LYNNE T. PICKETT



MYRTLE

 

She drove everywhere in her gardening gloves. She found it comforting. She was safe from the sun’s ultraviolet rays, and she didn’t have to continue to peer at her wrinkled, leopard-spotted hands anymore. Myrtle did her best to never look at herself in the mirror or to look too long at anyone who was younger than herself. This way she never had to think about the old woman with the puffs of white hair and the bifocal glasses that showed up in the bathroom every morning. In the privacy of her fishtail yellow Cadillac purchased in the late eighties, she was young and beautiful. Only when she opened her car door, and she had to push her body to the side of the seat and grab the door handle to pull herself up and out did she have to acknowledge living alongside this ancient old woman occupying her body.

Myrtle was adjusting her tiny, silver clip-on earrings in her car’s rearview mirror as she eyed the straw hat of the gardener mowing the neighbor’s lawn across the street. Every Wednesday he mowed the lawn at eleven in the morning. He had not shown up last week. She had become distressed and nervous. Was he fired? In trouble? She began to fantasize that when she opened her car door, he did not see a white-haired, creaky old woman in her cotton, blue-and-white, flowered house dress with thigh-high, varicose-vein, compression stockings with orthopedic white sandals. Instead a sleeker, younger version would materialize in front of his eyes, and only Myrtle would be aware of her own aging physique.

This was how Myrtle survived this horror called old age. Complete fantasy. In the early morning light, when she awakes from an erotic dream in those first few minutes, she still believes herself to be a beautiful, young woman. Sometimes the lingering lust from those dreams will last until the late morning hours; especially on Wednesdays, when she would peek out of her bent and bumpy, cracked vinyl blinds to spy on the Rosens’ gardener.

As she walked into her kitchen, her cat, Miffy, began licking at her ankles, begging for the canned cat food she was still holding in her tattered, beige canvas bag from her recent grocery store purchase. She made clicking sounds at the cat, “Yes, of course, my dear, I bought your food, just a minute, just a minute.” She gave a long sigh. She was well aware that she went to the store more than she really needed to. Her life was so lonely and bleak that the grocery store was an adventure and one of the only social outlets in her life. Myrtle shook her head, then placed the can of cat food on the avocado-green, tile counter.

She pulled back the vinyl blinds to peek at the gardener. He was late today; it was already afternoon, almost evening. She knew his forearms by heart. She let go of the blinds slowly; she didn’t want him to catch her looking. Her rubber-soled, orthopedic shoes made a spongy, squishy, waa-woop sound on the curling brown linoleum in the kitchen. “Sticky, sticky, doesn’t matter what I do, this floor is always sticky.” Miffy was now meowing in a raspy, scratchy, old-aged-cat cry. Myrtle, realizing she must have been oblivious to the meows before, click-clicked her tongue as she peeled back the aluminum top of the can and portioned out half for the cat. She then carefully pulled out a piece of plastic wrap that she had previously washed, dried, and stored neatly in the kitchen drawer.

As she opened the refrigerator door, she looked at the cookie she had been saving for her end-of-the-week treat. Sitting on the counter, she caught a glimpse of the two lemons that had fallen on her side of the lawn from the neighbor’s lemon tree. It was so hot, she could make the gardener a glass of lemonade and offer him the cookie. She could use her new, yellow daisy plate she recently purchased at the ninety-nine cent store. She nervously pondered whether she would tell him her name or ask him his.

Miffy jumped to the counter as Myrtle began to slice the lemons. The cat, thinking the treat was for her, became startled and fled quickly, splashing Myrtle in the face with the citrus juice on the wooden cutting board. Myrtle felt her heart beat quickly as she reached for a dish cloth to wipe her face. There was immense pleasure in her body at the thought of speaking to him. She knew the ladies who met with her once a month at the elderly day care center for their regular game of bingo would be shocked and disgusted with her if she ever admitted to them what she was thinking about right now. They would probably shun her forever. She laughed and grew even more excited at the thought of their disapproval. “Old biddies.” She worked quickly, squeezing the juices into the blue, vinyl pitcher as she ran the tap water to make it cold. She pulled open the old, white cupboard door to take out the sugar bowl. She began to fret about how much sugar to use, wondering about the gardener’s preference. She wanted to make him happy.

