I stand in front of the mirror and pull my face back with my hands. I look ten years younger. Then I catch a glimpse of those hands. My mother’s hands. Wrinkled and spotty. They let go of my face and the lines return to their familiar places. My eyes are still blue and clear. So I focus on them. As they drift downward, I see my neck. Ugly. My ears are good, which fascinates me, considering all of the gigantic earrings that have hung from them. I look down at my faded pink bathrobe. It’s depressing. I decide that the lighting in the bathroom is bad. Too much florescent glare. How many years has it been this way? I stopped caring about that stuff a long time ago. I wonder why? Where did life stop for me? I can’t remember. The cancer scare? Ex husband? Maybe. But I think it was long before that.
The dog scratches at the closed door. He seems to know when I am feeling old. He is old too. Cataracts. Going blind. Him, not me.
I open the door and almost knock him over. I scoop him up in my arms and kiss his head. He licks my wrinkled face. He loves me in spite of it. Dishes are stacked in the sink as though there was a big dinner party the night before. Only thing is, no one's been to my house in over three years. These are my dishes sitting there for I can't remember how long. I start to run some water, but turn it back off. The dishes can remain unclean for a while longer. What difference does it make, today, tomorrow or never? I see a small cockroach race across a plate and wonder where the bigger ones are. Did they scatter when I walked into the kitchen? I open up the door below the sink and take a look. No family members there. Where do they hide? Just curious. Not really going to look for them.
It's one of those mornings that I haven't yet turned on the TV. Unusual. I turn it on and plop down on my ragged couch. The dog jumps up and lays his head on my lap. Seven o'clock morning news coming to a close and it's only 11 am. Still morning.
News flash. Someone has killed a priest and locked himself inside of a confessional, threatening to torch himself. The TV camera crew is already in the church filming. I don't want to watch, just in case he does it; but I want to watch in case he does. A nondead priest steps into his side of the confessional and opens the small window. The film crew is practically inside with him. I wonder why the man doesn't light his match now? He's got the attention of a holy man and a whole lot of TV viewers. But he doesn't. I'm a little disappointed. I forget my own sadness for a moment. I thank him for that. Then flames shoot out of the confessional. My eyes open in shock. The priest pushes past the TV crew, the end of his robe in flames. The cameraman is being pushed by his producer further into the small chamber where the priest has not done his magic. Camera is rolling. Through the small confessional window I see the man burning. His hair aflame so it looks like there is a halo around his head. I can't stop watching. I don't want to. There are hideous screams. I can't tell if it is the burning man or the producer. Camera goes dead.
I turn the TV off and sit there thinking about what just happened. The dog is sleeping now. Maybe he's deaf too. I pat him on the head, his tail wags. I wish I could wag. Strange. I feel energized. I think for a moment about what I should do next. It's too much thought. I close my eyes and try to think about nothing, which seems to be an easy thing until I try. Too hard to think about nothing. Disturbing things pop into my head. Like the butcher at the market. His hands are always grimy. Dried blood under his fingernails. I don't like him. He glares at me when I order one chicken breast. What would I do with more? He can't understand. He probably has a wife and five children. I have no one—but the dog. I guess I could get another piece for him. I try harder not to think. But now I think about the woman sitting on the sidewalk just two blocks away, begging for money.
She actually has a tin cup. I don't believe that she's really blind. I never give her money. I see her too often and don't want her to feel uncomfortable when she sees me. If she can see me. She does wear dark glasses and tilts her head to listen for steps coming her way. For my benefit?
I tighten my closed eyes and try to imagine what it would be like to be blind. I open them again to a sight that forces me to close them. Not really wanting to see, I squint at the mess. There is only one path through my living room. My TV sits on a pile of old mail. I hadn't noticed before. Old newspapers and magazines are stacked almost to the ceiling. I have forgotten about trying not to think. How did this chaos happen? I was a minimalist.
At least I told people I was. I open my eyes fully and look behind me. A mess back there too. My dog is still peacefully sleeping. He is not a minimalist. He doesn't see this clutter and travels this one path through the living room comfortably. He is secure in this muddle. Me too. But I am not blind. Or am I? Amazing Grace. I was blind, but now I see.
In my bedroom the bed is not made. A pillow lays alone on the floor. I look around and my foot gets caught on an old bra. I don't recognize it. It must have been there for years. I try to remember if it was mine. Who could it have belonged to? It must be mine. I just don't remember. I stumble on a pair of high heels. They look familiar. But I can't imagine having worn them. They are so high. But they belong to me I'm sure. My closet has one dress hanging. The rest of my clothes are on the floor. Why is one dress still hanging there? I see it as an omen. I drop my pink robe and slide the dress over my head.
It fits. Under a coat on the floor I find a pair of not too high shoes. They fit. A straw hat rests on the top shelf. I put it on. I fish out a wrinkled sweater from the floor. It matches the dress. I close the mirrored closet door. My image startles me. I am still old and nearly fall over in my most recent discovery. But from the bottom of my neck down I don't look bad. My dress is good and the sweater covers my flabby arms. My legs are all right. The shoes are good too. Where am I going all dressed up? I'm not sure. But I have to go somewhere.
I go downstairs and sit back down on the couch.
I stare at the blank TV and all of the papers beneath it. I pull out a few and open one. It's something about property taxes. Why couldn't it have been a birthday card? I throw the letter on the floor. I'm guessing that I owe someone money for this sad old house. I sit there thinking about what to do next. It seems like a lot of thinking and non-thinking for one day.
The dog's leash sits on top of a stack of magazines.
I pick it up and the dog wags his tail enthusiastically. We are definitely leaving. What do I need to take besides the dog? A purse. Why not. Maybe I'll buy two chicken breasts today.
I open the door and look back inside. What a mess. The dog seems to recognize that it's a mess too. I stop at the end of the sidewalk and look at the yard. Odd. It's perfect. Who takes care of it? I really don't know, but who ever it is does a good job. How did that happen? Why didn't I ever notice? I drop the leash. The dog sits, patiently waiting as I open my purse, drop it too and walk back to the house. I enter and leave, closing the door behind me and locking it. The flames flare up from the house as I pick up the dog and purse, then walk away. Enough. My confessional burns.
Brendan Shepherd moved to New Mexico in 2005 from Los Angeles where she worked on television and feature film projects. She remains involved in film production and lives just outside of Madrid.