Naked, Brave and Dusty


Through a dense fog, I hear the splintering of timber. Voices. Male voices.

Something about ‘drifting away’.

I’m being wrapped in a blanket, it’s woollen, I can feel it against my skin. It’s warm.

Strong arms guide me toward my bed. More voices. ‘Cover the mirror’.

Why are these people in my room? What do they want?

I feel very light, and I see myself from a distance. A very comfortable distance.

I’m trying to decide. Do I come back or do I drift away? Drift away seems like an excellent idea.

I’m not asleep, but I’m not awake, either. I’m in that in-between place. It’s beautiful here.


When I awake, a day and a half have passed.

I’m feeling rested, and it’s quiet because almost everyone is off at work.

I take my time and bathe.

I look at myself in the bathroom mirror; I don’t look any different, but I definitely feel different.

I spend the afternoon quietly sitting in the garden listening to the birds and trying to collect my thoughts.

Eventually, my extended family begin returning to our large home.

The house is surprisingly quiet as the women prepare the evening meal.

The men bring in wood for the fire and go about the small tasks that men perform to keep a large house like ours running smoothly. There is very little of the usual chatter, and what conversation there is, is carried out in hushed tones.

It is not spoken, but everyone is thinking the same thing.

What happened, and how will it affect the fortunes of our family?

Even if they did work up the courage to ask, I would not know how to answer.

Quite simply, I don’t remember what happened.

I know that the experience almost cost me my life, and I know that I feel at peace.

Something passed between me and the mirror and even though I don’t know what that ‘something’ is I know that it was good. I know that our family will prosper and I know that I will come to be its leader, in the fullness of time.

Everyone is looking at me in a different way than they did before, and that is as it should be.

How the mirror came into our family and where it came from are two facts that are shrouded in mystery.

My favourite story? That it was enchanted by a gypsy princess.

The princess was captured by angry townsfolk who were upset about a poor crop yield, or something like that, and blamed it on the gypsies.

I guess people have always needed someone to blame.

One of my ancestors, who was a poor but chivalrous young man, rescued the gypsy princess.

She was a bit bruised, battered and dusty, but otherwise unhurt.

She took my young ancestor back to her caravan and gave him a good seeing to, which they both rather enjoyed.

She also gave him the mirror. Her enchantment meant that the mirror would respond favourably to any female member of his family who was beautiful, naked and brave.

I guess I was all of those things.

I know I’m not the same.

I dared to face the mirror, and that sets me apart.

My self-confidence goes all the way down to the tips of my toes.

I’m the same height, but I feel taller.

My thoughts are now full of answers, as well as questions. The future feels bright and full of possibilities.

Sometimes courage is its own reward, and outward beauty has very little to do with it.

I know that my daughters will be vigorous and wise. The experience with the mirror taught me that bravery overcomes all obstacles, but in the end, it is the love that comes from within that holds a family together, no matter how large or small that family might be.




Painting by Alex Alemeny



“She reads such deep books—all about facts and figures: she’ll be quite a blue-stocking by and by.”

— Elizabeth Gaskell, Wives and Daughters, 1864-1866

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This story is now published as part of the anthology ‘Loyal and True’.

Bluestocking is such an old-fashioned term, but it described Mabel to a tee.
When she was a little girl, everyone thought she was ‘so serious’, which wasn’t true.
She liked to have fun, the same way everybody else did, the difference with her was she was also curious.
All little girls are curious, but Mabel was curious about big things. Big ideas — the way things worked and didn’t work. She was hungry for the truth, whatever that might be.
Her parents were not well off, but somehow they managed to scrape together enough for Mabel to go to university.
Now, that is not entirely correct, and Mabel would like me to be precise; her parents had put aside enough money for her to attend university for two years of her four-year course. It was up to Mabel to raise the rest of the money. She did all the things that students tend to do in such circumstances, but by far her favourite job was working in an office.
It was a small company with only a handful of employees so everyone who worked there needed to be versatile, and that was something that Mabel could lay claim to — versatility.
She had an excellent telephone voice, knew what a filing cabinet was and was a whizz with numbers.
Everyone enjoyed having her around, and she enjoyed the job the way that anyone who knows that they are not going to be there forever enjoys a position, with grace and calm good humour.
Studying full-time meant that she could not always be in the office during regular business hours, so she made up the time by working late and working on Saturdays. In those days, everyone worked on Saturdays but only until 12 O’Clock. Mabel went through till 5 pm.
Personally, I would be forced to hurt someone if I had to work in an office but Mabel loved it.
Every situation has it’s own personal aroma, and the smell of office supplies was like an aphrodisiac to Mabel. Even dust had its appeal. It was a time before air-conditioning so each season added it’s own aroma though the often opened windows. In Winter, the smell of wet overcoats and damp shoes continued the melody of aromas.
Mabel completed her degree with distinction but when it came to pursuing her chosen career she was in a quandary.
In the short-term money was not a draw as her starting salary was slightly less than what she had been earning at the office. Using her newly won credentials would mean starting at the bottom. No respect and few friends. She knew that these things would sort themselves out with time but her time was now, and the prospect of waiting years for what she already had, was not to her liking.
Her cosy little office job offered her everything she had ever wanted, respect, a reasonable income, security, and a sense of being needed.
When she told her boss, she was going to stay he offered her a raise even though she hadn’t asked for one.
She lived in a nice little flat in a nice little block of flats on a nice little street with heaps of other blocks of flats.
She travelled to work by tram and ate her lunch in the park.
The young men in her building paid her a lot of attention and one day she would choose one of them as a mate, but not just yet.
Her life was good, and she was not in a hurry to see it change. She missed the study but enjoyed the extra money that working full-time brought.
She knew that it would not be long before she was managing the office and who knew what would come next.
She didn’t wear blue stockings every day but when she did she wore them with pride.
She was an independent woman, making her way in the world.
She had a degree which she didn’t use and a job that she enjoyed.
No matter what stockings she was wearing she knew that she had made a success of her life.


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