Finished with her lemonade and placing the cookie on a white paper napkin on the plate, she smiled. She was proud of her work. She peered out of the window blind to see how far along the gardener was with his work. He had just taken out the clipper to work on the hedges. She went to her bathroom and searched for her rosy red lipstick. As she looked up to see herself in the cabinet mirror, she fell into shock. It happened every time; she was never prepared for what she saw. She surveyed her face—well, as much as she could clearly see with her worn-out eyeglass prescription. Her lips were paper thin, her skin almost clear white, similar to that of the sheets of wax paper in her kitchen drawer; she began to become nauseous at the vision reflected back at her. She decided to cast her eyes down to avoid looking at anything but her bottom lip. The ripe, red color of the lipstick made her feel things, feelings that came with youth. She blotted her lips with a tissue and practiced her hello. She looked down at her thick cotton stockings and, with a hard breath, rolled them off and placed them on the towel holder. Now she was ready as she rehearsed her opening line. “Hello, such a hot day…” Her eyes watered from the complete joy of her upcoming encounter.

Myrtle stepped off the last step of her porch, trying to balance the cookie plate and the glass of lemonade. As she made it to the edge of her lawn, she looked at the gardener, who had suddenly turned toward her direction as he wiped down the clippers with a cloth. She realized she needed to smile. She wished she could turn and run and go hide behind her vinyl blinds. Ha, as if she could run. A small, squeaky voice emerged from her throat. “Hello…lemonade?” The gardener stopped and stared. She began to cross the street and, with a burst of anxiety, yelled out to him, “I’m Myrtle.” He smiled and walked over to her. She was afraid her secret lust for him would take over all of her faculties, and she would reach out and stroke his beautiful brown arms. Her hands extended to him her offering; his calloused, round fingers took the plate and the glass of lemonade.

She couldn’t see his eyes under the black-rimmed sunglasses. She wanted to invite him to her house. She wanted to invite him…to… The sun bounced off her hands as she stared at her age spots. He smiled. “José. Thank you.” She felt like she was thirteen again and wanted to run back to her house and call her girlfriends as she wrote over and over again, in large, cursive loops, his name with hers entwined forever in a locked diary.

As she watched the lemonade droplets mix with the beads of sweat on his top lip, she began to rub her rosy red lips over and over again. Myrtle was not aware that in doing this, the lipstick had begun to cling to her top teeth. She smiled her large, red-tooth smile as he gobbled up the oatmeal raisin cookie.

José had noticed the old woman peering out of her vinyl blinds before. He had assumed she was watching him because she didn’t trust him, the Mexican gardener, in the suburbs of the gringos. He was surprised and pleased at her graciousness and wanted to extend the gesture back. In all the months he had worked at the Rosens’, he had never seen anyone going to this old woman’s home. In many ways José realized he, himself, was as alone as this old woman was. He lived in a small, one-room apartment away from his home, friends, and family. He wondered if he would ever go back. Would there ever be enough money, and even if there was, could he go back to that old world? He smiled after he finished the last bite and handed her the glass and plate. His fingers accidentally brushed the delicate fingers of the old woman. He was embarrassed by his clumsiness. He put his head down, self-conscious. “I have very nice red rose cutting, color very nice, for you, near kitchen window.” He pointed toward her house. “Would you like? Next week, sí?”

Myrtle bent her head down from fear that he would see the excitement in her eyes. She reached out without thinking and touched his hand and whispered, “Thank you.” She quickly waved good-bye at him as she began to turn to cross the street. She knew she could not utter another sound without completely revealing her true feelings. Her mind and her feelings felt the same as they did more than thirty years ago. Deep inside her creaking bones, she knew her desire and lust wanted to be fulfilled. Then the rays of sunlight bounced off the glass she was holding, highlighting the large, blue veins and deep creases in her hands.

