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.