By Jimmy Webb

Rose puts her music on low. Lays out her pencils. Greys on the left, colours on the right. The afternoon sun beams onto the drawing, like a spotlight. Perfect. She peers out of the window and smiles. There’s no car on the drive. No disturbances. Mum is out at lunch with her council colleagues. Every Saturday is the same.

Rose started the feather two weeks ago. At the spine, which is long and smooth, with a slight curve. She always starts at a central point. It helps with perspective. She could have easily completed the picture in a day, but instead, regularly visits it, to see it in different lights, appreciating each colour, each fleck and shine. 

The feather was from Terrence, a peacock they had when they lived in the old farmhouse. A time where Mum would sing and dance in her underwear and do silly things and get her hands dirty, before she became a townie and her nose turned up.

If only Rose still had the feather. But it is ingrained in her mind. She stretches her fingers. Picks up the white pencil. The barbs need more flickers of light. ‘Barbs’ is too aggressive a word. She prefers ‘veins’, because they give the feather life. They shape its character with rainbow colours. 

The front door opens. There’s laughter. Rummaging in the kitchen. Mum must have come home early. Rose closes her door. But footsteps creak the staircase. Mum gives two knocks in quick succession and enters nursing a glass of red wine. Rose stares as she adjusts her hair in the mirror. She’s had it done and is wearing more make-up than usual. 

She wants Rose to meet Alice Webster. ‘You know. She’s running for Mayor.’

Yes. She’s got a five-bed house and the perfect marriage, and narrowly lost the last campaign, but it must have been a fix. 

She’s brought her son, who’ll be studying art at college. Rose should meet him. Maybe even exchange numbers. She should wear the flowery dress Mum got her. It makes her look feminine.

She gestures to her drawing. ‘I’m busy.’

‘What, with this?’ Mum clumsily puts her glass on the desk, picks up the drawing, and tilts her head. ‘It’s only a feather.’

Typical of her to not remember. She’d remember Alice Webster’s birthday, no doubt. 

When Terrence died, Mum put the feather in Rose’s favourite hat. A bowler hat, that she wore everywhere. It disappeared during their move to town for better prospects; where Rose could make other friends than grubby boys and animals, and have more to do. She had plenty to do already. And didn’t want any more friends. 

Mum gets her glass and takes a large mouthful. Rose grabs the drawing and puts it back on the desk. 

She freezes. A perfect red circle soaks through the corner of the paper. It’s the same red that outlines the feather’s eye, and she wonders if it’s possible to paint with wine.

Mum takes another gulp, then another, and checks her hair again in the mirror. 

‘Fine.’ She can see how much this means. 

The shoulder straps are loose, but she can’t be bothered to adjust them. There’s a high split at the bottom, and it shows a bit of cleavage. She doesn’t check the mirror. If she wanted to look like a girl, she’d follow the herd and have long hair and pretty earrings.

Coffee wafts up the stairs as she goes down. They’re tucking into cake, Mum and Alice Webster covering their mouths while they speak, the boy with crumbs around his lips.

Jamie. Athletic. Rose imagines he’s probably fanciable. 

‘You look nice, Rose,’ Alice Webster says. ‘I like the dress.’

Mum beams an approving smile. ‘I just wish she’d stop having such short hair.’

Rose wants to shout. She wants to turn and walk away, but she’s better than that. She’ll nod and smile in the right places. She’ll talk art, even politics if she has to. 

She sits opposite Jamie. It turns out he’ll be doing graphic design, not art. Passionate about it. He has a bit of a brain. Shame he can’t stop looking at her chest.

Alice Webster must have said something funny, because Mum snorts with laughter. She looks at Rose with her ‘Oh, cheer up, sweetie’ eyes. ‘You’ll have to excuse her,’ she says. ‘She has no sense of humour.’

‘Dya know what? I don’t feel too good. I’m gonna grab some Paracetamol and go back up. Nice to meet you both.’

‘I thought you looked peaky, sweetie. Probably from spending too much time in that room.’

Jamie sits up and opens his mouth to speak. But doesn’t get the chance. Rose is already in the kitchen. She grabs the red wine, and a white, and puts them in a bag. She turns to leave but spots coffee in the machine. She pours some into a mug, then peeks out the door, and sneaks it all upstairs.

She changes into her comfortable clothes. Gets some scissors. Kneels by her mirror. She cuts a section out of the dress. Holds it up. She hadn’t paid much attention to the detail before. The flower looks like a rose, but it’s not. A carnation or something. She cuts the dress into various shapes, some big, some small. She lifts a handful of hair from her head. Cuts it at the bottom. And again. She keeps cutting until her head is covered with tufts. By her knees is a mixed pile of revolution, against the typical female form, against male gratification. 

It’ll be great for her craft drawer.

She puts her music on low. Lays out fresh paper. Pours the liquids into pots. Red wine on the left, white on the right, coffee in the middle. She gets a thin paintbrush. Dips it in the coffee. Paints a line, long and smooth, with a slight curve. The spine. She always starts at a central point. It helps with perspective.

One thought on “Different Shades

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