She stepped back into the frame of her warped, wooden door, trying not to turn around and look at him. Pulling the doorknob closed, this was the first time she smelled the mustiness; the aroma of old age that had besieged her home. Her head bent, her heart despondent, she scuffled to her kitchen, setting down the plate and glass. She remembered that she had a bottle of perfume from a birthday present given to her from one of her bingo friends a few years ago. She shooed the cat away as she tried to untangle the cat’s tail from her ankles and headed for her vanity in her bedroom. Pulling open the dark wood top, she pushed past a tarnished silver handheld mirror and a crushed, round paper box of powder and grabbed the small bottle of perfume. She pulled at the tip of the bottle, struggling with the perfume stopper. Her arthritic fingers began to ache from her hands trying to force the stopper’s suction to come loose. The frustration of being physically incapable became overwhelming. Quickly, all of her loneliness and emotional pain rushed out of her chest and into her vocal cords, exploding into one large, wild cry. She fell to her knees, flinging the small bottle across the room. She felt a sense of power to hear the perfume bottle pop and crack as it bounced off the faded pink roses that covered the wallpaper. She had wanted the mustiness to leave, the stench of senior citizenship to erase itself from her body and her home. Her tears began to mix with laughter. At least she had achieved that; now her bedroom reeked of a cheap musk and so did she. She started to gag. “Old fool” she coughed.

What was the point? She could not turn back the clock of time. She tried to fantasize that a magical genie had just been released out of that tiny bottle and that he would bring her youth back to her. She stared at the wet wallpaper; instead it looked like all she was going to get was a nasty smell that would take days to clear away. She reached over to the footstool near the vanity, pulling it toward her to assist her unlocking knees to a standing position. Myrtle realized she had better clean up the glass from the floor before Miffy cut her paws. She closed the door to the bedroom and, with a wobbly walk of defeat, made her way to the kitchen for the paper towels.

Her nose, filled with the scent of musk, began to be replaced by a small, lingering scent of lemon juice in the kitchen. She walked over to the plate and the glass she had placed on the counter. In one fluid move she picked up the glass and pressed her lips on the rim, moving her lips all around it to make sure she had touched her lips to where his had been. She began to breathe heavily. He said he would bring a rose cutting. “Next week.” She repeated it over and over to herself aloud. She then began to hum as the cat circled her ankles. Miffy took the humming as a sign that the rest of the aluminum can’s serving would be dished out. “Not tonight, my dear…” Myrtle put the plate and glass back down on the counter where it had been placed before. She decided she would go to sleep early tonight.

The rest of the days rushed by quickly for Myrtle. She had almost forgotten that her bingo group met that Sunday afternoon. The ladies gasped when they saw her. Myrtle had changed. She had dyed her hair a reddish-orange blonde. Myrtle had not been sure how the box of dye would work, and when the brittle white streaks of hair continued to peek out of the dye, she left the mixture on three times longer than the box had told her to. She thought she looked divine. She couldn’t be more pleased. In her new hair and her red lipstick, she imagined herself as an older version of Jean Harlow mixed with a little Rita Hayworth.

Edna Louise, the Queen Bee of the bingo group, balked and loudly announced to the room, “My God, Myrtle, you look as if you skinned a scrawny, mangy old squirrel and decided to put the thing on your head.” Edna Louise had really nothing to talk about, considering her hair was so overly dyed black it had now actually become the shade of midnight blue. She peeked over her bifocal glasses at Edna Louise and laughed out loud as hard as she could. Even Herbert heard her laugh as he tapped at his hearing aid and stared at her odd behavior in amazement. None of it mattered to Myrtle. She was too happy. Too excited. Too pleased with herself. Tomorrow she was going to go to the boutique downtown to purchase a new outfit. She was even going to venture toward the younger women’s department that was for the under-sixty group, ladies who still dared to show some décolletage. Myrtle was in her own world, even as she donned her white gloves to play bingo. She put her well-worn gloves on in a daze. She didn’t even notice that her B14 had given her a bingo. She also didn’t notice Herbert pulling his chair closer to her or the other women in the group pulling their chairs into a tight horseshoe U as they whispered to each other.

