The Finishing Touch
The mirror was cracked and smeary. Some of the lights around its edge flickered as though trying to send some sort of Morse Code message. Jules stopped his task for a moment and tried to decipher what the meaning might be. He shook his head. He was convinced that there was a message of some kind for him, a message that would change his life. He picked up a pencil and jotted down a few words and letters, looked again at the lights and crossed out what he had just written. The paper in front of him was covered in jottings, scribbles and small drawings.
He leant towards the mirror and observed his face. Not a remarkable face, not a face that would turn heads, not a face that would inspire love, hatred, envy. Just a nothingness face. A face to face, or maybe outface, the world. He pulled the sleeve of his shirt down and began to rub at the smears, attempting to clear a patch through which he could see clearly. It made matters worse.
'Jules, ya ready. Almost time.' He grunted in response to the pounding on the door and the message given.
Leaning towards his reflection he smiled, the smeariness of the image was quite pleasing, an improvement on what he usually saw. 'Pull yourself together you silly sod and get on with the job in hand,' he muttered these words to himself as he spat on a piece of cloth and did his best to clear a usable patch.
His actions were automatic after all those years, maybe a little slower, arthritis making him quite creaky. But he didn't have to 'think' too much as his hand moved from the palette in front of him to the blank canvas of his face.
'Maybe I should try something different,' he said to his emerging doppelgänger. His answer came from the flashing of the lights. 'I suppose you're right. Why fix something if it aint broke?'
He sighed and continued. His box of colours was almost finished, but there was enough left. His father had taught him well. In his fractured English he had explained the importance of the ritual.
'Now Guilio, this isa tha besta way,' and of course Jules had been a good student, maintaining and keeping the family traditions.
'You must teach your own son when he arrives, just as my papa taught me and his papa him and so on.' But there hadn't been a son, Francesca and little Guilio had died just hours after his birth. There had never been anyone else.
His alter ego gradually appeared, colours applied in exact spots always the same never any divergence. He was often tempted to change something but then he could feel his father breathing down his neck,
'Is a family tradition Guilio. This design belong to us, from my great, great, great grandfather back in Italy. No one can copy. Is ours.' Jules could still hear the pride with which his father said this and so his hand always took the same course over his face.
He leant towards the mirror again. One last thing needed to be done, the smile. Carefully painting on what he no longer felt the image was complete.
He could not remember when the painted smile did not reflect the real one.
'Come on Jules!' again the pounding on the door. He bent down and picked up his shoes, almost as old as his career. His father had had them made for him when he got his first real job. They had become scuffed and worn, but he loved them. He winced as he bent down to tie up the laces. The colours and shapes in the leather had lasted well although the top was escaping from the sole which added something to the overall effect. When he had been performing night after night to a packed audience he had nearly bought himself a new pair of shoes but superstition, tradition and his father had stopped him. Lifting each foot in turn he rubbed them on the back of his trousers, which now fitted his ample figure. In the past he had needed the braces to hold them up, now they were just part of the costume.
He was ready, he knew that this would be the last time. No one was interested any more and his body couldn't take the strain. He ran into the ring, a single spotlight illuminating his actions. He heard the applause, although from a very small audience, could feel the smiles and pleasure emanating from those who watched. This would be his best performance, his swan song.