By Rachel Hughes
Joan looked in the mirror, her face was distorted, like her reflection came from a running stream. Deep ravines had been forged into her face. For years she had barely recognized herself. Her auburn hair long gone, leaving a fuzzy white frill in its place. Today, like every other day, she dug her fingers into the cold cream jar that was sitting on the cluttered window sill. She smeared it across her face. Then rubbed on a flash of pink blush and red lipstick. Even now, she remembered the days when she’d laugh and kiss men that weren’t her husband.
She got her sticks and hobbled down to the mailbox, to greet Alan, her neighbour. He was not her usual cup of tea. He’d been an accountant in his previous life. Her mother would have called him steady. He seemed bland, dressed in beige slacks, and every day a pressed shirt and tie. His wife was the same when she was alive, insipid, like a cup of weak tea. Goosebumps pricked on her arms and she wished she’d worn her cardigan.
She glanced over to his place, gnarly lavender and overgrown rose bushes choked the entrance way to the front door which was blowing in the breeze and Mr. Biscuit (Alan's dog) was yapping and running about.
“Come on now, Mr Biscuit.” Joan called out. He bounded upto her, tail wagging. Rolling over for a tummy rub. Joan didn’t much like the dog either, Alan and Mr Biscuit both yapped incessantly and Mr Biscuit she knew had habit of peeing when he got over excited. She made her way into the small bungalow. It was just like hers, a tiny living room filled with oversized furniture from his previous life. A large wooden dresser, covered with photos, old birthday cards and childish paintings. She’d heard all about these people, a picture of his dead wife on their wedding day. She’d been rather pretty. The son overseas now with his wife and sons and the daughter. Where was she? Each photo had a thin layer of dust which would scatter into the still air when she picked it up. Like her children, they’d all grown and moved away. Reduced to a weekly visit or a trip to the shops.
“Alan,” she leant against the sofa.
“Here,” she heard a faint voice from the bedroom, so made her way through. There he was, lying on the bed. Thin and frail, he looked grey and dusty, mottled with age spots, beige like his pants. His fingers knotted as each joint curled around the bed sheets. His wedding band hung lose, a thin sliver of gold.
“Are you ill? How long have you been there?” he gazed up, his eyes milky blue, looked wet.
“Would you like me to call a doctor?” he shook his head.
“Will you look after Mr. Biscuit, the kids won’t take him?”
“When the time comes,” and she knew she would. She lay down next to him on the narrow bed breathing in his old man smell. A faint whiff of urine and a stale, musty odour tinged with something acrid like mothballs. She didn’t want to leave, she wanted to feel the warmth of this man next to her, she held his hand and closed her eyes and thought about the empty places in her life.