Blinders

Sarah Marie Kosch

Looking Glass


Sunday—Deela

  Charlie is such a dick. I don't have time, Deela. Entertain yourself, Deela. You're aggravating, Deela. Bite me. Or does that qualify as needy too? It's Sunday, for Christ's sake.
  I pull over, stop the car. I'm entertaining myself. I'm trying to remember how to breathe. He's just trying to get ahead at work. He's stressed. He's blah blah bladidalee blah. He's my husband. I love him. I have to love him.
  Throw a couple quarters in the meter, and I'm off down the street. There's nothing in particular I need to do besides get out of the house. It's hot. I'm already sweating. The sun beats down on the pavement.
  I'm glad he's not here. I want to wander alone. Everyone's inside, and I can pretend this is a ghost town, some desert hideaway in the middle of nowhere, and I am the hero of the film. I ride in on a horse. I have a cool hat.
  There's coffee and Kraftin' Kay's. A 24-hour corner shop. Auntie Diluvium's— that's clever—with floppy-brimmed hats on the mannequins. And air conditioning. I may not be cut out for the desert.
  "Good afternoon, can I help you?"
  "Just browsing, thanks." It's as quiet as a library in the antique shop, with the same mute anticipation. The smell of old paper and leather. Cracked watches. I run a finger around the gold-rimmed china plates, but I pick up the less breakable objects—the binoculars, the camera lenses, and the square metal tins—the old sturdies, those time-tested survivors. The dishes have never been manhandled like they have.
  Some of the books on the shelves look like they will crumble into dust if I pick them up, so I eyeball the spines and look for anything recognizable. Nothing at first glance, and I don't have the patience to go digging. It's one thing to browse and a whole other to look. Looking entails a mission. An end goal. Browsing is lazier and constantly surprising.
  Like with these shoeboxes of used postcards. Dears and exclamation marks, sincerelys and spidery signatures. A boxful of strangers.
    We made it to the coast! Give Rita and Jack a hug for us!
Dear Jennifer, Got a flat in Tennessee. Thank goodness I was wearing my red skirt.
I miss you, Kate. I'm sorry for everything. Light up that smile for me; I bet I can see it from here.

And there are pictures mixed in. Photographs of moms and dads and uncles and babies in frilly gowns. Some have names and dates written on the back.
Louise, 1 year
    Thanksgiving at Mom's, 1987
        Michael's graduation, May 3, 1963
            Jimmy and Max

  Most don't.
  I set them back the way they were. Three for a quarter just feels too cheap.
  Clothes, though. A girl can can't go wrong with clothes. The rack is set up along the back of the store, coats and dresses, blouses and a row of battered shoes. Clothes are where the smell is strongest. A little bit musty, and a lot like Grandma's house. I hold a silk sleeve up to my face and breathe it in. It's a simple smell. Mostly painless. It makes me want to play dress up, cook invisible food, nurse stuffed animals, and rock fake babies. The last thought hits me lower than nostalgia. I squeeze my hands against my stomach and try not to think about how red blood looks on porcelain. No, Deela. Stop. Shake it off. It's done. It's better just me and Charlie anyway. I'll make him a nice dinner tonight, wear one of these dresses and twirl around the kitchen, and maybe after dessert he'll fuck me on the living room floor. Something like this—I need a mirror—yes, there. Cream silk with lace on the hem, ending just above the knees. It just needs a belt. And my God, this mirror is gorgeous. Ivy twines up the frame, silver vines becoming edges and exploding at the top in delicate bunches of blue stones. How could anyone shape metal like this? Every leaf—amazing.
  And I look amazing. Wedged between the shoe rack and a table of handbags, I've leaned in to touch the ivy and my face looks as soft and smooth as the dress in my hands. A few wisps of hair fell out of the hasty bun I pinned up as I left the house, and they frame my cheeks, my eyes. My eyes. I smile and she smiles, that beautiful, lithe creature in the glass. It must be the lighting in here. I am crystal and silver, precious, precious diamonds.
  It takes me an eternity to find the shopkeeper, winding my way through the shelves and finally finding her pricing salt and pepper shakers.
  "Excuse me, ma'am? How much is the mirror in the back? The one with the ivy?"
  "I have no idea what you're talking about, my dear," she says.
  "Here." I lead her back through the maze and watch her squint at it.
  "Oh," she says. A slow smile raises the corners of her lips. A minute passes.
  "Ma'am?"
  She jerks. "Forgot about this one. It really sucks a person in, doesn't it?"
  "It's beautiful," I say. "How much is it?"
  She bites her lip. "It's not really for sale, just part of the shop."
  "I'll give you seventy-five for it," I say.
  She shakes her head. "I have some others in front, did you get a chance to see—"
  "One hundred."
  "But did you even look at—"
  "Please."
  She looks at me and purses her lips. "All right. It's yours."
  I pay for it and the dress and go to move my car closer. It's heavy. Charlie will have to help me put it up. I'm thinking the bedroom. It'll look nice with the duvet.