Luckily Herbert had seen the B14 bingo and pulled on her sleeve to show her. The other women gasped in disgust as she announced her win. It was the big jackpot for the night, one hundred dollars. Myrtle giggled as she imagined what she would buy with it. A pair of black lace gloves or maybe a red lace corset? Did they make corsets anymore? She went to the window to retrieve her cash prize and waved good-bye to the scowling group as Herbert scuffled behind her. She turned around as she finally realized he was still with her. “Herbert, I am not Edna Louise, nor will I ever be.”

Herbert frowned with confusion. His thick, blue veins in his forehead appeared to pop out in a 3D effect. “Myrtle, I know you aren’t Edna Louise.” He reached for her and grabbed her gloved hands. “I find you quite alluring tonight, Myrtle. I am a very busy man, but I would be happy to change my evening plans for you.” Myrtle glanced down at the large, chunky gold ring that Herbert wore on his pinky finger. A holdover from his younger swinger days, she mused. She deliberately waved her hand toward his glazed-over, cataract-ravaged stare. “I think Edna Louise is your best bet tonight, Herbert.” He pulled at her hand; her thin glove fell to the ground. Myrtle never noticed. Her thoughts were elsewhere.

She glided into her large Cadillac. She felt empowered by her win and her new hair; she would not let her life pass her by anymore. In only a few more days, she would see if José…was it possible? She pushed away any negative thoughts.

* * *

“Wednesday…” Myrtle’s eyes popped open before the sun was up. It seemed to take forever for him to finish his work, just like when she was a young girl trying to get through the hours of school, but at last he was standing on her lawn, her heart thumping at what felt like a hundred beats per minute. “Muchas gracias, señora.” She felt the strange, red lace undergarment creeping up her backside as she grinned from ear to ear at him. He had brought the rose cutting. She watched him dig into the empty spot under her kitchen window, taking care to cover the roots with special mulch. It was much cooler than last week, but he still had beads of sweat on his forehead as she handed him the lemonade. “Too much sugar?” She wanted to throw herself on him and rip off the cotton dress that covered her newly purchased underthings.

“Just right,” he pronounced as clearly as he could, in case the old woman had trouble hearing. He was quite shocked when she opened the door today; he wondered how anyone could have hair that color. Did she do it on purpose?

Feeling as if she were a twenty-year-old vixen from a 1930s movie, she winked at him while whispering into his ear that inside she had “homemade sugar cookies just out of the oven.” She made a motioning move toward him to follow her. José, startled by the woman’s invitation, wondered if it was all right for him to follow. After all, he was an illegal immigrant, and this was a white neighborhood with prying eyes. He did not want to lose his job; he had worked too many years to find an employer who was halfway decent and paid on time. He sighed. Warm cookies; he hadn’t had a homemade meal in years. Not since he had come to this country. What could it hurt, an old woman extending her appreciation? “Sí, señora.”

When José entered the home, he was floored by the tattered things inside. Wallpaper peeling, linoleum warped and lumpy. The furniture seemed to be a shade of beige, but in a few spots you could see the original, dark-brown fabric peeking through. This was a fairly well-off neighborhood, and this old woman’s house was “un desastre.” Myrtle turned around and smiled, wondering what José just said. Being too embarrassed that she didn’t hear it, she nodded, “You’re welcome.” Myrtle pulled out a steel aluminum chair for him at a small white table with tiny flecks of some type of worn-out gold design across the top. The cookies were indeed warm, and though they tasted a little dry, he imagined for a moment that he was back home, having dinner with his family.

Myrtle looked at the handsome man in her kitchen. She imagined him to be in his forties. His dark eyes were now revealed as he removed his sunglasses. His even darker hair was so dense and thick that she wondered if it took hours to dry. The constant sun exposure from his gardening had created little creases around his eyes and mouth. She smiled. She wanted to touch his lips with hers. They were plump. Not at all like her thin, glass-like lips. Myrtle began to stare at him with intensity. She felt her whole body shiver from the excitement of his physical closeness.

