about to scream, fainted instead.
July 5, 2013
THE WIDOW SAT DOWN BESIDE HER
Mrs. Murphy, often called the Widow, propped up in her walker. Her arms like wires. Leaned against the counter in the cosmetic section of the drug store looking into the mirror that was looking back. She played with her hair. Remembering those cool April evenings, when in front of her vanity she drew a brush through her thick long brown hair. And the mice scurried across the floor. And looked up her night dress.
Without turning her head away, she spoke. Like she was Alanis Morissette.
“I used to be a great beauty.”
Deborah Hall, the cosmetician stood on the other side of the counter. Like a secretary waiting on the corner. For her boss, a married man, to pick her up. Cleaning the glass counter top with a dry cloth and no sense of humor.
Deborah hadn’t heard Mrs. Murphy. She’d been thinking of last weekend. It was already Tuesday and she was still thinking about Frank. About how funny he’d reacted when she told him that he should make use of a good deodorant. Right after his eyes had rolled up in his head beads of sweat rolling down his forehead onto Deborah’s chest and that terrible lonely sigh slipping out of his lungs when he had reached his orgasm. Or what passed. He hadn’t phoned back. And it was Tuesday.
Deborah Hall looked at the Widow. Patiently. She’d heard the old lady’s story so many times. It was tiresome. How all the young men of her village had fought each other for the privilege of her… company. How she had met them in the parlor. Did anyone have a parlor anymore? She met them with the doors open. So that her mother could hear everything happening. As if anything happened. How the last one standing had proposed to her. Not standing. But kneeling. A sentimental cliché. But still romantic. And tragic in a kind of pathetic way.
Mrs. Murphy had fallen for someone else. Was that possible? A fellow she’d met while she’d been with Harry looking for his new car. Did she actually fall? Harry was another suitor. More interested in big automobiles. He never called them cars. Mrs. Murphy’s mother did not approve of Harry. He had grease under his fingernails. Why wouldn’t he? He was a mechanic. Owned his own service station. Wore his uniform as proudly as any sailor. Maybe her mother was right. He smoked. Held his cigarette in his teeth. Too tight. Like the Germans. There was a bad lot in the big city. Where temptation lay in small hotel rooms with the windows open on hot sticky August evenings. Mrs. Murphy told Deborah how someone across the way had watched them making love. Her and Harry. From another building. Where they made fans. On his lunch break. And Harry wasn’t the one she’d fallen for. That was Earl. He was an accountant. In his father’s business. And the fellow was standing in the window boldly holding his male thing in his hand while Harry did what he was proud of. And Earl was bound to inherit the business. And a comfortable living. And with the right woman, an ambitious woman, maybe expand into real estate. Mrs. Murphy believed in property. It’s the only thing that they’re not making any more of. Unless we travel the stars. And then all bets were off. And Mrs. Murphy stopped. To take a breath.
For a brief moment Deborah considered confiding in Mrs. Murphy. Should she phone Frank back? Or just chalk it up as one more guy? Who couldn’t appreciate a good thing. But then dismissed the idea. Talking to Mrs. Murphy. How could you trust anyone who had so much stuff dangling from her? And we’re not talking about jewelry. From the chin, the neck, under the arms. And we don’t want to imagine anything else. Being old is so hideous.
“Dear,” the Widow said. Attempting to get Deborah’s attention. From her own selfish thoughts. Maybe laying with her lover. Under a tree. Where’s it’s shady. Deborah smiled. Mrs. Murphy had succeeded.
Then all the young men were gone. Mrs. Murphy continued. This time as she had on previous occasions. Gone. Young men sucked up in the war. Lost in foreign mud. With her image in their hearts. Like a thorn in our Saviors flesh.
That’s what it is. She’s Pathetic. Deborah believed when she stood in her smart little outfit in the drugstore. But in those moments late in the evening when Deborah was alone. She wondered. As she cleansed her face with care. Whether she would feel that way when she was Mrs. Murphy’s age. And how fast that time might come. And would she have any memories of her own. To soothe a lonely soul.
Mrs. Murphy leaned over the counter and whispered to the cosmetician.
“There are only two things that smell like fish,” she said. “And one of them is fish.”
“Mrs. Murphy!” Deborah cried and stepped away. The widow often talked like this in Deborah’s ear. When there was no one about. If only the old lady would speak loud enough for others to hear, she would have a witness. And proof enough to have her removed from the store.
Deborah turned on the old woman and spoke lowly as if in confidence.
“How can you talk to me like this? Such intimacies should not be shared amongst strangers. And we are certainly not friends.”
The old woman giggled and returned to her previous conversation.
“Oh, yes,” the Widow said standing more erect to get a look at her bosom in the mirror. “I had all the young men eating out of my…” She smiled at Deborah and added. “Lap.”
“Mrs. Murphy, you mustn’t…”
The widow stepped back over to the counter and took Deborah’s hands in hers. Took them swiftly. Like a thief. Ready to run off.
“All my life I’ve been holding back but not now. It’s so liberating being my age. You can say anything and be forgiven.”
“Don’t you have gentlemen friends,” the widow asked, “who, in the heights of passion, whisper lovely obscenities in your ear?”
At that moment a mouse ran down the middle of the aisle. Deborah Hall unable to scream, pointed at the small furry animal. Mrs. Murphy turned and seeing the animal, brought her foot down heavily on the floor. The tiny creature disappeared under the Widow’s shoe. A moment later a pool of blood crawled out. Deborah Hall, about to scream, fainted instead.