Sunday—Magee

  It's been the laziest of Sundays and I get a call from my best mate Charlie late in the afternoon.
  "Get some beer and come over," he says.
  "Is my company not enough?"
  "I'm parched. Deela made me hang a fugly old mirror that weighed a thousand pounds. I'm too weak to get up now."
  "I'll be there in twenty," I say, and I am. We pop our beer, turn on the game, and wonderful aromas start drifting in from the kitchen.
  "Is Deela cooking dinner?" I ask.
  Charlie shrugs. "Smells like."
  "Deela, what's cooking?" I holler. "It smells divine." There is the clatter of metal on tile and a couple minutes later, Deela stands in the entryway to the living room.
  "Magee. What are you doing here?"
  She's wearing this old-fashioned dress with lace that narrows at the waist. Her hair's done up in curls, dark eyes, and her shiny, plump lips are pressed in a thin line. She looks beautiful and terrifying.
  "Charlie told me to," I say, and I watch those furious eyes move past me.
  "I'm making dinner for us, Charlie. I told you."
  "You always make too much anyway. There will be plenty for Magee."
  "I'm making dinner for us."
  "I'm sorry, Deela, babe. I didn't know. I'll clear out," I say.
  "No, Magee, it's fine," says Charlie. "It's not a big deal is it, Deela?"
  He's not looking at her. Or he's blind. Her eyes. Her cheeks.
  "I'll go," I say to her.
  She shakes her head. Opens her mouth but then clamps it shut again and whirls out of the room.
  "Need another beer?" asks Charlie.
  I can barely drink the one I have. My throat's tight. The minutes pass by and I imagine her, that skirt spread out over the bed——is she crying? I want to stroke her hair and tell her it will be all right. I don't move, though. Not until it starts smelling like something is burning, and then I take the roast out of the oven for her and set it out to cool.

Sunday—Deela

  Entertain yourself, Deela. I am. I'm playing dress up. God, there's a fine line between doll and clown. Sitting on the edge of the bed, I can see myself perfectly in the new mirror hung up next to the closet, and even though I can feel the heat in my cheeks, in my throat, flaring down my sternum, I can't see it in my reflection. I look as cool and untouchable as the china in the shop. Unhurt. But I feel it. I didn't used to mind being by myself so much.
  I scratch an itch in the crook of my elbow. I am here, solid, sitting, a mound of flesh. I can pinch where the skin bunches up—a roll on my hips—but that's what happens. It gets easier with time. The girl in the mirror hides it well. The girl. I chuckle and shake my head. The longer you stare in a mirror, the easier it is to think that it must be someone else.

