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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Twilight Years of Life (07/02/09)

By Jan Ackerson


For thirty-seven years I taught creative writing to earnest high school juniors; the best of them were pimply girls with black nail polish and lanky hair, girls who believed that angst was an interesting emotion.

I haven’t read an essay for more than twenty years, and those girls have all become one girl now; in my memory I read her anguished stories and my red pencil scribbles without mercy on each one. When will she learn, I wonder, that alot is not a word, and that it is not necessary to describe her setting with a dozen dreary adjectives? Over the years I developed my own Ten Commandments, which I displayed around the classroom on poster board cutouts resembling tablets of stone.

Mrs. Tippit’s Fourth Commandment: Thou shalt not write your main character looking into a mirror.

Mrs. Tippit’s Seventh Commandment: Thou shalt not be overly clever. The epitome of over-cleverness would have to be this—referring to a story as it is being written, forcing one’s reader to be both outside the story and in it.

Yet here I am, being exceedingly clever, for you are now reading this story, and it is a story of me, looking in a mirror. You may turn away at any moment, but I hope you’ll stay; elderly creative writing teachers of earnest high school girls want nothing more than a reader who will think she should have been a writer, not a teacher. What craftsmanship, what mastery of language!

Here it is, then—my story which breaks two commandments at once.

My slippers make a husha-husha sound as I shuffle to the bathroom. I’d pick up my feet and silence them, but my knees are creaky in the morning. So is my right hip; it’s easier just to baby-step along the hardwood floors until my joints awaken. I haven’t fully opened my eyes yet; it’s only five o’clock and the house is dark. I know well the eighteen steps that will take me from my bedroom to the bathroom sink—there is no need for light just yet, so I squint and shuffle, shuffle and squint.

Well, it’s seventeen steps, I guess—I bump into the closed bathroom door with an oof, and quickly hope I haven’t wakened John. He’s a slugabed, that one, sleeping until 5:30 most mornings.

A flick of the light switch, and I shuffle the two steps toward the sink, squinting a little less now.

There’s an old woman in my mirror. A crabby old woman by the look of her, for she’s scowling back at me.

I lean in closer, feeling like Red Riding Hood’s wolf. The better to see you with, my dear. My flannel nightgown, no doubt, reinforces the granny-ish illusion. This is the sad inventory that the mirror reveals to me:

Wiry hair in various un-lovely shades of white.
More wrinkles than skin. Even my wrinkles have little sub-wrinkles, wandering off like tributaries.
Pale, lashless eyes.
Several new splotches here and there along my hairline. They might best be described as “mocha”, although the color is far preferable in a ceramic mug than on my withered cheeks.
An errant whisker or three or four—certainly not a mustache like my old Aunt Mabel. No, not like that at all.
Thin lips of no describable color.
A crepe-y neck—draped, wattle-like.

Can you see me now, looking in the bathroom mirror? Make sure you note that I’m frowning, not only at the caricature of myself therein, but also at the fact that there are spatters of toothpaste in the corner of the mirror—spatters that I asked John to clean up days ago. I make a small sound of exasperation in my throat and look around for a washcloth.

John is standing at the bathroom door, with an expression on his face that I read, myopically, as annoyance. “What’s got your goat, old man?” I say with uncanny cleverness for this dim hour of the morning. I grab a washcloth from the rack and start to scrub the mirror with pointed sarcasm.

“I was just watching you,” he says. “Looking at how beautiful you are.” He takes one step and touches my face, then inclines his head toward the bedroom door with one rakish eyebrow. “Whaddya say, young lady?” He tips an imaginary hat, and offers me an arm.

My slippers make a husha-husha sound as we shuffle back to the bedroom. I’ll ask you to look away now—story’s over.



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This article has been read 1233 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Chely Roach07/09/09
This was such a hoot! Breaking the 'rules' presented a gem of a line like, "Even my wrinkles have little sub-wrinkles, wandering off like tributaries." Lol. What character you created in such few words...
Loved it.
Carole Robishaw 07/09/09
This was...well, I can't think of enough adjectives to properly describe it.

Totally enjoyed it, but, I'm sorry to say, I relate in far too many areas.
Verna Cole Mitchell 07/09/09
This is so well written and delightful all the way through to the end. I share the mc's memories and am happy, too,to have a husband who loves me in spite of my wrinkles.
Sonya Leigh07/09/09
Your story is truly enchanting...and delightful...ok, I'll stop. One more adjective, though, to marvel at how you manage to weave humor, such rich characterization and warmth in so few words: MASTERFUL!
Lynda Schultz 07/10/09
Wonderful all the way through, but the ending is priceless.
Patricia Herchenroether07/10/09
Reading the first part, I thought I was in Jan's Master Class. LOL. The mc's observations in the mirror were so real, I could see her myself, and the end, what can I say? Truly great.
Charla Diehl 07/11/09
What an entertaining story wrapped around one's self image and one looking through the eyes of love.
Patricia Turner07/11/09
I think I really like your crabby old woman. A very nice piece of writing.
Jim McWhinnie 07/12/09
Great stuff with a light, deft touch.
Laura Manley07/13/09
This was an absolute delight to read. I saw early on why your entry is in "Masters." Excellent! Laura
Melanie Kerr 07/13/09
I love the contrast between how she sees herself in the mirror and how her husband sees her.
Connie Dixon07/13/09
There's a lot of hope in this story. Hope for an intact mind, hope for humor, hope for relationship, and hope for...well, you know...

Great job. Loved this.
Carol Slider 07/13/09
Beautiful and masterful in every way, and a wonderful portrait of enduring love.
Diana Dart 07/15/09
FANTASTIC! Loved this teacher, the eighteen, nope, seventeen steps, the slippers. My favourite, absolute favourite part was the mirror. Laugh Out Loud and Read It Again! Great stuff. Dare I even say this makes me want to "get old"???
Karlene Jacobsen07/15/09
Hilarious! Absolutely hilarious!
Colin Swann07/15/09
Excellent writing and a very interesting story. Growing old is so very hard to do, (is that a line of a song? - No it was 'breaking up')Everything thing seems to be breaking up when growning old - but the spirit. Thanks - Colin
Karlene Jacobsen07/16/09
When I read this I was thinking of "Sniggles" and had a feeling!
Karlene Jacobsen07/16/09
BTW Congratulations on EC 7th place!
Eliza Evans 07/16/09
Angst is an interesting emotion isn't it? :P

Thanks for introducing us to Mrs. Tippet.

So fantastic, Jan. Smiled all the way through. Love the descriptions and the humor! And the very tender ending.

GREAT stuff!
Sharon Kane07/17/09
It's amateurs who need to follow the rules. Masters like yourself break them with abandon and still come out on top! This was superb, and great fun to read.
Janice Fitzpatrick07/19/09
This was cute and realistic.I love your MC's voice. Your style is so fresh with a squeeze of sass and spunk. I really enjoyed this. God bless your day hon! Congrats on your placing.:0)
Shannon Parker11/06/10
I really liked this piece! Too funny and very enlightening as well! Excellent work!