Never Be

Standing in the corner with the umbrellas and the hat-rack is an old rolled-up map of places the old woman has never been. She sits and rocks in her chair in front of the television that has been broken since 1967 and stares at the window behind her left shoulder and the silhouette of her figure  reflected in the rounded screen before her. The dials are dusty and the buttons are cracked with age. The plug is melted to its socket from the time a bad power outage sent a surge through the wires and sparks flew everywhere.

The old woman’s cheeks are sunken in and her shapeless knit hat is askew. She chews her bottom lip in a rhythmic motion that matches her rocking, and she counts. She counts the steps it takes to get from her chair to the kitchen, and from the kitchen to the post-box outside. She counts the steps it takes to get to the store in town and to the bus stop that takes to the city and to the music hall in the city where she saw the young man with the broken tooth and the newspaper hidden in his jacket and the glasses fitting his face lopsidedly. She counts how long it would take her to find her address book and run her finger down the alphabet to find his name; how long it would take to get a grip on the page and how long it would take to flip to it without ripping any of the pages in between. She counts the teeth left in her head and the days that have passed since her children have visited.

She counts wrong, often. She loses the thread between four-hundred twenty-seven and four-hundred twenty-eight. Sometimes she skips numbers, going from one thousand and one to twelve-thousand fourteen without a pause.

Her door is unlocked and she waits for the cowled figure she was promised in childhood. She remembers pictures of hourglasses and the fear of other girls looking at the scythed man beside them in the tarot cards. She knows exactly what she will say if he ever shows up. She will complain, and ask why he didn’t come when she could still take a step, a dance, a twirl. He will have to carry her out now, she’ll point out, and what, she’ll say, is the point of that.

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