Sat alone at the bar, Susan catches a glimpse of her reflection in the mirror behind the well-lit bottles of liquor. She quickly looks away, flushing in embarrassment with the fear of being caught doing so. But with a nod and a deep breath, she dares to look again. A sixty-five old with salt and pepper hair and wrinkles around pale blue eyes looks back. She smiles. It had been a while since she could look at herself in the mirror. Not because she had done anything wrong, or because she felt guilty about something – no. For forty years, she was taught – made to believe – she wasn’t worth looking at. Her late husband was her teacher.
To an unknowing ear, the words he awarded her, could seem romantic, as if she should know she was good enough – perfect, perhaps. Perfect to him. But his tone was a signature to her. Why do you need to look in a mirror? She recognised it, every time.
She loved her husband. He was good to her. He always provided for her, their children, and home. The children always had new clothes growing up and the latest hi-tech devices. If anything was broken or damaged, it was replaced with something new – something better. Money was no object for her husband – but he always knew how much everything cost. And the value of those things. Just not the value a kind word. She cringed at her thoughts of ungratefulness. Perhaps it shouldn’t really matter that he never complimented her. Or said I love you. She takes a mouthful from her tall drink, to refresh her mind.
Occasionally, she finds she misses him, but in the last two years since he’s been gone, she feels like she’s been able to breathe again. Her shoulders feel lighter. She now looks up and out, rather than at her feet. Her eyes smile again. She trusts herself. She makes decisions with confidence – even in the smallest of things. What clothes she wears. What drink she orders. What type of smile she presents people with when she meets them. She’s herself again.
Taking another sip from her glass, looking over the rim and again into the mirror, she spots the person she’s been waiting for, walking towards her. Not wanting her nerves to get the better of her, she concentrates – carefully – at placing her glass back on the bar and quietly clears her throat, before looking up to greet her new friend, Tom.
Moments before Susan clocked his presence, Tom stood at the door straightening out his already straightened-out shirt, and smoothing down his barely-there hair, then quickly made his way across the room to join her, with concern that he’s late.
He gently places his hand on her arm, which Susan finds both thrilling and oddly comforting. Hello, I’m sorry, have you been waiting long? he asks, leaning in to kiss her cheek before sitting.
No, no, she replies, trying to not get flustered. I left the house a little earlier than I needed to. I’ll know next time. She startles herself – surprised with how easy it was to say, next time, but worries it may seem presumptuous. She smiles, regardless.
Tom noticed. Since the first day he properly introduced himself at the widows and widowers support group they attended, he noticed everything about Susan. The way she beamed when she spoke of her grown children. The way she sincerely enquired about everyone else’s health, before lightly dismissing her own. The way her eyes glistened and widened whenever he was telling her a funny tale. The way she smiled and laughed like it had been a long time since she’d done either, and she was finally allowing herself to do both. Tom didn’t think – didn’t plan – that he’d meet anyone again after his wife died, who he loved and adored dearly for forty-five years. And he especially didn’t think – didn’t plan – to meet someone at a widows and widowers support group! That is until he met Susan. What can I get you to drink? he said, smiling at the thought of the next time he would get to spend with her.
As Susan politely asks for a gin and tonic, he watches her delicately tuck a fallen strand of her hair, back in to place. You look lovely, tonight, he said.
Susan blushes. Thank you, she said. And after a pause, Tom ordered their drinks.