Thursday, March 6, 2008

Close Your Eyes

“This minute. This tiny bit of time. I want to remember this forever.” Wendy closed her eyes, let the magic of the moment flow into her body, and snuggle down into her cells. This is the way she did it. This was the spell she invoked to help her remember.

Wendy opened her eyes. She was five. Ice cream ran down the fingers of both hands and onto the pavement in white sparkles as she walked home in the summer sunshine. Her older sister, also encumbered with two ice cream cones, licked quickly at the creamy sweetness while trying to avoid brain freeze. Grandma had given them each a dime. The Dairy Queen charged a nickel for a small cone.

Becky laughed at her little sister’s desperate attempts to keep up with the melting soft serve ice cream. “It’s on your toes, too. You can’t lick it off of them.”

“I love ice cream.” Wendy leveled off one cone and turned her attention to the other. “I love ice cream almost as much as watermelon.”

“I think I love watermelon more. You can spit the seeds and no one gets mad at you.” Becky flattened her second cone and held them both up in triumph.

“That one is leaking out the bottom,” Wendy pointed.

“Nuts.” Becky began to suck on the bottom of the cone as they rounded the corner and home came into view. Then she took a big bite out of the bottom of the leaking cone and the ice cream popped out of the top and landed in a splat on the sidewalk. Wendy laughed.

She closed her eyes.

She was eight. She opened her eyes to see Mom shaking baking soda under the running water to stop the itching from the clouds of mosquitoes that emerged each summer sunset. That day the neighborhood kids sat in a circle over at the neighbor’s house and chipped mortar off old red bricks. They laughed and told stories while they worked. She discovered that the neighbor boy didn’t wear underwear under his wide-legged shorts.

“I don’t know why you don’t stay inside after supper. You wouldn’t get so bit up if you did,” Mom chided Wendy.

“It’s cooler outside after supper. Danny let me ride his bike. I can ride a two-wheel bike, Mom. Can I have one for my birthday?”

“We’ll see. Take off those filthy clothes and get in the tub. I don’t know how you manage to get so dirty in a yard full of grass.”

Wendy shucked off her shorts and underpants at the same time and climbed into the bathtub. As she settled down into the hot water, her skin slowly gave up the sticky itching feeling and her eyelids felt heavy.

She closed her eyes.

Just after turning twenty-four, Wendy next opened her eyes. She saw the rosy glow of the sunset on the wallpaper hung by her mother in her little rented house. Her half-Siamese cat, Muppet leapt on the sofa arm, walked down the length of her body and settled onto her chest with a purr.

Wendy’s face was hot, puffy and red from crying. Feeling the pain of loneliness drift into the room, Wendy shuddered a bit. Weekends spent alone were getting harder to tolerate, and because she hated her job there was no comfort found during the week.

“One bullet. Just one tiny bullet, Muppet.” She fingered the small handgun and let the tears fall once more. Muppet pulled herself up into a crouch and leaned in close to stare into Wendy’s eyes.

She closed her eyes.

It was that time before dawn when the world is barely visible that she opened her eyes again. She was twenty-nine and nursing her newborn daughter. The dark grey form that draped over the clothesbasket slowly became the red t-shirt her husband wore two days ago when he came home early to tell her he had lost his job.

Never mind. He’ll find another one. Wendy put her sleeping daughter down on a blanket spread on the living room floor and laid down beside her. Little Belle’s eyelashes were thick on her chubby cheeks and her tiny mouth was still puckered from suckling. Wendy gently opened Belle’s fist and wondered again at the tiny fingernails. How could something this miraculous have come from me?

She closed her eyes.

Thirty-four years old and enough grey hair convinced her daughter’s kindergarten classmates that she was Grandma. She opened her eyes to read the instructions that came with the hair color. She thought the color looked too dark, but the opened box was not returnable. With a sigh, Wendy mixed the two liquids and shook up the bottle.

Staring at herself in the mirror, she noticed the lines at the corners of her eyes were deeper. Massaging the frown lines over her nose, she started worrying once more about their finances. The bill collectors were calling and they had a nasty edge to their voices.

“I can’t work any more hours. They won’t let me,” she tried to explain to her husband who was once more between jobs.

“You can get a better job,” he said, “one that pays more. You are wasting yourself at that store.”

“I haven’t had any other job since I left the law office six years ago. I’m out of date. Besides, they hire kids for those jobs.”

The mirror came back into focus and Wendy squirted the hair color on in loops and swirls making little ribbons of brown. Her head looked like a cake from a freak bakery accident.

She closed her eyes.

The funeral went well. At sixty-nine, Wendy opened her eyes to see people’s mouths moving but she could not hear what they were saying. Her husband had died. Belle’s hand clasped tight in her own brought all the comfort she needed. Her brother sent a card with only his signature. As they hadn’t spoken in twenty years, she couldn’t expect any more. Becky was in Texas now, and couldn’t make it back for the services. Wendy knew Becky couldn’t pay for the plane ticket and neither could she.

The organist began to play “Nearer My God to Thee.”

She closed her eyes.

Twilight. Her little dog slept in her lap. Big dog snored in the recliner. Her hip started to send shooting pains down her leg, so she shoved the little dog over onto the sofa, stood up, shuffled over to the living room drapes and pulled them closed, plunging the room into darkness. She scuffled to the bathroom, turned on the light, and once again felt a jolt as an old woman with snowy hair and a face that resembled a roadmap looked back at her in the mirror. “When did I turn eighty?” she asked the little dog that followed her.

She closed her eyes.