Nefret-Hur’s Toilette

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This is the thing I love most,” she says. She runs her fingers round the edges of the shard of dark gray slate, trimmed to the shape of a flat, wide fish with an upturned mouth and jolly eyes. “When I spoon the powder onto it, when I mix the colors, I feel as if I am all the women who’ve used it before. Just think — how many women would that be?”

I do a quick calculation. “Perhaps a hundred? Assuming each one used it for about twenty years.”

She laughs. “Imagine that,” she says.

Next to the fish palette sits her makeup box, its top tray a jumble of brushes and carved spoons, its drawer half open, the jars of creams and perfumes spilling out onto the dressing table. She strokes the fish; for a moment, the tip of her finger rests on its mouth.

I take possession of the finger — my mouth is more deserving.

“No, no,” she cries, throwing me a sidelong glance and withdrawing her hand. “We’re almost late already. We can’t keep my father waiting. Go! Now, so I can finish dressing.”

I pause at the door and look back at her as she draws the slim wand, dipped in kohl, along her eyelids. Next door our two young daughters are sleeping. How blessed I am in the love of this woman: Nefret-Hur, my wife, youngest daughter of my king, Amenemhat the Fourth.