José saw the old woman’s hands quiver. He became concerned and reached over to check on her. “Señora, are you all right?” She said nothing but stared at him. José looked more closely at her and realized she must have been a very beautiful woman at one time. He looked past the strange orange/canary-yellow hair and the thick red lipstick; he could see she was lonely. Myrtle reached her hand to his lips and touched them. José pushed his chair back as she began to unbutton the top of her dress to reveal red lace. “Señora…señora.”

José believed Myrtle had become delirious. Myrtle imagined she was alluring and intoxicating. Her hands moved from the buttons on her dress to the top of his shirt. José became terrified. How could he leave this situation without any trouble? How could he come back to this neighborhood to work? Myrtle gasped when she realized that José was panicking.

As she pulled her hands away from the top of his shirt, she saw them again, the monstrous brown and blue age spots; she threw her hands over her face as she sunk back into the white plastic seat. As José caught his breath, he looked over at the woman. He saw the painful sadness. He tentatively touched her thin, bony hands. “Señora, you startled me. Many men must have been very in love with you during your life. We are all young in our hearts and minds, sí?”

How could he have known that in this moment he would make Myrtle fall more in love with him than before? Myrtle smiled. Her feelings intensified so deeply, she felt like she couldn’t breathe. How could José have realized that when he opened his heart to Myrtle, he had opened a door between them which made the veil of age drop or that his excruciating loneliness would entice him to do something he would never believe he would consider?

José shook his head; not that the women of his country who lived here had not noticed him or approached him. But these women were looking for a second father for their children. He had children, children he had to leave so they could have a better life. He did not need or want a second family. The sun was beginning to set; the dark yellow and reds filtered through the glass of the kitchen window. Her sadness and his loneliness began to turn into one feeling between them. In the fading light, the fading beauty of the woman stirred José to stroke the woman’s delicate puffs of hair. Myrtle felt her heart begin to triple its rate. He had touched her. Was this a sympathy touch or more? She was afraid to move.

José whispered to her, “Your room, sí?” He did not know why he whispered. Perhaps so he himself did not really hear what he was saying. Myrtle, hard of hearing, somehow understood his moving lips. Their shadows lined the hallway to the bedroom from the dancing light of the setting sun. He opened the door to water-stained, flowered wallpaper, a thin, worn-out bedspread, and dark, old wood furniture. The eroded silver lining behind the vanity mirror created a strange, ghostly glow of their images.

The room was turning darker except for a few patches of light popping through lace curtains in the windows. They never said a word between them as José unbuttoned the woman’s cotton dress and unhooked the red lace corset. In the final moments of light into darkness, José lay gently on top of the woman and imagined her as the beauty that she once was. At the same moment Myrtle imagined herself as the seductress she always wished to be but never was.

Myrtle felt her bones ache under his body, her delicate frame trying to withstand his strong, muscular body. She did not mind the pain. The pleasure from the warmth of his body on hers was worth it. She didn’t even care if every bone she had cracked in half. He was gentle, though, and moved slowly. For the first time she felt like she was living on this earth as opposed to standing in the doorway of death waiting for the last few years to drift by her until they pushed her into heaven or hell.

Then something unearthly passed between them. The loneliness, the sadness, the need for physical touch and release was changed when his lips met hers. José was shocked at what he felt and he became afraid. Myrtle was lost in an overwhelming elation; she felt this was the most natural of occurrences. José, though, did not feel that this was the most natural of occurrences. He feared for his soul.

José dressed quickly, quietly. The old woman had fallen asleep. He began to imagine himself in jail, without a job. What had he done and why did he suddenly not feel so lonely anymore? As the front door creaked behind him, he closed it while holding his breath. José moved silently in the night to his broken-down, white pickup truck. The Rosens did not appear to be home. His breath was shallow, the mariachi music on the radio in his truck a distant sound to him. The entire ride home he tried not to think. He only allowed one thought to cross his mind: How much beer did he have at the apartment, and would it be enough to let him sleep tonight?