Wednesday—Magee

  I've watched the sky being blue through my window for too long, so when lunchtime rolls around, I take the elevator down and walk the five blocks to Charlie's office.
  "Knock, knock," I say as I poke my head in. Charlie is leaning a hip against the front of his desk, clumsily shuffling paperwork, his face as red as my Aunt Jeanine's. A slender girl in a pencil skirt and blouse stands in front of him. Her red curls hang down her back and she looks over her shoulder at me, sizing me up.
  "Well, hello, gorgeous," I say, strolling past her and pinching Charlie's cheek. "Take me to lunch, will you."
   "I'm in the middle of something, Magee."
  "Me too. Starvation. Let's go."
  "No, really, I can't. Not right now."
  "Alright, well I can wait a few—"
  "No, Magee. Not now. Okay?"
  A whine in my ears. That's not fair. I'd go if you asked. But it's Charlie's rules. It's always Charlie's rules.
  "Fine, Groucho Marx. So sorry to have disturbed you."
  "I'll see you Friday," he says. "We'll do something fun."
  "Sure," I say as I head out the door. I'll wait for your call, your royal fucking majesty. I take the stairs all the way back to ground level and keep the pace up out on the street, punching my arms, lengthening my stride. It feels good to get the blood pumping, shake off the irritation. Don't think. Just move.
  I pick up a gyro from a food cart and eat it on a park bench facing away from the street. If it weren't for the whir of cars behind me, I could convince myself I was somewhere else, picked up and transplanted into a field of green, maybe the middle of a garden with some white-washed manor behind me. Lemonade. Deela on the porch. One of those aprons with frilly ties looped in a bow against her back. I sigh and crumple the wrapper into a ball. What am I doing? Really? When I miss the bird-shit-splattered trashcan, I pick the wad up from the concrete and try again. Got to do my part for paradise.
  For a moment, I think about calling it a day and heading home. But then what? Does it really make a difference where I am? I meander back to my office and pull the blinds shut before I pick up where I left off.

Friday—Deela

  It's Friday night, TGIF or whatever. Here I sit in front of the vanity in a little black dress with my make-up all wrong. I'm too tired for this. I can't hide the bags under my eyes and my foundation looks dry and patchy. Tiny lines at the corners of my eyes. Wispy hairs on my cheeks. There's so much to pluck and bleach and moisturize. All the details. It's exhausting.
  Water runs in the bathroom. Charlie's taking a long shower.
  I'd stopped at the store on my way home from work to get a bottle of wine and a movie. But then Charlie had bounced in the front door in a whirlwind. "Going out tonight," he said, grabbing a beer from the fridge and unbuttoning his shirt.
  "Sounds like fun," I said, and it did. I tossed my movie aside and starting thinking of how I could do my hair. "Mind if I tag along?"
  There was too long of a pause. "It's just people from the office. But, I mean, you can come if you want. You won't know a lot of people. Maddie's celebrating her birthday early."
  Maddie. The sour taste returns to my mouth, and I survey myself again. Maddie and those gorgeous curls. Those fucking perfectly pert tits. I push my own up, let them drop. Charlie didn't want me there. Clenching my eyeliner in my fist, I smash the point against the table hard enough to shake the mirror, grinding the black point flat. It looks like a burn mark in the wood grain.
  The water stops.
  Charlie emerges in a cloud of steam, muscles and damp hair, wrapping a towel around his waist.
  "Wow, is it really nine already?" he says, looking over his shoulder at the clock while he rummages through the closet, throwing a shirt and some pants onto the bed. He grabs a pair of shoes and sets them down. "I'll be ready in a minute."
  I look down at my dress, suck in my gut, look back at my cracked, pale skin. Maddie will be glowing. They always are. Glowing and dishing out looks of sympathy.
  "I'm not going," I say. Unless you convince me.
  "Oh. Alright." He smears deodorant on and buttons his shirt.
  "I'm just tired. Feeling a night in." With you. Come on. Just stay. Like you used to.
  "Does this tie match?"
  "Yeah. You look good." He looks so fucking good.
  "Thanks. Well, okay. I've got to head. I'll see you later." And he's out the door, shoving his wallet in his back pocket as he goes. Like he can't get out of here fast enough. Like he's scared I might change my mind. I hear the front door slam.

