Beauty is a Verb

TANYA BATSON-SAVAGE

A Dramatic Monologue

ACT [I]         SCENE [I]

A WOMAN, JANICE – ABOUT 50 YEARS OLD – SITS BEFORE A DRESSING TABLE EXAMINING HER FACE AND NECK IN A HAND MIRROR. SHE IS IN THE PROCESS OF GETTING DRESSED. EVENTUALLY SHE PUTS THE MIRROR DOWN. SHE TURNS TO HER AUDIENCE AND BEGINS SPEAKING. WHILE SHE SPEAKS, SHE CONTINUES TO GET DRESSED – FINISHES HER MAKE-UP, ADDS JEWELRY. SHE IS CALM. UNHURRIED.

JANICE:         I’ve decided to grow old gracefully. Or at least with a little dignity. At my age, dignity is precious commodity – the only thing more important is having a bladder and knees that still work. I used to fight this aging thing tooth, nail and everything else in between, but one day you realize that it’s either you accept it, or you become one of those women. Now there’s nothing wrong with being a youthful older woman, but you don’t want to be one of ‘those’. You know them, those women who are in this ‘demographic’ but who are clearly shopping in the wrong store. Regardless of what the store calls itself, honey, nobody is forever 21 and just because you can fit into it, don’t mean you should put yourself in it.

Getting old … it’s the easiest thing in the world. You don’t have fi do a thing. And it’s the hardest thing in the world. No matter what you do, it still going happen. And it’s not so much the getting old part, you know, it’s losing the things you used to take for granted – like not having to get up how many times in the night to go pee and well . . . Being beautiful.

What’s that saying? ‘Beauty fades but grace lasts forever.’ (kisses her teeth) I don’t believe that either. That’s just something they tell ugly people to make them feel better. My mother can tell you, and she would love to tell you, I was never that graceful. But beautiful . . .

When I was in school they teach me that beauty is a noun. That is a lie, one of the biggest lies you will ever learn in school – and that place full of lies. Beauty is a verb. It’s a bitch of a verb, a bitch of an ungrateful verb. It takes work. You work at it and you work at it and you work at it. You put in the clothes, the hair, the make up, the make up the make up, but eventually, and eventually comes a lot sooner than you think, you still end up like this.

People like to tell you that it’s what’s on the inside that counts, but my mother made sure I knew how to make the outside look even better. And the only thing worse than being an ugly woman is being a woman who used to be beautiful. I used to be a beautiful woman.

Then one day, I wake up and the girl I used to see in the mirror has been replaced by some old woman. And this old woman is looking back at me like I know her, like I could ever be her. Where did she come from and what the hell did she do with my body? There are somethings you can’t escape no matter how much you run from them. And it’s not just realizing that yes, you’re old – once the hair on ‘possible’ (she subtly points at her groin) turns grey, there’s no denying that fact anymore. But it’s the things people say about you, and they say it as though it’s a compliment.

These days he says things like, ‘Janice used to be stunning,’ or, ‘You should have seen Janice when she was young.’ Like I’m not standing right there.

It’s not like I think he doesn’t love me anymore. I’m pretty sure he does, at least most of the time, and nobody loves anybody all of the time. I don’t have any illusions about why he married me. Let’s face it: women are like mangoes – nobody eats them for their nutrition. What you want is the prettiest, juiciest looking mango and you just hope there are no worms in it.

So I brought him looks, and he brought me possibilities.

Sometimes I think I married him just to spite her. She said Mark wasn’t the type of man I should marry. Said, my father may have been a no good drunk that never gave us anything, but at least he gave me a complexion I could use, and the last thing I should do was throw it away on some old nayga who wouldn’t reach anywhere in life. Those weren’t the exact words she used – that woman had a very foul mouth, and for all the scorn she scorn black people, she had no problem picking up their curse words. I never see one Indian woman love tell people about they ‘blood clart’ so much. That is how she said it, as though putting an ‘r’ in the word, polished it up some how.

I used to worry that I was going to become just like her.  Without her I wouldn’t know what power I had in my hand, in my face. And it’s not just that people will do things for you if they think you’re beautiful. It’s more that they think you can’t be that bright. So they underestimate you. You don’t need to rig the game, just learn the rules and use them to your advantage.

I was supposed to marry someone who looked more like us, or actually like me. A man who would give her grandchildren with the right complexion, lighter than mine, and certainly lighter than hers. She had a man all picked out for me and it didn’t matter that he had a nasty temper, and there were rumours about his first wife. What was important was how much land his family had.

Not marrying that man was the first time I defied her. But it wouldn’t be the last. She said that me and the shame of my dark children were going to be the death of her. Like she would have the decency to die before she was old.

The first time I heard her call my baby girl black and ugly, I told her she wasn’t welcome in this house anymore.

Turning my back on her wasn’t easy, especially when every time I looked in a mirror there she is looking back at me, nagging: ‘stand straight Janice’, ‘a comb is your friend, Janice.’

I don’t regret using my looks to get where I am, to get us to where we are, in this house, this neighbourhood. But I wasn’t going to let her pile those things on to my children. I may look like her, but I wasn’t going to become her.

SHE PICKS UP A CHURCH HAT – THE FINAL TOUCH ON HER OUTFIT – PUTS IT ON AND RISES.

I guess I don’t have to worry about that anymore. Today . . . Today I bury her, and with her all that ugliness.

SHE CHECKS HERSELF IN THE MIRROR ONE LAST TIME. AND LEAVES.

CURTAIN

Tanya Batson-Savage loves mangoes and stories and stories about mangoes. has written for the stage, screen and radio (and one day she will write a story about a mango). Her love of stories grew while she was seated at her grandmother’s feet, where she developed a passion for folktales that shines through in her first collection of stories of children Pumpkin Belly and Other Stories (Blue Banyan Books/ Blue Moon Publishing).  Her play Woman Tongue received 8 Actor Boy Award Nominations (2016) and her short film script ‘Endeavour’ earned the award for Best Script in the Kingstoon Anime Festival (2013).

Her career has crisscrossed the cultural landscape including cultural policy, teaching, cultural criticism, journalism, advertising, and publicity. She is ‘head cook and bottle-washer’ of Blue Banyan Books and its imprint Blouse and Skirt Books. Her writing has appeared in The Caribbean Beat, Bim, The Jamaica Journal, The Caribbean Quarterly, the Skywritings Magazine, and Moods of Jamaica.

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