Myrtle did not wake until sunrise. Miffy was licking Myrtle’s papery skin on her wrist. Myrtle woke, startled and confused, her racing heart taking over her thoughts until she started to mentally clear from the fog in her mind. It had not been a dream; she knew it was real. The scent of senior citizenship had left her bedroom, replaced by an aroma of cologne and sweat. Was he gone? She slowly wrapped herself in her housecoat, the cat nearly tripping Myrtle every step of the way. She heard no sounds. As she looked into the tiny rooms in her home, she tried to imagine their future plans. She was thinking like a young woman in love, only Myrtle knew in her heart she wasn’t young and that she wasn’t even sure if she would ever hear from José again. She click-clicked her tongue at Miffy and peeled back an aluminum can and began to divide it in half when she heard knocking at her door.

Myrtle peered out of the middle of the stained-glass door to see him. As she pulled open the door, she looked into his dark-brown eyes and saw fear. “Señora, señora, I must speak to you.”

Myrtle pulled at her robe and pushed down at her hair. She waved him in and took a deep breath. She was afraid to hear what he was about to say to her.

“I…I…Señora…cannot. Please do not tell what we…”

“José? You…You are alone, yes?” She did not wait for an answer; she placed his hand on her heart. “We are the same; we are just not the same in time.” José, weary from drinking and not sleeping, collapsed on the springless couch. “Only you and I know our hearts, no one else.” She touched his shoulder lightly. José felt weak. He realized he had become weak and Myrtle had become strong.

José closed his eyes as she covered him with her patchwork afghan. How she had become brave, Myrtle wasn’t sure. She felt more determined and stronger than any soul could be. A loud snore erupted from the couch, and she shuffled off to the kitchen to finish feeding the cat. Myrtle realized she was no longer the old woman wandering up and down her house. She was now a woman with a mission: to keep José with her and never let him go.

Myrtle decided she had better go stand vigilance over José, but eventually she just decided to watch him from her old Victorian, red velvet chair. His breathing was deep and groggy, his snores deep and loud. Myrtle wondered how long he would sleep. She peeked out her blinds. She didn’t see his truck in her driveway or on the street. Had he walked here? She needed to come up with a plan as she waited. A plan to keep José here.

José awoke sick from the beer and worry. He looked up to see the old woman nodding off in the chair. He felt caught. Caught in a web he didn’t know how to get out of. Why? Why had he been with her? He silently murmured Hail Mary’s to himself. If it had been the other way around, no one would have thought twice. Old man, young woman. Why had he come back? Yes, he didn’t want to lose his job, but there was something else. She had been right. In many ways they were the same—the same heart, just different in age. But it was unthinkable. Unthinkable. “Loco,” he muttered under his breath.

Myrtle opened her eyes. They sat staring at each other for a few moments. A tear ran down José’s eye. He no longer understood himself. His mind said one thing, but his heart felt tenderness for Myrtle. José sat up straight, as straight as he could sit, to gather his courage or maybe his reason, he didn’t know. “Señora…Myrtle, this is not, it is not a good thing, for you, for us, you see? Yes? I need to keep my work, I have family in Mexico, they need my money. Loneliness has been our devil. We will stop that. You and I, we will be good friends. Sí?”

Myrtle saw his mouth moving. She heard nothing. Not because of her hearing problems, but because she did not want to hear him. She was amazed how his words seemed to run all together, translating to nothing in her mind. She couldn’t let herself listen. “You must be hungry? I will make you breakfast. Eggs, yes? I think I may have a few pieces of bacon.” She scurried off to the kitchen. Her renewed youthful feeling fueled her quick steps.

