a bit emotional in the mirror, it’s because the farm is about to be sold after the death of her own son’s father, Curly Mum's son, and so this whole story comes to an end, of sorts.




  1. The twists and turns of life, mixed with many heartfelt emotions. As always, beautifully expressed. Take care Sarah.

  2. I agree with Curly mum about haircuts. I cut my own hair and have done since I was 14. The first day it looks terrible and stays that way for about a week. After that it begins to look ok and stays that way for another week. After that it goes back to terrible. You have great hair.

    1. Thanks Tom. I think it was my own mum's maxim that it is two weeks, or maybe my own, can't remember! I just know that so many hairdressers have gone at my hair like it is straight and it's usually a disaster. For two weeks I look like a poodle. I've cut my own hair for decades now, often curl by curl during a long day up the fire tower.