Thursday, 24 February 2011

The Powder Case by Nancy Snipper

The door to the bathroom closed quietly. Mrs. Jilasi always did things quietly. Today as always, she was putting on her lipstick in a ritual of silence. She swiftly applied the cherry-flavoured gloss, anticipating a moist shine as it slipped red across her lips like blood from a mosquito bite. Mrs. Jilasi knew she had applied it just right by the scent her nose caught – not too far down, not too high up.
             It was one of the many tiny tasks she mastered at a specific appointed hour of each day, part of a repertoire of actions that one would normally do without thought, but for her, these little rituals were coups of accomplishment. Mrs. Jilasi was nearly blind.
Her enjoyment of makeup was blunted by the fact that Henry, her husband was not standing at the mirror peering over her shoulder, smiling, quietly saying,” You look so beautiful.”  This upset her far more than the fact that she could barely see, particularly at this very moment. Was this the day that she would bid a final goodbye to the shimmers of light amidst blackening blurred forms? 
             She continued to apply her lipstick, then her eye shadow, and finally her powder in front of the milky mirror that had become one of her familiar points of reference. After all, it had reflected her image in its glass for exactly 60 years and three days, as long as Henry had been with her. Was it always like this? Did he come to mind every time she applied her powder, or was it just now? For the life of her, she couldn’t get a focus on this troubling feeling. When had he left her, four years ago or four minutes ago?
            A knock on her apartment door broke her reverie and caused her to drop her powder case, which did not drop quietly. Rather, it emitted a cracking sound that Mrs. Jilasi found most unnerving. Indeed, it was a thud. What’s more, she had no idea where her case had landed. It could be sitting in the sink or on the toilet seat covering; it seemed to fall in that direction. Or was it on the floor by her feet?  A step to the left provided the answer, for in that single moment, she felt it crack into pieces. Not a heavy woman by any means, she was astonished, yet perversely pleased by that fact that her 100 pounds could still crush a powder case which felt strangely heavy in her hand.                 
            The event would mean her wrinkled skin of various shades of age would not be covered up. This was distressing, particularly since someone was knocking at her door. Should she answer it, or was a lady without powder an eyesore to any visitor?
This pressing decision irked her, but at the same time, made her mind leap into fast gear, much like a tiger jumping out of a cage or a heart that was racing far too fast. She abhorred the feeling, yet right now, she relished the spurt of adrenalin that made her feel a tad younger, more focused. Still, an unmistakable throbbing overpowered her limbs. This was new, and for that reason alone, Mrs. Jilasi was frightened. Was it her powder case that really dropped; was that the last thing she was holding in her hand?
            Suddenly she couldn’t remember. A fog was swirling around her. The knock continued growing louder. Her hearing seemed to magnify each of the four knuckles hitting the door. Too bad she had forgotten to dust the desk in the hallway of her spacious apartment. Would the visitor notice that?
            Much as she tried to find her case, it was the floor’s smooth surface she felt against her left cheek. Her arms seemed to lose all sense of feeling. Numbness buzzed throughout her body. Really, it was only a powder case; another could be bought. She was in the dark, completely. “If only he were with me, but he’s not.  Gone for good.”
            And as Mrs. Jilasi ran through a list of stores she frequently visited for make-up and other toiletries, she could not for the life of her remember from which store she had bought that perfect powder compact. This added to her stress, and her heart picked up its pace. This time, however, the pleasant rush she usually felt by the unexpected was not at all present. She felt uneasy, tight and not herself. A wave of nausea overpowered her, and soon the floor was covered in the fish she had enjoyed the night before.
            Yes, she had to dine alone, but wasn’t it like that every night since Henry had left her?  A stench swept through her small bathroom, magnified by the fact that Mrs. Jilasi had suddenly urinated at the time her powder case slipped from her hand. Too much to bear, sweet Mrs. Jilasi closed her eyes, sparkling blue eyes that weren’t doing her much good any way. At 89, everything was a blur or a faint form of something - a dark shroud.
            She was quite a dish when Henry had first held her hand, and slipped a sweet little imitation diamond on her fourth finger, asking her in his shy way if she would care to spend the rest of her days with him. She had loved him from the moment she first met him, four months before the ring slid on her finger. He was a flyer of spitfires with the RAF, and this greatly impressed her – his dark manly uniform with a few medals hanging over his jacket right pocket. His eyes were brown and gentle, and in them, she saw sadness that spoke of war and friends lost in fields of blood. 
        Six years her junior, Henry settled into his wife’s doting, much as a puppy resigns itself to his new master. Domestic docility seemed to both gladden and aggravate him. But as for Mrs. Jilasi, Henry was her everything. And for all those years of marriage, his smile, caress and kindly ways made up for each little annoyance that comes when two people are bound to one another, living together, having to stretch each dollar, burying hushed hurts, voices feigning sweetness, eyes with flat stares or a door closing a tad too loudly.
Such thoughts cluttered Mrs. Jilasi’s mind as her body lay on her bathroom floor, and the last thing she recalled was the store where she had purchased the fish - Loblaws.
She had paid five dollars for it - far too much for that sliver of halibut.
And as she whispered “halibut”, a familiar face appeared directly over hers. The word ‘halibut’ turned into ‘Henry’. Her loving husband had come back from the dead. Why could she see his face so clearly?  Then she noticed two figures – strangers dressed in white and blue jackets. They were carrying some kind of white bed.  She could see that too. But it was Henry who was bending over her.
“Henry, I can see you,” she said quietly, for that was her way, to speak quietly, only this time she noticed she had no choice in choosing the volume of her voice, for she was quite tired.
“Dear Hilda, don’t move; you’ll be fine; you suffered one of your spells, only this time you were out much longer than usual. When you didn’t answer the door, I retrieved my key to let myself in. You know how I hate trying to find my key; I never remember which pocket I put it in. You always get to the door faster than I can find it. But this time, you didn’t. I knew something was wrong. I found you lying here, and called 911. Never mind the mess. I’ll tend to that in a second. Can you really see me? Are you feeling better now?  How is your vision? Did you forget to take your medicine?”
But now was not the time to go into that.  He knew though she would be fine. She could talk, even sit up. As she slowly reached a standing position, her husband supporting her on one side, a paramedic on the other – not need for the stretcher, she gazed at herself in the mirror. Colour returned to her cheeks and her red lipstick seemed even brighter than before.  Her vision was as good as new, well - as good as any diabetic’s was at her age. Behind her stood Henry, his face reflected in the mirror. He handed her the broken powder case. Then a slow smile came to his face, and he said, “You look beautiful.”