Thursday, May 19, 2011

What Mirrors Don't Tell You

By Marina Neff
from Laura Alden’s
The PTA Mystery Series

My best friend frowned at the changing room’s mirror, gripped the skin over her abdomen in both hands, and sighed.

This was a bad sign. Usually Beth wrinkled her nose at her reflection, made a remark about at least she looked better than her sister Kathy, and walked out of the store with her head held high. But today was New Bathing Suit Day, the day during which all body flaws are laid bare.

“I thought I told you never to do that,” I said.

Beth let go of her stomach fat and stared morosely at her reflection. “Maybe I should start listening to you.”

“Exactly what I’ve been saying for years.” I watched as she twisted and turned. “Want me to get a different swimsuit? That pink one would look great on you.”

“You just want me to wear pink because you can’t.”

I fluffed my light red hair. “Who says I can’t? Is that like the no white shoes before Memorial Day rule?”

“No,” she said. “It’s the don’t-wear-colors-that-make-you-look-half-dead rule of common sense.”

“Oh, that.”

She tried to pull the suit lower a few times, frowned some more, sighed some more.

“All right,” I said. “What’s the matter?”

“What?” She blinked. “Nothing’s the matter.”

“Quit that. Of course there is. You haven’t looked in a mirror this long since the week before prom, hoping your straight hair would magically turn curly.”

She turned back to the mirror. “You didn’t know me when I was in high school.”

“Yeah, but I know you now. What’s with the mirror obsession?”

Her capitulation came fast. Must have been the semi-public space of the department store’s changing room. At home she wouldn’t have talked for half an hour.

“Claudia Wolff.” Beth poked at her hips with her index fingers. “She was in my bookstore the other day and said, ‘Wow, Beth, have you put on weight?’”

I made a rude noise in the back of my throat. “And you believed her?”

“Oh. You mean she might have been...” She trailed off, not wanting to voice what I knew to be truth.

“Been lying?” I supplied. “Don't be an idiot. Of course she was.”

“But look,” Beth practically wailed, pointing at her dimply thighs. “I’ve never looked like this!”

Sure, Beth could stand to lose a little weight, but most of us could, including me. But what Beth most certainly didn’t need was Claudia Wolff’s specter haunting her every bite. That would give anyone intractable food issues in half a day.

“You’re never been forty-one, either,” I said. “Cut yourself a little slack, kid. You do just fine. Think of all the other forty-one year olds in the world, then think of yourself. Don’t just think of the entertainment people who keep themselves in shape for a living, think of people here in Rynwood, Wisconsin. Think of Claudia herself, who isn’t exactly the fittest person on the block. And think of that handsome Evan Garrett of yours. Like attracts like, you know.”

“Thanks, Marina,” she said, finally smiling. “You’re the best friend ever.”

“I’m glad you recognize that as fact.”

She laughed and went to get dressed. I wanted to call her back and tell her that no, you’re the one who’s the best friend. Maybe I make you laugh, but you’ve shown me how to live with grace. Maybe I can get you out of a mild funk, but you’re the one who showed me how to get up in the morning when there’s nothing to get up for. Maybe you think I’m the one with all the dreams, but you’re the one who achieves them.

“Hey.” Beth poked her head out of the changing room. “Maybe I’ll try on that pink suit after all. Would you mind getting it for me?”

I heaved a martyred sigh. “Gladly, I do your ladyship’s bidding.”

And I did. Gladly.


  1. Besides, the lighting in change rooms makes everyone look greenish, which doesn't help. Come to Threadville and take my swimsuit-making course, and you can try on your creations in your own home!

  2. Ha ha, Marina and Beth are such great characters! Loved Murder at the PTA and looking forward to the next one. Have a great week, Laura!

  3. Shopping for bathing suits: the true test of friendship. What a fun post! I love Beth and Marina, dippled thighs and all.

  4. Marina writes:

    Haylee -- making a swimsuit? Good heavens, woman, where do you get the ambition? Sounds like something Beth would do, though. I'll let her know.

    Kaye -- I'm so glad you enjoyed Murder at the PTA. The next book will be out in early July (Foul Play at the PTA) and, if you can believe it, Beth bucks up a little and starts to take charge. All thanks to me, of course.

    MJ -- yeah, shopping for bathing suits is rough. Especially when there are teenagers trying on bikinis saying, "Oooo, I'm soooo fat." You should have seen the look Beth gave them. Hah!

  5. I just love these snippets of story. Always so full of character and emotion. Marina, please mention that to Laura/Janet, would you?

  6. Interrupting this Killer Characters post to say... from one writer to another, Laura, I just love your 'voice'! Brilliant piece... love it!

  7. Marina, I love the friendship you have with Beth. I have that with a couple of my friends, as well, and I don't know how I'd live without them. I know you'll be there for her if there's trouble ahead. And she'll be there for you, too.


  8. Love the post! Although someone needs to do something about that nasty Claudia.... :)

  9. Shopping for bathing suits? Has to be one of the most horrible things we have to endure. The sad thing is that it just never gets better. Every year the mirrors are worse. Clearly fun house mirrors because we don't really look like that. The suits are continuously cut higher (and lower). Except for the ones with flattening panels, which are actually made of the same material as sausage casing and feel that way, too. It's enough to keep a woman out of the water entirely.

    ~ Krista

  10. Marina writes: Thanks so much, ladies, and I'll pass your comments on to Laura. Eventually. (Heh heh heh.)

    Krista -- I never knew that mirrors got worse every year. That explains a lot. Thanks :)

  11. You're a good friend Marina!