Somehow, some way, it was suddenly morning. She looked with dismay at the stain she had created with the glass that had slipped from her hand. When had that happened? Had she seen any of the movie beyond the title? She couldn’t remember.
She could remember, though, that she had seen the movie before—over twenty years before. That had been with her friends—long gone now. The “girls” as they called themselves, had dined at a local pub, flirted outrageously with the young waiter, laughed through dinner and dessert and then laughed through the movie as well. She missed those times and she missed those friends who had either died or moved away to be closer to children when they couldn’t be alone anymore.
She was proud that at least she was still able to live alone, still able to pay her own bills, drive her own car, shop, cook and—well, occasionally, – clean the apartment. She treasured her independence—most of the time. She still tried the Sunday crossword puzzle, even though she couldn’t solve it any better than she had in the past, but, she figured, at least she wasn’t getting worse at it! Sometimes she baked again, as she had in the past. She hated having to throw out most of it and wondered why nobody sold mixes for mini-cakes or cookie dough to make just a few cookies—six would be fine.
When she baked, that was when she thought of him the most. Her husband had never told her that what she made was good, but he had always eaten it all, stealing sliver after sliver of a cake until it was all gone, leaving the messy knife on the plate which she would always wash and he would always replace. She sometimes thought that they were in some kind of weird ditto machine. He would put the wet towel on the floor, she would pick it up and wash it so he could put it there again. Of him, she always said “some things never change” until the day when all of a sudden, they did.
When the police came to the door, she couldn’t understand what they were saying and why they were saying it to her. Something about an accident, a death . . . and suddenly the ditto machine ground to a halt. The cake stayed on the plate—knifeless—until it became a hardened mass and she threw it out. The towel stayed on the bar. Things changed.
With the insurance money, she was able to send her daughter to the expensive college she had dreamed of, in a city that, after graduation, she somehow had never left. She was able, also, to retire from her job—and then almost immediately regretted it. What was she thinking? Leaving the only familiarity that she knew, leaving the only reason she still had to get out of bed in the morning.
Walking to the sink, she retrieved a sponge and splashed detergent on it, realizing that it would probably be pretty ineffectual against cranberry juice, especially some that had dried several hours ago. Still, she dabbed half-heartedly at the stain, almost glad that that her husband wasn’t there to remind her what a klutz she was, something he had done quite often in their years together—something she was so used to hearing that she had almost forgotten how much it had annoyed and hurt her.
Suddenly, a feeling began to move inside of her. She wasn’t quite sure what it was; she hadn’t felt it—or anything, in fact—in a long time. Gradually, she began to recognize what it was—it was anger. She was thoroughly, deeply and intensely mad. She had not felt this way in years. She wanted to break things, to scream, to curse and to strike out. She—why she wanted to hurt someone! She couldn’t believe this was her! She hurried to the mirror, not knowing what she’d find, and there, staring back at her was not an angry woman but an amazed one. Who was this person? And even more important, where had she been all these years?
The widows’ group she had attended had warned her about one stage of grief—anger—and she had almost laughed at the notion that anyone could be angry at someone for dying! As if the person had done it deliberately, she thought! What a hoot! But here she was, consumed with down-home, dyed-in-the-wool anger at someone. She just didn’t know whom it was she was so mad at.
Was it her husband? How could someone be angry at a person for dying in an accident? Well, it was true he didn’t have his seat belt on, even though she had told him time and again to wear it. What was he thinking? How dare he do that to her! Was that it—was she angry at him for that? No, of course, no.
Was it her daughter? After all, she hadn’t called in over a week, and even when she did, they seemed to have little to talk about with lots of awkward pauses. But no, her daughter was, after all, just being herself—a little, no, a lot self-centered. She guessed that it was her own fault. She had raised her that way, she supposed, believing that she had to compensate for the love and attention she was not getting from her father.
As she leaned in closer to the mirror, she realized with a start who it was that was making her so angry. She was angry at the victim staring back at her, the weak-willed person who had allowed another adult to bully her for all of those years. She was furious at all of the missed opportunities to speak up, at the fear that kept her from walking out, at the lack of faith in herself that had given another person permission, in effect, to treat her so poorly. No, she realized, she had been the one to give that permission. She had no one to blame but herself.
She realized that she was livid at the person who was still allowing it to happen now, at the mother who somehow believed she had no right to ask for attention from the child who had received so much. Realizing that her daughter was probably just mimicking the treatment she had seen her mother accept from another, she was ashamed that she had not taught her better.
Throwing the sponge in the garbage, she resolved to take care of the stain the next day, when she would finally do what she had always wanted to do—have the carpeting removed and the floors sanded—something her husband had opposed. She would, in fact, have the room painted—no, even better, she’d paint it herself. And she would pick out the color without worrying about what anyone else would think.
She walked resolutely back toward the mirror, acknowledging how angry she was and how things were going to change. Suddenly feeling ridiculous at talking to herself in the mirror, she reached for the phone and dialed her daughter’s number.
She knew now that they would have a lot to talk about.