Friday—Magee

  Answer, you rat bastard. But it's the voicemail again.
  "Charlie, where the fuck are you? Did you forget you are my sworn taxi service and noble steed?" I press my tumbler to my face. My apartment is sweltering. It's already half passed ten, and the ice is melted anyway. He said he and Deela would pick me up at nine. I should just call a cab.
  "Fuck it." I end the call and lean back in my chair admiring how all the edges have become comfortably blurred. "Fuck bugger, jerk-off." I don't even want to get downtown. How could they just forget about me? I dial again, listening to that drawn out, mocking ring. The echo. The—
  "Hello?"
  "Uh, hi. Deela?"
  "Yeah?"
  "Didn't I call Charlie's phone?"
  "He forgot it."
  "Oh. Where is he?"
  "He went out."
  "When?"
  "Like...an hour and a half ago."
  "Bastard."
  "What?"
  "Not you. Wait, you. Where are you?"
  "I'm at home."
  "You were supposed to give me a ride. You and him."
  "I didn't feel like going. He must have forgotten."
  "Looks like." I take a swig but the whiskey goes down the wrong pipe.
  "Magee?"
  "I'm fine," I say between coughs. Why is my apartment so fucking hot? I wipe the side of my face against my shoulder.
  "So I guess Charlie left us alone together," I say.
  Nothing.
  "Deela?"
  "No, he left us alone alone, Magee." A sigh, a shift.
  "Is everything—okay?"
  "I'm sorry Charlie forgot to pick you up."
  "It's okay."
  "I'm going to go, okay? Have a good night."
  "Okay." Okay. Christ, she's buzzing in my ear. I get up, staggering to the bathroom. Faucet on. Cold water. Watch it trickle down my chin.
  "Hello there," I say and smile. My lips move. I bare my teeth, stick out my tongue. "What are you anyway?" I flick the glass and our fingers meet, point to point, me and me. Alone alone.

Friday—Deela

  The house is so quiet I can hear the ticking of the clock on the living room wall. I swallow the rest of the wine in my glass, and weigh Charlie's phone in my palm. I set it on the coffee table and go upstairs. I know I won't be able to sleep, just like I couldn't watch TV or read, but it feels more normal to stare at the ceiling while in bed.
  My dress is stuck, goddamn it. Of course. Craning my neck back over my shoulder, I look into the ivy mirror and fumble with the clasp. I should've started drinking earlier. I look good now. Really good. There's some color in my cheeks. I would've gone out looking like this. I could have competed. Could have danced. What a waste. The hook pulls loose from the eye and the black fabric splays open to my waist. I wrap my arms around myself and wriggle my hips until the dress hits the floor.
  There's a photo of Charlie and me on the nightstand, and I pick it up and slip it out of the frame. I'm looking straight at the camera, but he's looking at me. Smiling like he has everything he's ever wanted. And we never wrote anything down on the back.
  What a waste. We could be dancing.
  I go downstairs. He answers on the first ring.
  "Come home," I say, and hang up.
  The silence closes in again, but there is a humming at my edges. I am encased in amber, a fossil preserved in hardened syrup, every wrinkle, every bone exposed for examination and guesswork. Classify me.
    Soppy sop.
    Wino.
    Waiting.
  When the doorbell rings, I answer in nothing but my pearls. I watch Magee's eyes widen as he sees me, he sees me, and classify this: we are alone.

Saturday—Magee

  "If you could go back in time," I ask. "What would you change?"
  "Why?" Deela says.
  "It's just curiosity."
  "Well, it's a stupid question. Everybody would change the same damn things."
  "What?"
  "Lost love and poor financial decisions."
  "That's what you'd change?"
  "And what you would."
  "Says who?"
  "You. You asked what I'd change. That's always the question, isn't it?"
  "Do you think it would help?"
  "No." She turns her back to me and yanks the covers, leaving my right leg bare and goose-pimpled. "You should go. I don't know when he's coming home."
  There it is. Distance has reinserted itself, the steel lift bridge rising up and away at the center. Bon voyage. Until next time.
  "Deela, I—"
  "Don't ruin it, Magee."
  "I'm right here," I say, instead.
  "So am I."
  I slip out from the bed and gather my clothes from the floor. "I'm glad you called," I tell her and hope she knows that glad is the wrong word.
  Morning is just beginning to flush the skyline. It'll be a long walk home, but I could use the air. Sitting in a taxi would just make me feel dirty. Should I feel dirty? My best friend's wife. But he doesn't love her anymore. I could make her happy, I think. I could try. My footsteps tap the concrete, and I quicken the tempo to match the song in my head. It's like dancing in a straight line, and nobody knows but me.

