12+ Mum's up first, as always, though she doesn't like looking at her reflection nowadays. She splashes her face and turns away from me with a towel.
Over her shoulder, I watch Mum gaze out the frosted bathroom window, changing red with the dawn. And when she turns back to hang up the towel, Mum's wearing her pained expression again, like she's failed to solve the riddle of life.
Tilly's next in line, spending more time than some might deem necessary applying makeup and styling her hair to attend university lectures. But I have fond memories of little Tilly, standing on a stool to peer over the sink, pulling funny faces.
Now, all made up, she reminds me of Mum. Though back at the point when Mum pouted at me as Tilly does in the mornings. And I hope she never turns away from me like Mum.
Outside the door, Dad's been pacing up and down the hall. And when it's finally his turn, he grumbles as usual about building an en suite bathroom.
To be fair, Dad has a middle-aged male problem and gets up frequently in the middle of the night. So to be kept waiting for the bathroom, especially when Tilly's in here, can be excruciating for him.
Dad stands at the sink brushing his teeth and tells himself he should see a doctor about the problem and not just accept it as a part of getting older. But Dad's been saying this to me for a while, and I worry he may leave it too late.
Zane's the last to appear, later in the morning, after Mum and Dad have left for work and Tilly's caught the bus to university. I don't recognise the cheeky chappy he used to be these days. He looks surly.
When Zane left high school, he got involved with the "wrong people", as Mum told me once. They "led him astray", Dad confided to me another time. And Tilly only mentions her brother's name now if he bangs at the door when she's making up, and then she shouts and swears back at him.
Zane plays up to his label as the black sheep of the family. And I often suffer listening to him curse Mum and Dad, even Tilly. Yet I remember Zane and her as young and happy kids, elbowing each other for the front position at the sink, laughing at their images in me.
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After the morning rush and Zane's late visit, there's little to entertain me until the evening, when the frosted window reddens, then darkens again. And I spend my day musing on the family and their lives beyond me in the bathroom.
I wish Mum still felt confident in herself, that Dad would see a doctor, and that Tilly and Zane could be friends again. But selfishly, I also hope an en suite and bathroom renovations won't end my involvement with the family.
And I reflect, do they have any inkling of my feelings about them?
© 2023 Robert Fairhead
I wrote Family Reflections (originally titled Morning Reflections) for the Australian Writer's Centre's April 2023 Furious Fiction writing challenge. The brief for April was:
- The 500-word short story had to have something that CHANGES COLOUR
- Include the words ACCEPT, POINT, RIDDLE, INKLING and LABEL
- And the story had to have an ENGAGING OPENING SENTENCE that would make readers want to read on.
My first idea was a dark piece on domestic violence, opening with a woman staring at her bruised face in a mirror. However, I decided I couldn't tell that story, so I abandoned it. But I kept the mirror … and gave it the narrator's voice.
I enjoyed exploring the possibilities of a bathroom mirror, *reflecting* on the family. As an older dad, I recognised its melancholy, recalling Tilly and Zane's younger days and worry over the effects of ageing on Mum and Dad. And I'm sure the family and I are not alone in confiding confidences and concerns to our reflections with no inkling that the mirror may be listening to us.
April 2023 marked the third anniversary of my first Furious Fiction, A Song on the Radio (also shared on Tall And True), written on the first weekend of the COVID lockdown in Australia in April 2020. And Family Reflections was my twenty-seventh consecutive short story submitted to the challenge. (The monthly challenge switched to quarterly for a year in 2021.)
And [drum roll, please], it was the first of my short stories showcased on the Writers' Centre's website (as Morning Reflections) — the perfect anniversary gift!
It was also one of my most time-squeezed stories, with weekend family and footy commitments meaning I could only fit in short bursts of writing. But three years of Furious Fiction gave me confidence in my process and ability to write and submit the story by the Sunday midnight deadline.
N.B. You might enjoy listening to the podcast version of Family Reflections I narrated for Tall And True Short Reads.
Robert is a writer and editor at Tall And True and blogs on his eponymous website, RobertFairhead.com. He also writes and narrates episodes for the Tall And True Short Reads storytelling podcast, featuring his short stories, blog posts and other writing from Tall And True.
Robert's book reviews and other writing have appeared in print and online media. In 2020, he published his début collection of short stories, Both Sides of the Story. In 2021, Robert published his first twelve short stories for the Furious Fiction writing competition, Twelve Furious Months, and in 2022, his second collection of Furious Fictions, Twelve More Furious Months. And in 2023, he published an anthology of his microfiction, Tall And True Microfiction.
Besides writing, Robert's favourite pastimes include reading, watching Aussie Rules football with his son and walking his dog.
He has also enjoyed a one-night stand as a stand-up comic.