by Tracey Slaughter
It’s a junkshop find that brings back the smell of them – a kind of sweetened pinky-beige topsoil my aunts would carry everywhere with them, gilded flip-open discs of powder, hard-caked, that still puffed traces over everything. A push-in metal tooth worked the clasp, then they’d unhinge it, anywhere they needed to, perched on a bus-seat, queueing at the cinema, blotting off steam and suds over the sink. Inside lived another face. A swipe of coating for the wrinkles and pitting, a swab of glamour for the sweat and the soot, and they’d dab and polish with their onion-skin hands, and re-emerge, their smiles resurfaced, to take themselves off to a matinee or square off their seats in the cafeteria for a good old session of sip, hiss and gossip. Friends met them there, equally floral and bloodyminded. But it took my aunts to preside. And I pick the bronze disc out of the litter of the shop, and I fiddle with the rust of its scalloped fastening, and a gust of them wafts out, the sound of them cackling, the squeak of their complicated undergarments, the musk of their costumes, all dancehall and armpit, the cumbersome tamped-down plenty of their blue-silk busts. Always jolly, until you crossed them. Thick as thieves, a formidable old-maid front, glossy and tough as they come. Mouths akin to fruit in their tropical acrylic, over a crooked assortment of teeth. Battlers. Hard-nuts. And I used to be able to see myself in the circle of light, when I rifled their handbags, I used to take a peek and think I could rub in their tint, could repaint myself robust, could frost my little face with a swish of their moxie, be brazen, bold-as-you-please. But I’ve disappeared in the mirror. It’s like dusting for fingerprints.
About the Author
Tracey Slaughter is a poet and short story writer from Cambridge, New Zealand. Her work has received numerous awards, including the international Bridport Prize (2014), shortlistings for the Manchester Prize in both Poetry (2014) and Fiction (2015), and two Katherine Mansfield Awards. Her latest work, the short story collection deleted scenes for lovers (Victoria University Press) was published to critical acclaim in 2016. She is currently putting the finishing touches to a poetry collection entitled ‘conventional weapons’. She teaches at the University of Waikato, where she edits the literary journal Mayhem.