She sits cross legged, her skinny legs like a puzzle of flesh before her, leaning against the side of the bed, facing the double bevelled glass doors through which the morning sun flows, showering this little room in fragments of broken light. Dressed in a flimsy nightgown stained with bleach and time with her short angry hair protruding in dangerous spikes, my mother has a haphazard look about her, as if her being was sketched quickly and thoughtlessly by the hand of God. Yet, there is something meticulous and deliberate in the way she is holding her cracked grey compact mirror up to her face, inspecting her skin with such intense concentration that the lines of her forehead crease in protest. The room is heavy and still from the heat of the sun but she does not sweat. She never sweats, she is a lady. There is an abandoned Dunhill left to burn in the pale blue and white china ashtray beside her and a steady stream of dirty smoke curls around her, dancing against the light.
Oblivious to the incoherent cacophony blaring from the morning news she reaches for her jet black eyeliner amongst the clutter of apricot and taupe blushes, jade green and tacky blue eyeshadows, Estee powder and crumpled balls of tissue covered in smudged graffiti of black mascara. Her neck arches back as she looks down at her reflection, making her catlike Chinese eyes appear lazy and regal and her gaze arrogant as she sweeps the pencil across the top of her half closed eyelid. Dropping the eyeliner carelessly, she smudges the corners of her eyes with her pinkie finger, a talon really, dipped in blood red polish until she is certain that perfection is attained. She works quietly, never cursing or getting frustrated by the awkward position of her bony wrists and wrinkled hands that tell her history and age from the veins trying to burst through the skin. She wears Dior lipstick, rouge 863, to camouflage her small sharp teeth, stained yellow by years of cigarettes in cafes, bars and the bedroom. In this mood my mother is all fangs and talons wearing the richness of red.
My mother is an artist, her face is her canvas. This is a ritual for her, a slow and immaculate decoration, creating a beautiful mask to brave the world. She is beautiful, elegantly beautiful with eyebrows that arch, asking questions to those who dare to meet her gaze. Her bone structure is fine, her features a contradiction of delicacy and angularity. Her beauty, her manner, the rigid way she paints her face, scrutinising every line and every pore, her proud expression, are incongruous to the rare glimpses of honesty one sees when she wakes up in the morning, when she laughs. She is so many things and in the quiet of the morning, alone in her chrysalis, her metamorphosis occurs and she emerges, wearing her make-up like the cloak of a new personality.