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Definition #4

Updated on October 22, 2012
Source

A short story about a new widow leaving an old life.


Watch



is a flash of silver on a wrist, a crescent moon peeking from behind a black silk sky of cuff. The silk blouse caressed her arms, her shoulders, her breasts, encircled her wrists, reminding her of how long it had been since she was touched by a man. The heavy red curtain sagged in lugubrious folds from the pressed tin ceiling to the stage. From her seat she just made out the masking tape X’s on the floor, the marks for the actors to find under hot, blinding lights.


Josephine waited. The seats around her swelled with audience. The background rushed at her full of chatter and crackling wrappers. In the row in front of her a balding man in a black suit helped a woman remove her long shimmering coat. Perfume released, jasmine and rose and lilac. The lights dimmed, the audience rustled to their seats, she glanced at her wrist.


A slim watch with stark modern lines. Too modern. The salesman had fastened it round her wrist. It was her first major purchase since Monty’s death. The first purchase made without her husband’s approval. She’d twisted the glinting silver strap. How would it work with her cameo brooch, the garnet ring from Mother, the strand of pearls Monty tossed into her lap on their wedding night?


The other jewels stayed in their case.


She had begun shopping in trendier places, choosing sleeker clothing with simple geometric lines, expensive fabrics of which Monty would never have approved. She redid the upholstery in the living room, a soft rose. Delicate floral throw pillows. She took down all the family photos and had them rehung in pewter frames--Mom and Dad, her sister’s children. The photo of her and Monty on that dreadful St. Louis sales cruise, she set in a drawer and firmly closed it.


Weeding in the backyard one day as she had done every summer for twenty-six years, the harsh sun glinting off the face of the watch, a bee had zoomed under her straw hat and was trapped. It whined next to her head. She threw off the hat, flailing her arms like a drunk. The insect tangled in her hair, kissed her cheek and was gone. Josephine threw the trowel after it. The ragged straw hat lay where it had fallen. It had never suited her; she picked it up by the brim and with two fingers dropped it into the trash. Then she went inside to the phone book and looked under L for Lawn Service.


A hush fluttered down like black snow over the audience. Josephine could barely see her oval timepiece in the dark of the theatre. Was the long hand sliding past twelve? Show time. How much time? How many lifetimes? How much time might be left?


Like the moon traveling around the earth, time has dark and light phases. The house lights dimmed, but Josephine knew her watch showed her life in a light phase. “You have a moonlit glow about you,” said a hairstylist, showing her the new cut in a hand mirror. But moonlight reflects light, years later, of misplaced and sidetracked rays of the sun.



Watch


is what is done from inside out. From behind the eyes, to whatever is in front--real, factitious, imaginary, a dance of shadows and textures and actors, two dimensional --whatever it is that plays out when watched.


The curtains opened. A man in an exaggeratedly baggy brown suit, a walking grocery bag, stalked about the stage. His shoulders heaved side to side like Monty’s had. Angry Monty. Hungry Monty. She’d bring dinner to the table, watch his fingers curl and uncurl on his heavy thighs.


“Can’t you remember one simple thing?” Monty would squeeze the knife and fork in his fists.


“I’ll do it first thing tomorrow. I’m sorry.” She would set the plate in front of him. Steak, mushrooms, boiled carrots, gravy, milk, she checked off the items on his plate. The dry cleaning, the white wash, the mortgage mailed, photos ordered, garbage out, oil changed, sheets exchanged, yard weeded. There was always something she forgot.


“What do you do all day, anyway?” He would eat.


On stage, the grocery bag man’s lips moved, his mouth taut white, square. His eyes lost in creases, neck red and mottled. The tension of those dinner hours ended sixteen months ago. The constant watchfulness, wondering which mistake would trip her up, send her flying headfirst like a rag doll into the cyclone of his anger. Josephine lifted a wrist, rubbed her temple. Soft clink of polished metal.


When Monty was alive, Timex wrapped her wrist in faux gold. Monty wore a wide leather band laden with a thick metal watch face. More than once, in a rage, he found it useful. It was the first weapon, not just at hand, but on hand.


He would come home far after closing time, drunk, put a sweating hand to her neck and rip open her blouse, slapping until she fell. She would watch, dazed, as he unstrapped the band at his wrist. His eyes disappearing into creases. He dangled the weapon from his fist, slowly swinging the leather strap with its heavy weight in the middle and the tiny wicked prong jutting from the clasp. Her breath came in gasps, her fist a gag in her mouth sopping up the sobs, the seeping panic. He held his elbow rigidly away from his body, like a gunslinger in the late, late movies they stayed up watching when they were younger.



Watch


is the period of time when it is your responsibility to remain aware. No greater sin than to be found asleep at the watch. Keep watch. Watch over. Protection, safeguarding. Twenty-six years of marriage, no children. In a strange way, their childlessness had kept her from leaving him; there was no one to protect, no reason to attempt a break-up.


But in the past sixteen months she has glided through clouds of children at the park on a Saturday, gone to a movie on impulse, shopped without a list—without a list! She went out to a concert and to a fashion show Monty would have called frivolous. Tonight, a downtown theatre.


Her blouse enfolded her in blackness. A hug in the dark. Onstage, the grocery bag man was replaced by two young women in bathing gear, kicking up clouds of sand on an imitation beach. The backdrop shrieked in vivid neon and mottled yellow-orange. A bead of perspiration trickled down her temple. Have they turned up the heat to increase the dramatic effect? St. Louis was hot like this. Steam rose off the river. Monty’s sale slipped away from him. A crowded ship, the stink of panic and wilted starch as he flung off his shirt in the humid cabin.


The woman in front of her, shimmering coat draped over the back of her seat, fanned herself with a program. The balding man reached into a jacket pocket and hands her something. Cellophane whispered. She slipped the mint into her mouth, took his hand. All heads but Josephine’s lifted to the stage. Josephine shut her eyes, breathed deep the hothouse air. She surged with the ocean, an island washed over with lapping water, healing. The voices of the actors rushed towards her ears in waves. Beneath adornments, cloth and skin, her blood and breath fed into the rhythm: it’s time, it’s time, it’s time. Even with her eyes closed she saw the actors standing squarely on their marks.


Twenty-six years. Had there really been no one to protect?


Josephine opened her eyes. She decided to frame the St. Louis photo in pewter like the others, and rehang it on her wall. Because that time was part of her, and it was done. She fanned herself with her program, the silver watch clinking at her wrist.



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