Monday, May 18, 2009

She Liked Breathing into the Phone

It’s not about politics anymore, it’s personal. I think of Nora and her fine hands, her closet full of clothes, her dressing table laden with middle-age lotions.

She stepped out of the tub toweling off, gathered in her robe, and sat down before the mirror.

“Damn,” she said, almost out loud. She looked at her neck and saw the signs of age -- it’s always the neck that shows age in a woman. Nora was matter of fact about this.

She thought about her husband while she fixed her hair. She still loved him.

She was 44 with eyes of shining brown. Her nerves fluttered, sometimes they screamed. Sometimes she stood in the hallway upstairs and felt dizzy -- but not often, not usually. Her life was serene and contented. Her days passed in busy errands and idle moments, and she was bemused by her own happiness.

She dabbed some powder on her face. Her husband never noticed her neck, but she did. “And it’s not getting better,” she told herself. She had put a streak of ginger-brown color, just a tiny streak, more like a wave, in her hair, which was short and dark brown.

She was thin, not from jogging or smoking, but from worrying. She had discovered that worrying can burn up a lot of calories. So she kept thin, and her husband was rich, and her posture was so much more elegant and erect that it had been when she was younger.

She worried constantly about her children, but she was not insecure. Women who worry because they are insecure go straight to the refrigerator and eat. They get fat because they think no one loves them.

Not Nora, her husband and three daughters loved her very much. She was a queen. She was holy. She worried in very comfortable and tasteful surroundings. Her nerves were under control.

The house was large and white, overlooking the pond. It was built near the time when Nora was born. “Almost exactly as old as me, this house,” she said. And who would have thought -- those who knew her when she was younger -- that she would become an outstanding housekeeper.

Not the kind that can’t sit still -- always dusting furniture and ironing sheets, or the kind that bustles morning and night and cans fruit in season. Nora put up some strawberry jam five years ago, but the experience was not satisfying.

No, Nora was a practitioner of intelligent housekeeping. It wasn’t the way her mother did it, but even her mother had a grudging admiration for her domestic style. She ruled her house with her heart and her mind. Actually, the place was not that tidy. Dust lay on the dining room table, enough dust to embarrass the kind of woman that works hard to impress her friends.

Nora would notice the dust in a disinterested way. She would see it on her way to the patio, where she often went to read a book and watch her youngest child at play.

- - -

Nora was at her dressing table. She looked in the mirror and thought about herself. Mostly, during the day, she was busy or thinking about her children. Or she might be talking on the phone to her friends. She spent a lot of time on the phone. She had morning phone friends and afternoon phone friends. She had one late night phone friend for special calls.

She liked breathing into the phone, whispering closely into the ear of her beloved. Her voice came over the phone like a warm, curling maternal way, the way a momma cat licks her kittens. But she was not a real social animal, she didn’t go out much to visit.

On this Tuesday evening in May in Massachusetts, she wasn’t thinking about her friends, or her husband or children. She was thinking about herself.

“Oh, I’ve been through this identity thing before. It’s just a college girl’s torment. I don’t see why I have to think about it anymore,” she said, but she looked deeper, peering past the perfume bottles, and the little snapshots tucked in the mirror frame. She looked at her face in the mirror. Her face was like a sister. She hated her face. She was stuck with it. She knew every line. But now she looked deeper. She looked past her own beautiful brown eyes. Lovers had told her so often about her eyes, and they had gazed at her in wonder.

She kept looking deeper, and she felt foolish. She wanted to glance back over her shoulder to see if the bedroom door was closed.

“I’m not an introspective person, this is selfish,” she thought. Still there had to be an examination. Her life was passing in an orderly procession of picnics and small tragedies, with plenty of time for reading good books, doing chores and watching over the children.

Periodically she knew she must look at herself and be herself, all alone, and not get right up and get on the phone and call Cathy long distance to talk for a half hour. No, this was not to tell, this was to keep for herself...

[We'll be hearing more about Nora in upcoming issues.]

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