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September by Adrienne Newcomb

September is a funny month. You never know how she will present herself: clinging fiercely to the last late orange and pink sunsets and mosquito-ridden humid nights, or succumbing to the beginning of cooler days and dark early mornings. The weather she brings is never consistent--glacial in the morning, temperate before lunch, and occasionally pleasant in the evenings. She is challenging and unpredictable, as most women are but pretend not to be, especially in the presence of a male counterpart. The “cool girl”, if you will. She gets along with those who pay her attention and thrives on compliments and second glances when walking down the street. September reminds me of my mother.

We used to have a mirror mounted to the back of a closet door in the front room of my childhood home. It was dingy and clouded with years of hairspray so thick that even the thought of trying to scrape it off was useless. She’s in front of the mirror now, picking apart every piece that stands before her, as if she was under a microscope.

“What do you think of this outfit?” she asks.

“You look good, mom,” I sigh mechanically.

I haven’t looked at her outfit. It’s the same one she was wearing 5 minutes ago before she changed for the 3rd time. They all look identical now. This is the morning routine before school starts. A mirage of outfits and countless glances at a body that doesn’t look the way she wants it to, which is my fault. Tall black boots paired with a much-too-short skirt, a maroon shade of lipstick, and the frustrated sighs playing on repeat like an old favorite song. Nothing will please her, yet she still asks what I think.

“Are you sure it looks okay?” She pauses. “I don’t feel good in this, maybe I should change again.”

“It looks fine,” I mutter. “I have a spelling test today I really don’t want to miss. I’ve been practicing all week, can we please go soon?”

Somewhere in this exchange, I have set her off. An unwelcoming tone descends. It’s unsettling and frigid and there is nowhere to go, no place to move, stuck in time on our old brown couch. The worn-out and sunken cushions of that damn couch where I tuck in my feet offer no solace on mornings like these. The insecurity that strangles her grows tighter around her throat until I swear I can see bruises. I fiddle with the sapphire ring on my pinky finger. Sapphire is September’s birthstone.

“No boy will ever want you for anything besides your body.” The automatic reply leaves her mouth. I see lipstick on her teeth. “If you don’t make yourself look good, you’ll have nothing to offer.”

She tousles her hair and leaves for what I know will be another outfit change, probably something more revealing this time, and there will be at least one more change before there is any hope of leaving this brown couch. Before the clicking of her boots signals a return, I stand in front of the mirror, touching the hairspray and then my face.

“If you don’t make yourself look good, you’ll have nothing to offer.”

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