By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
I looked at her. She was shaking slightly, like her poodle, but didn't appear to notice.
"I thought about what you might be missing," she said. "A wedding? A death? Picking a child up from school?"
I shook my head.
She smiled. "I decided it was worth the risk. I simply felt that if I let you go, in the state you were in, you might never recover from the thing that happened to you."
I lay back, exhausted. "Thank you," I said. "I'm going to fall asleep again."
"That's fine," she said, removing the tray. "When you wake up, you will be all right again."
I wondered if anyone recovers from anything, really. I'd never been raped, but I thought about it all the time, and it turned me on. How did you recover from things that didn't happen to you? I wanted to ask the old woman, but I was too tired to speak. She held my tray on her lap and rang a crystal bell. The nurse came and took the tray away. Then the old woman smoothed my forehead and left.
I dreamed a variation on Munchkin Land, where a wee little lass came to the door of your teacup every morning and gave you the day in the form of an egg, which would by the end of the day hatch into something you didn't want. The insult brigade came by and kicked you in the shin. The liars came after that and posed an interesting philosophical question. Then the adulterers came and led you away to a shortcut through the field of poppies, where the fact that no one loved you suddenly came as a relief.
IN THE MORNING -- A MORNING -- the old woman brought me scrambled eggs, toast, corned-beef hash from a can, and black coffee. Then I took a long shower and brushed my teeth with a new toothbrush. Back in my room, I saw that she'd laid out some of her old clothes for me: a cotton dress from the '50s with a Peter Pan collar, smelling very fresh and good, a pink cashmere sweater that was clean but did not smell fresh, and my own bra and panties. For shoes, some house slippers, which my heels overhung by a good inch.
I shuffled into the kitchen, stretching, and found the nurse washing my breakfast dishes. "You can wait in the garden," she said.
Outside, I sat on an iron settee, then thought better of it and sat on the grass, doing some stretches, feeling blood move. The air smelled sweet. No pool, but a corner fountain with a praying virgin nested in a seashell alcove. I felt the urge to kneel, so I did, and my heart opened. My eyes filled with tears. "Thank you," I whispered.
"I'm not Catholic," the old lady said behind me, the dog prancing around her feet. "I just liked her when I saw her in the garden shop. Are you Catholic?"
I turned and smiled, embarrassed, shaking my head. "No, I'm not anything. Not that I know of."
"Just sentimental then," she said.
"I guess so," I said. Nothing, I thought, could be further from the truth.
"We'll drive you home now," she said brightly, "if you're ready."
The nurse drove the Cadillac, the old woman in the passenger seat, and I sat in the back like a child being driven to church. "It's Sunday," the old woman said. "If that matters. I noticed today because the paper was thicker. Do you do the crossword?"
Had I been gone a whole week?
"No," I said. "My mother used to do them though."
"You should take it up," she said. "It's very soothing at times. Takes you out of yourself." She looked out the car window. "But so many things do."
I gave directions as soon as I recognized where we were, and it wasn't long before the nurse was wheeling the Eldorado into the driveway of the house where I rented a garage apartment.
"I'd like you to come up," I said. "Just for a moment. I want you to see where I live." I'd been growing anxious that she'd refuse, but the old woman heard the pointed note in my voice, gave a nod, and I helped her out of the car.
The steps up to my place are flimsy and creaky, and she put her whole weight on my forearm, walking a step ahead of me. I unlocked the door and let us into the musty room.
She took a turn around, then stopped next to the sofa. She was winded from the climb. I crossed the threshold and stood there, too, looking at the old woman in my apartment: behind her on the coffee table, my lipsticked wineglass, and through the open door of the bedroom, on the floor, the dress I had decided not to wear. She was in the foreground, her purse over her arm, her sweater held over her quavering shoulders by a coppery maple-leaf sweater clip.
She looked at the room, briefly, and without assessment, as if it didn't matter, or wouldn't very soon.