by Holly Ann Shaw
a glass of bubbly
Mary hated budget meetings, not because they were as dull as standing in a grocery checkout line, but because they wasted her time. She was always under budget, no outstanding invoices, and nothing to contribute. It was hard to stay engaged. She put her chin in her hand. That’s when she noticed it. A hair. Not a soft hair, but one that felt like stubble. For the next twenty minutes, she ran her finger over it. Again, and again. She no longer heard words. When the meeting ended, she ran to the bathroom. There it was. The hair that anyone could see. How had she missed it?
Up until then, it had been a normal workday. Read emails. Check. Return calls. Check. It was an unremarkable day, like any other day in the past twenty-five years. She had always been an anchor—solid, steady and constant. People counted on her. She knew a lot. In the office, she was the one people went to with questions. At church, people shared their problems with her because she knew things there too. She was a problem solver. Mary believed in efficiency. A full day of tasks and meetings—even Saturdays—were good days. Every moment accounted for. All Conversations were had a purpose—pleasant, but with a point. She liked that about herself.
For the rest of the day, she couldn’t concentrate. Instead of answering phone calls, she fingered that damned hair. Rather than read emails, she spent the afternoon trying to pull it out with her fingers. She tried, but it she couldn’t quite grab it. After work, she bought her first pair of tweezers and a magnifying mirror so that she could find any other lurking hairs.
At home, before grabbing the mail or taking off her shoes, she was in the bathroom. It only took a second to pull it out. She stared at the black hair in her hand and sighed. How long it had been there? Why had no one told her; didn’t she have anyone in her life that would point something like that out? Was it possible there was no one who would tell her the truth, even if it was ugly? No one came to mind.
She finally rinsed the small hair down the drain. Walking into the closet to change, she stopped. Other than the beige walls, there was only black. For years, she only bought black clothes. It was efficient. Grab a top and a bottom—didn’t matter which one because they would all work together. Even casual clothes were black tops with jeans. But tonight, for the first time, it occurred to her black was the absence of light.
She walked through her small apartment and saw it as if for the first time. Living room, bedroom, kitchen—there were only shades of gray and beige. Everything had a place—in one of the basket cubbies or drawer organizers or underbed bins. Everything matched because beige and gray go with beige and gray. Her quest for efficiency had drained all the color out of her life.
She sat on the couch and cried.
Mary thought epiphanies were rare; a thing for mystics. Maybe she’d had them before but she couldn’t remember any. She struggled to breath. The chin hair had to mean something besides getting older; it meant that everything is in motion whether she liked it or not. She looked at her life and saw an emptiness, a blandness; it was devoid of color, people or anything that resembled a personality. She decided it was time to move.
The changes were small. She bought a pair of green jeans, almost panicking when she gave the saleswoman her credit card. It took more than a week before she could wear them. But, when she put them on, she felt younger. So, she moved on to patterns—wild flowers or bold chevrons. With each purchase, her panic decreased. Mary started to mix patterns—sometimes matching, sometimes not.
She started to talk to people. "Good morning" became "What did you do last night?” As with the green jeans, she felt anxiety but a little younger, a little less heavy. She talked about books and movies. She learned she had more talk about than just work; she had insights and opinions. People started inviting her out to lunch.
The dreams started shortly after that. They were full-color, high-definition dreams; dreams that didn’t include budget meetings or black clothes. They were dreams in which she had friends or a lover. They were dreams that were all her own.
That last night in her apartment, she dreamed of the ocean. Walking along a rocky beach, she heard laughter and quiet talk; waves crashing and someone telling her truths. She felt a hand in hers and a warmth from inside, and a cold ocean wind against her cheeks. Waking up in her bed was a disappointment. She thought about going to work, of spreadsheets and project updates, of meetings where people became enraged over mistakes that cost neither lives nor money. Once again, she cried; tears for all the wasted days. Those days where efficiency and the illusionary self-importance trumped everything—people, dreams, colors. She exchanged her days for security, for status and control. But, what she had really done was let the life drain from her life.
Mary realized that epiphanies weren’t rare; noticing them, acting on them was. They could fly by you or you could grab them and hold on.
Today was a remarkable day, a day unlike any in her forty-nine year life. A day that had been coming since she first felt that little stubble on her chin. A little, black piece of honesty that turned into possibilities.
Call work and tell them to box up her stuff. Check. Pack some clothes in her new, blue bag with giant green and orange flowers. Check. She closed the apartment door, got in the car and drove West to something new.
About the author
Holly Ann Shaw’s short story, Intenerate, recently appeared in ‘Soft Cartel’ and her story, The Rust Barn, was published in the 2018 Fall edition of ‘The Raw Art Review.’”