“It will be a long, long day,” the boy wrote to me of his upcoming travel to New York City from his country this coming Sunday. I am going on Saturday, and am now dreading the trip while longing for the destination. Will my handbag be too big? Will the title of the play I’m studying for scene work set off a customs officer’s alarm bells? Will they confiscate my iPod? I have been traveling literally all my life, since I was a toddler, on my own since I was 17, and this is the most stressful aviation undertaking I can ever recall.
But of course in one corner of my cloudy mind I am not thinking of that. I am thinking past that, to being in the city, in the flat, settled in, the scans and questions and forms behind me. I am thinking, with a grotesque vanity, of how I look. I am considering, in my mind and in my mirror, how my nearly-42-year-old body looks.
My hair was done a few days ago; it is a rich, dark colour, any trace of grey gone for the moment, with some auburn highlights and a good cut. When it’s curly, as it always wants to be, it’s wild, down almost to between my shoulders; sexy, perhaps, if one likes that sort of thing. When it’s “done”, by someone who can actually style it (that someone would not be me), straight and smooth, it’s much more sophisticated, sexier, I think. Although I admit I know nothing. Little of my physical self makes sense to me.
More than my hair, it’s my skin I scrutinise. I am, like many Hibernians and those of that descent, among the whitest of God's creatures. I am translucent in places; the inside of my forearm is like a map, motorways major and minor swimming through it. “Honey,” the boy said once, shaking his head slightly in disbelief, “you are like snow.” He has seen snow perhaps three times in his life.
I have temperamental skin, easily scarred, prone to blemishes at times. I have worked hard in recent weeks to try to make it clear and soft and, oh God, young. I am fortunate in that regard, as far as I can tell; my hide’s difficult nature means I have always coddled it, and my natural aversion to bright light and heat has meant that I have always avoided the sun. I brush my skin and scent it and minister to it and watch for the telltale signs that it is betraying me, moving slowly back to the dust from which it rose. And I’m sure it is; I’m sure I’m looking at myself with the charitable filters of middle-aged vanity and anticipatory lust. But right now, I need the courage of those filters. I need to have some steel in my skin and my eyes to face the boy’s gaze. That pelagic gaze. He is almost fifteen years younger than I.
I have joked complainingly before about my dimensions. The hour glass in which I perceive most of the time has passed. In truth, a tape measure tells me that the top and bottom match almost perfectly, and the middle is comparatively small; but the overall creature is so generous, and so far from my idea of what is lovely and graceful, that I cannot think of myself as voluptuous or curvy or whatever the current polite euphemism is for big. Of course, big makes sense; I am a peasant, close to the ground, very strong. The boy is tall and slender and a natural aristocrat, with skin the colour just beside honey. He is the opposite of the physical things I am. And I cannot deny that this seems to appeal to him. He likes my body. He anoints it with his lips and hands and breath when we are alone. He regards it fondly and protectively when we are among others. And he does not have to. It gains him nothing to grace me.
I have sought to make myself smooth and sleek if I cannot make myself what I would rather be.
So I will pack and attempt to learn my lines for the scene work I will be doing over the next two weeks. And think, of course, of my life beyond this little reprieve. I have been cast in a play into rehearsals for which I will be thrust as soon as I return. I have articles overdue. I have a principal role in a planned web series. I may never see the boy again. I have so much to do.