Saturday—Deela

  I watch the sunrise alone, the comforter wrapped around me. It is my sheath, my shield, my cocoon. Butterfly or moth? Or something smaller, thornier? Uglier. My husband has not come home. I should be worried, I should be calling, frantically looking, thinking the worst. But that fear only comes from sleeping alone.
  The house is witness. I feel its eyes. I can smell Magee's aftershave. Is this it then? Is this what's left? I need a shower. Lather and repeat, and repeat, and repeat, until my head's clear, until the bottle's empty and my skin is newborn and raw.
  But there's no rewind. Just downstream. What the hell was I thinking? I wipe away the steam from the bathroom mirror and a shriveled old woman looks back at me, creased and gray. A scream catches in my throat and I turn, arms protecting my face. There's no one there. Just me. In the mirror, the woman stares with eyes that droop at the corners. Gravity tugging and tiring. Even her skin is exhausted. Sucked dry. And it's me. It's me, and it's the end.
  I hobble to the bed and sit down. I'm too hot and too cold. But there, there I am. This is just a bad dream. A defective mirror. There's the real me, a little pale, but smooth-skinned, wide-eyed and naked between the ivy vines. I crouch down and get closer. Pressing my forehead to the glass, I smile at that flawless girl. I could be sixteen, seventeen. I'm just a baby, really, flawless and whole. So pretty it hurt, but I never knew it then. I know now, though.
  "You're beautiful," I whisper, stroking her cheek. "Never change." And I press my lips to hers and close my eyes.

Saturday—Charlie

  Brilliant. Just absolutely brilliant. The sky hasn't been this blue in awhile. I lean against my car in the driveway and take it in, take in the street, the people, the shrubs. My house. I stayed out too late, but I can't make myself hurry. The sun feels too good on my face.
  When I finally do go inside, Deela is not awake. I was hoping for pancakes. I'm famished. A couple of empty wine bottles sit by the sink. Typical. What time is it? Jesus, almost noon.
  I head upstairs to the bedroom. The sheets are mashed at the end of the bed, a wet towel crumpled in the doorway of the bathroom.
  "Deela?" I listen, but everything is quiet. She must have gone out. Surprising. I sprawl out on the bed and kick my shoes off. Feels like I didn't sleep a wink last night, but I'm wired, shaky with the electricity. Everything is different now. Everything is new.
  I hope it's a boy. I really do.

