Image: Alexa Mazzarello /stocksnap.io
Preface: This happened today. I suppose I was inspired by Paula Bomer and her "Inside Madeleine".
Erika is twenty-one. She never wears a bra beneath her tight-fitted tops and sometimes, when it’s chilly, she knows you can see her nipples. It doesn’t matter enough. She dislikes the feel of straps.
Like all young women, Erika is too absorbed by the way she looks. She’d observe herself from the back, with a double mirror, the way her butt and legs look. If her shoulders are slumping, she pulls them back and straightens. Erika doesn’t like her waist: not slim enough, not an hourglass anywhere she looks. It’s a plain rigid. A Promethean ruler. Erika will tell herself it doesn’t matter and leave the house anyway.
When she’s twenty-nine, Erika gives birth to her second child, this time a son. He is on the small side and has the bluest eyes. He insists on growing his hair out and mothers on the playground compliment Erika on her beautiful daughter. Erika doesn’t correct them. She thinks, what will it matter twenty years from now?
Erika is thirty-seven as she’s giving away her favorite green dress. It’s still lovely on her, or so Belan tells her, but she thinks she’s too old. She wants it gone before the moths are getting to it.
The twenties slowly begin to blur as Erika turns forty-three. She hasn’t picked up a second mirror in many years. She knows her gut has grown – there’s nothing to do about that and no amount of fitness group training is going to stop the hormones – and more often than not, her shoulders are slumping until she remembers to pull them back. Belan never seems to notice. He sometimes tells her, you’re the woman of my life, then goes back to what his own life is. Erika makes sandwiches for their children and Belan picks them up after school. They still spend separate lives alongside each other and Erika thinks, it’s fine. It’s more than anyone can ask for.
As Erika is hitting sixty, her teens return to her memory with eerie precision. She takes a pair of stockings out of the drawer and the nylon makes her think lingerie, makes her think itching skin and rashes. She remembers buying bras and never wearing them. She remembers someone – a teacher? A homeless man? – calling her an easy girl because her tits were free and she didn’t care.
Belan dies before Erika. She is seventy-nine as they put him into the earth. Afterwards, her son and daughter stay for a while, then Erika goes to a café, orders a large black coffee and sits down by the window. For a while, she thinks of nothing. The idea of death is very distant. It seemed so much closer when she was fifteen, eighteen, twenty-one. There is joy, then, in pondering the end and submitting to a self-sufficient sorrow.
A man sits down next to her. He is young and attractive. He is looking through her as his cappuccino sloshes dangerously against the rim of his cup. There’s a primness about him, charcoal pants and cream white shirt. Erika pulls her shoulders back, puts her hands on her belly. It is big and soft. It has been through a lot. Through the haze of both pain and bliss, Erika feels an odd sense of peace that she’s never known.
Good day to you, sir, says Erika as she gets up.
The man lifts his head, bewildered. As if seeing her for the first time. As if anyone was seeing her for the very first time.