José was relieved she had heard him and she agreed to the friendship. He tried to relax. He was hungry. He was lonely. It would be good to have a friend. Miffy jumped on top of the sofa, startling José as the cat began to lick his rough skin on his hands. He jumped a little bit at the cat’s unexpected appearance. He stood up and tried to take a deep breath, walking over to the kitchen table. No. He could not stay. He could not be friends. It was not possible. As he walked toward the front door, Myrtle appeared with her plate of eggs and bacon. She was beaming from ear to ear.

“Señora, I must go. Work. I will be late.” Myrtle felt the air rushing out of her lungs. Myrtle’s legs began to buckle under her. It didn’t matter how old or young a woman was, Myrtle cringed inside herself; every woman knew this look, this tone. She whispered, “You can live here, no one will know. You can still work in the neighborhood. No one will…”

The ground began to look like a cartoon, rubbery, roller-coaster track, and Myrtle was about to be swallowed up into it. She felt her hands grasping for him as her body began to waver. He watched her descend to the floor almost in slow motion, the eggs slipping to the other side of the room along with the bacon. José stopped. He knew he had a choice: He could be a good man or a desperate one.

José stopped thinking as he walked out the door. He continued down the street. He opened the door to his truck. He started the engine and drove away. Myrtle lay amidst the linoleum smeared with the buttery toast and her acrylic flowered plate. She was a victim of old age and youthful angst, her aged body unable to take the emotions and the devastation of this romantic entanglement. Miffy? Who would feed Miffy? It did not seem fair that the cat would also have to suffer for her follies or her failings.

She began to hear knocking at the door. Half in and out of consciousness, she thought, what a strange way to die. Then again, maybe you couldn’t get into heaven or hell unless you knocked on the door. She looked down at her limp hand. Obviously she wasn’t doing it; maybe some type of death angel was knocking for her. She yelled out to the angel, “Ring the bell, ring the bell.” She was anxious to see her fate.

“Myrtle, Myrtle.” The door swung open as Myrtle forced her eyes open. It was Herbert’s face. Did Herbert pass away last night? Was he her escort into the depths of heaven or hell? Herbert moved into the living room, searching for the telephone. Myrtle’s glove that he had picked up a few days ago slipped onto the fading carpet. He called for an ambulance and did his best to kneel down to Myrtle. He kissed her hand as he held it. His hand was warm and comforting. Myrtle smiled. How could Herbert know that in that moment, he would open a door to the two young people who lived inside their decrepit, ancient bodies? It was love at first sight.

* * *

It was on a Wednesday Myrtle was allowed to go back home. At the doorstep Herbert handed Myrtle a red rose. “It’s from the rose plant near the kitchen window.” Myrtle did not look at Herbert. A tear fell down the side of her eye as she walked toward her kitchen. Opening the white cabinet, she reached for a small, chipped vase and placed the red rose in it. A thorn on the rose pierced her thin, white gloves she was wearing. She watched the glove slowly turn red; then Myrtle rolled off the gloves and threw them into the garbage. She walked back into the living room and sat down on the tattered couch next to Herbert and Miffy.

José never returned to work on the Rosens’ yard again. José drove that fateful day until the gas in his truck ran out. In a dry, dusty town, he worked at many different jobs until he finally found a decent employer who paid on time. It was on a Wednesday José purchased a cactus that he placed in the kitchen window of his trailer. As he watered his new cactus, a flower opened. It was bright red. Visions of flowered wallpaper, acrylic plates, and Myrtle started to haunt him. He walked to the refrigerator and pulled at the tab of a beer. José then began his Hail Mary’s, praying that one day the doors to heaven would not be closed to a desperate man.

 

Copyright © 2013 Lynne T. Pickett

 

Lynne T. Pickett grew up in a small town in the mountains where running through cornfields to find ghosts or space aliens was the norm. Lynne has a degree in Broadcast Journalism from Syracuse University and a professional certificate from Broadway’s Circle in the Square Theatre School, NYC. Her claim to fame: she was Madonna’s stunt double in the film Bloodhounds of Broadway, that’s her leg on the swing kicking down the old man. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Diverse Voices Quarterly, Foliate Oak Literary Journal, moonshine Review and Broken Plate.