Gwen hobbled to the back of the rental van to fetch the last piece of her mother’s furniture, an antique mirror with curved edges adorned by elaborate golden scrolls. Her mother had bought it when she married sixty-five years ago. At the time, it was a lovely four-piece bedroom set she had spent far beyond her means to acquire. Over the years, the multiple moves, and the downsizing, all that remained of the set was the gilded mirror. As she walked to her mother’s suite, Gwen hoped that this would be her mother’s last move until she was ready for her final resting place at Greenwood Acres Cemetery, where she would join her husband Orville, who had been lying in eternal peace for the past 26 years.
Gwen’s mother, Eve, adapted quickly to her new surroundings. She was a social butterfly, always had been. Try as she might though, she could never quite achieve the title of socialite. She was delighted to have the company of other seniors after living alone since Orville’s passing. However, the decision to relocate was not hers. It had been made for her after her latest “incident” as Gwen called it. She had been careless, forgetting to set the iron upright after pressing a tablecloth and leaving the room for lunch. Her absent-mindedness almost cost her the house, not to mention her life. Since this was the third “incident“ in six months, Gwen had brought her mother to see a doctor to get her assessed. Eve fully qualified for a suite at the next available facility for seniors. Within a month she was packed, moved and settled into a one-bedroom suite.
Eve adapted quickly to her new home at St Thomas Senior Centre. Now she had every reason to get all decked out daily to go to the dining room or take in the regularly scheduled entertainment in the common room. She had enjoyed living the high life in her younger days and had the wardrobe to prove it. What Eve liked to do when she was done getting ready to go out was to sit in front of her ornate mirror and admire her inherited good looks enhanced by her impeccably applied makeup, designer clothes and expensive jewelry. She never tired of looking at her reflection.
Before leaving her room for the evening, Eve would check her mirror one last time to ensure every hair was in place. Then she would smile, pleased that her reflection never looked a day older than the day she purchased the beautiful bedroom set. The antique mirror invariably reflected her youthful good looks of days gone by.
Tonight, her shiny midnight black curls cascaded down her slender neck onto her dainty shoulders wrapped in a rose French lace shawl, giving her high cheekbones a slight apple blossom tinge. Eve’s entire face glowed once she applied her passion pink lipstick and ink-black mascara and sealed it all with a spritz of setting spray to keep her looking as fresh as if she was frozen in time. Giving her reflection one last glance, Eve puckered up her ample lips and kissed the mirror. The mirror responded in kind, just as it always did. Satisfied that all was as it should be, she got up, rubbed her arthritic hands and shuffled her way down the hall to the dining room.
Eve repeated the ritual every evening. After her afternoon nap, she would start primping for the dinner hour and whatever activity the recreational director had planned for the evening. On weeknights, the activities usually consisted of concerts presented by the local school children, card tricks performed by a has-been magician, or bingo for those who were patient enough to play until someone won the prize; a box of outdated chocolates or a handful of wilted flowers rescued from the auxiliary downstairs. Eve wasn’t crazy about most of these offerings but still attended. Why? For the simple pleasure of parading around in her fineries soliciting attention. But the one activity that Eve would never miss was dance night. Once a month, on Saturday night, the recreational director hired a 50’s band to come and play old-time rock ’n roll music. That night, Eve would get dressed to the nines. Out came the two-toned saddle shoes and bobby socks, the white circle skirt with the crinoline and the pink poodle applique topped by a snug-fitting baby-pink cashmere sweater with the tapered waist and the mother-of-pearl buttons. Eve loved the Saturday night dances. She loved the music. She loved the vibe. She loved all the manly attention she was accustomed to receiving. Not that there was an abundance of men at the centre, and even fewer of them could still actually dance, but that didn’t matter to Eve so long as the intent was there. All a fellow had to do was look her way and nod. She interpreted that to mean that although he couldn’t dance, he could do other things.
It wasn’t long before Eve had cultured quite a reputation at the centre. Not all of it good. The female residents didn’t see her so much as a threat but more as an oddity, an old has-been peddling her withered produce at a Farmer’s market.
The staff didn’t approve much of Eve’s girlish escapades either and began keeping track of her indiscretions in the daily “ïncident” report. It wasn’t long before Gwen was summoned before the administrative board to be made aware of her mother’s deteriorating behaviour. They recommended that Eve see a geriatric specialist who could better assess her condition.
Swift action was taken; Eve was diagnosed and soon became the patient of a progressive young doctor who treated dementia aggressively. He prescribed a new medication that had just been approved by the FDA and showed promising signs of slowing dementia and, in some cases, reversing some of the effects. Eve was to take a tablet morning and night, the staff was to monitor their observations, and Gwen was to note any positive changes she saw in her mother during her visits.
Three weeks after the implementation of Eve’s treatment plan, a significant amount of changes were noted. Eve seldom came into the communal area anymore. She was skipping out on evening meals in the dining room, demanding they be served in her room and daily activities became a thing of the past. When Gwen would visit her mother, she had to coax her to change from her pyjamas to her day clothes. Gwen helped with her bath and her daily grooming. Eve had lost all interest in socializing or keeping up appearances and demonstrated no desire to interact with her daughter. Gwen began to wonder if the new treatment plan was what her mother needed.
Doctor Kelly, Eve’s specialist, reassessed her after a month. He declared that Eve's symptoms appeared to be improving for all intents and purposes. She scored considerably higher on the memory test than the previous month. This was an encouraging sign, according to the doctor. He reassured Gwen that the treatment was working and that her mother would soon be living in “real-time” as opposed to living in the past. Wasn’t that what the therapy was all about?
Three months into the treatment, Gwen received a call from a distraught administrator from St. Thomas Senior Centre asking that she come to the care facility immediately. Gwen didn’t want to speculate as to what the state of emergency could possibly be, but from the sounds of the caller, something dreadful had precipitated the call.
Nothing could have prepared Gwen for what she saw when she was ushered into her mother’s room. Eve sat hunched over in front of her antique mirror, bony fingers trembling, clutching a pair of scissors in one hand. Long strands of silver-white hair lay in clumps strewn about the nightstand. A bottle of black liquid shoe polish lay empty on the wooden vanity top, its contents sponged onto Eve’s patchy scalp in big dabs. Black polish dripped from Eve’s brow, melding with a stream of hot tears that trickled over her swollen cheeks, down her slender neck and onto her pink cashmere sweater, which absorbed the rivulets of murky sorrow.
A thick mask of facial cream and powders had been blended and then applied in multiple layers to fill the crevices time had etched onto her once-youthful complexion. As her face contorted in anguish, the dried make-up cracked and peeled like that of a mud-encrusted lizard that had laid in the sun too long. Her smeared ruby-red lipstick extended unnaturally down the corners of her mouth, giving her a garish appearance like a clown with a permanent downward grin. Great sobs racked her fragile body, followed by moans that escaped from languished breaths through quivering lips.
Gwen waited in the doorway until the moans subsided. She watched in horror as her mother grasped the red lipstick and scribbled on the mirror in bold, childlike letters: TRAITOR! You betrayed me, you liar!