Sunday—Magee

  Hundreds of hours pass, and I can't stand it anymore. I have to tell Charlie. I have to see Deela.
  The second-story windows shine yellow against the night-street backdrop, but no one answers when I ring the doorbell. It's unlocked.
  "Hello?" The living room is dark, but I hear something thud upstairs. "Deela?"
  "Magee?" Charlie looks over the banister. "What are you doing here?"
  "I've got to talk to you, Charlie. It's important."
  "Can it wait? I'm sort of in the middle of something."
  "No, it can't. Is Deela here?"
  "No." He disappears around the corner again.
  "Charlie." I take the stairs two at a time.
  A suitcase sits open on the bed next to a pile of clothes, a toothbrush, and a razor.
  "What are you doing?" I ask.
  He goes to the closet and starts tossing shoes towards the bed.
  "Charlie?"
  "I'm leaving."
  Jesus. She told him? I didn't expect that.
  "I'm so sorry, Charlie."
  "It's been a long time coming."
  "Where is she?"
  "Who?"
  "Deela."
  "I don't know, actually. She hasn't been home all weekend. It's like she knew it was coming. It's easier this way—not having to see her."
  "You haven't—talked to her?"
  "Not since we decided."
  "What?"
  "Friday night. Maddie and I—" He grins and shakes his head. "I still can't quite believe it's real."
  "Maddie? That girl from work?"
  "I love her, Magee."
  "But—Deela."
  "It's over."
  He's leaving Deela. But Deela's already left me.
  "It really can't be that hard to believe, can it?"
  I feel like the floor just gave out even though the walls aren't moving. Stiff-legged, I stumble to a clothes-strewn armchair in the corner and sit down. Something digs into my back. The pain helps clear my brain.
  "Did she leave a note?" I ask. "Or anything?"
  Charlie shakes his head, folds a pair of trousers and sticks them in the suitcase.
  "Are you sure she's ok?"
  "She'll be fine."
  "But you don't even know where she is."
  "She's probably at her mother's. She'll be fine." Charlie squats down in front of me and looks me in the face. "She had to know this was coming, and right now, I need you to be happy for me, okay? I'm really happy. Happier than I've been in a long time."
  I shift. The ache in my back is spreading. I reach behind me and paw through the pile of clothes until I touch a rigid edge. A purse. With keys inside. A phone. Deela's tiny face smiles through a plastic cover in the wallet.
  I stick it in Charlie's face and he jerks back.
  "What?"
  "You tell me." Everything seems sharper now. I'm sharper.
  "Tell you what?"
  I chuck the wallet at his chest. "Why's all her stuff here? Something's wrong."
  "No it's not," he says. "She's flighty. Who knows?"
  "Not you, obviously. You don't know where she is. You haven't seen her in two days. And you don't pull your head out of your ass for the minute it takes to put two and two together. We need to call the police."
  "Oh, for fuck's sake, Magee. No, we don't."
  "She's missing, you dumb prick."
  "She's a big girl, Magee. She doesn't need us to take care of her."
  I have him up against the wall before I know I'm standing.
  "Ow, Jesus, get off me."
  I want to break the mirror behind him with his own skull. I want him to stop, just for a second.
  "Listen to me," I say. "You're blind." And I am too, a burst of light glaring in my eyes. I have to scrunch them shut to look at the slash of gold reflecting from the mirror. There's creamy yellow sunshine above Charlie's right ear, white curtains on either side of the open window, floating in a breeze. What the hell? I jerk my head over my shoulder and the bedroom window is black, half-pulled blinds unmoving.
  "You're crazy," Charlie says and shoves me hard in the chest.
  Deela's lips are so red. She smiles a tiny half smile as if she finds us funny. But she's not really looking at me, or Charlie, but just staring out in front of her, the sunshine in her hair, blurring her edges. She's dressed in white, hair down around her face, sitting in a chair in the middle of the room. And the room isn't this room. It's big and white and empty except for the gauzy curtains and the yellow leaves of the tree just outside, so close a branch overhangs the sill, and I see yellow and brown leaves scattered on the wooden floor, underneath the chair legs and alongside her bare feet. She cradles a porcelain doll in the crook of her elbow, stock still, just staring at something in front of her with that little half smile.
  Zippers whine behind me. A thud. "Goodbye, Magee."
  "Charlie." I can't take my eyes off her, the way she glows. "Charlie, look. Look!"
  I turn around. The room I'm in is empty too.

*

  "What would you change if you could go back in time?"
  "Why does it matter?"

The mirror's mine now, tucked in my closet with a quilt draped over her for privacy.
  "It's just curiosity."
  "Well, it's a stupid question. Everybody would change the same damn things."
  "What?"
  "Lost love and poor financial decisions."

I can't believe how young she looks.
  "That's what you'd change?"
  "And what you would."

I have to take care of her now.
  "Says who?"
  "You. You asked what I'd change. That's always the question, isn't it?"

The tree never changes, never shivers naked and crooked in snow, never bustles with green.
  "Do you think it would help?"
I've watched it a long time.
  "I'm right here," I say.
Just orange and yellow leaves, quivering, crinkling, and Deela, smiling up at something I can't see.
  "So am I."






Sarah Marie Kosch

SARAH MARIE KOSCH writes fiction and poetry in Iowa City and is an editor for Anomalous Press (www.anomalouspress.org).





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