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She awoke sluggishly, after about five, erratic hours in the bed, lips dry and swollen from dehydration. The pile of clothes on the wicker chair obliterating all but the edges of it, clean laundry mixed with once worn, anything wearable in need of a steaming. Unrecognizably blush pink carpet mapped by unmatched shoes, rogue hair, odd wooden hangers, and the occasional mouse turd, she decided that remaining in the fetal position sideways on the king was preferable to setting her bare feet on the squalid mess just to make those eight steps to the bathroom.
What addicts did during acute withdrawal. She wondered. Group therapy, probably. Up at the crack of sun to hot shower and force feed a full breakfast, then the shuffle over to the circle of chairs in the meeting room to sit and ponder who’d get up first to poop.
She fingered the sheets, smoothing the fabric and then reaching for the clump of pajamas she hadn’t bothered to change into before finally having collapsed for the night. Hugging them like a stuffed animal, she remembered her college boyfriend’s body pillow after his wife of 14 years had left him. She’d noticed that he’d kept it up on the top of the armoire, but later imagined him, his long legs embracing the whole thing, streaks of those scant tears on the face she could still see so clearly.
She’d remembered all the boys. The hair under their arms. The light in their eyes. The consuming feel of them. The vacuum of their absence.
By ultra-conservative standards, she’d spent about a year during the mid-eighties in defined promiscuity. None of them had known that, to her, each and every one was a new chance at love. They’d not been able to tell that she wasn’t just the rumored whoring waitress, with the gagging morning breath and the stinging spermicide. All the players in the scene were clueless.
By a more liberal view, she’d qualified as a prude. An extremely late bloomer, waiting until all the other girls had found husbands to even consider giving it up. In fact, taken in totality, the number of times she’d actually done the deed in the course of the life she’d been blessed to live probably hadn’t, even with the brief marriage, reached the number of days in a single year. Given that the sixth decade now loomed, this was a dismal testament to desirability, let alone any known capacity for prowess.
He’d been a name, penciled hastily on a scrap, referred by a professional associate. Several phone calls, unacknowledged. One message, something about returning from South America. Numerous consults thereafter, professional advice seduced by the sound of the other’s voice and deep, mutual need. Professionalism: abandoned; a lifetime of advice: unheeded.
Ironic, all the resentment and hostility she’d harbored for decades against inherited family members, co-workers, and acquaintances for their self serving infidelities, now strangely neutralized. A marvel, how easily she’d slid into the defendant’s seat. Even more dumbfounding, how anonymous her new identity.
Seven months hence, innumerable hours by phone. One parking lot meet up in the pouring rain; two brief, discreetly modest encounters with dinner out; no sex; the results of complete bloodwork she’d urged him to get – and, he was done. Racing back to the family he’d created practically by hand, falling out of alleged, persistently declared love in one, single act of reunited bliss. And, new medication.
According to the female Indian medical professional, the borrowed time he’d been living on was in fundamental need of a disciplined health regimen. And, she’d stopped being the eternal ear on the end of his phone, anyway. Something about rude and egotistical behavior, she not being somebody with whom the remainder of life should prudently be spent. Too many independent alleged friendships with other men. Too much independence, period. What had he been thinking? He’d been temporarily insane. Surely, this would be the best, most dismissive explanation. There was important work to do, after all, and important people were depending on him.
She looked around the bedroom, in full recognition. The overwhelming weight of familiarity. There was a certain quality of silence in true depression. A cumulative force, now, bearing the breadth of years of repeated defeat. Once again, encroaching squalor, with no motivation to even begin to address it.
She wondered how many weeks this one would take. The cusp of fall had always been her favorite time of year. An odd serenity, a deep peace would customarily infuse her when the air went crisp and the neighborhood fell quiet, children finally in school, streets free to prepare for the gathering of leaves and sewer drains their racoon young. She’d been certain he’d be free by September, their first day trip together reaching for the calendar. He’d missed knowing her father by only four years, her mother by two decades, and her grandmother by three, but there was one institution left in her life that deserved to make his acquaintance. Perhaps a short drive to New York state, an afternoon walk on the gated grounds of Chautauqua. He’d never been there; she’d thought best to show him the grande amphitheater, before its scheduled demolition.
Yes. This time was different. She wasn’t at all sure she’d ever want to clean the house again. She wasn’t at all certain that she’d spend another penny on anything of value, beyond basic sustenance. This one had stripped her of something.
She pulled slowly to a standing position, padded to the toilet and sat, staring across the bedroom at the static closet filled with clothes she never wore. Her pulse was feeble. She could no longer feel her heart.
© Ruth Ann Scanzillo
8/31/15 All rights strictly those of the author, whose name appears above this line. No sharing or copying, in part or whole, not even a phrase, permitted for any reason by any party. Thank you.