The Woman Who Regained Her Youth
Time is too slow for those who wait.
Too swift for those who fear.
Too long for those who grieve.
Too short for those who rejoice.
But for those who love,
Time is eternity.
Henry Van Dyke
In The Beginning
So God makes a backyard garden.
From the dirt and dust he creates a gardener to care for it.
No wages, just all you can eat … except the apples.
The garden’s too big, and the man, Adam, travels throughout the land searching among all the animals for some help.
The closest he comes to is a chimpanzee. But the chimp’s too lazy, too hairy, and doesn’t understand a human word.
Adam explains his dilemma to God and asks, “You want a garden or a bunch of weeds?”
God puts Adam to sleep and takes out a rib. No blood. No incision.
Miracle number one.
When Adam awakes, he finds this lovely creature lying beside him.
Miracle number two.
Adam feels his missing rib, feels a touch of pride, thanks God, and says, “She is of the setting sun, of evening; I will name her Eve.”
God smiles in agreement.
Adam gives Eve a closer look. “Yes,” he says, “she is almost as beautiful as me. She’ll make a good helper.”
This is what Jack Doyle believes.
This is what Jennie Doyle believes she must believe.
Until … the third miracle.
December 19th, 2011. Mt. Laurel, New Jersey
Its sharpness cut deep in her dream. People fled. Things dissolved.
Again: an echo from the past, familiar, haunting, deadly.
Half awake, she listened, not sure. Gunshots? She, once a Vietnam nurse, familiar with its nightly clatter of death.
Again: closer, more chilling.
A small terrier at her feet barked.
From the neighborhood, more barks.
She opened her eyes, staring at the darkness … waiting.
Now a banging, loud, demanding.
A suburban commandment broken. “Thou shall be quiet at 3 a.m.”
The door knocker. He’s home. Forgot his key. Relieved, she rolled over easy to get up, switched on a light, put on her glasses, then a pink robe, and avoided the bureau’s mirror.
It was not her.
An image much older than her sixty-two years.
On the stairway, a wooden handrail helped her down.
At the front door, she peered through the eyehole, shook her head, repulsed, and opened the door, expecting he was drunk. So was the young thing that hung around his neck like a blonde scarf — her she didn’t expect. Yes, she the wife and he the husband had an arrangement, but this? A man and a child. Her man and not her child.
“Lost my key,” he slurred. A proud grin said he’d found a hidden treasure.
The young girl gave a finger wave along with a reckless smile. In her other hand, she held a bottle shaped to launch a ship.
The man, at a calendar age of fifty-eight, had a biological age of thirty-eight. Black curled hair, tanned, chiseled face, and a pro quarterback’s six foot five frame made him a lottery pick for the All-South Jersey sex team. It’s why the girl instead of the wife held open the door.
“Got us a guest for the night, momma.” A boyish grin revealed flawless white teeth.
She slammed the door hard and turned towards the stairs with the dog obedient beside her.
He flung open the door and grabbed her arm.
She pulled away, venom and hurt spewing from her eyes.
“Gonna use your bed … queen size,” he paused with a liquored smirk. “She’s a little wild, know what I mean?”
The small dog growled at the man.
The big man growled back.
The woman’s face scrunched in disbelief, her voice quivered. “You … her in … in my bed?”
“Hey, babe, just for tonight, okay?”
“You … you’re crazy drunk.”
The girl giggled saying, “Me too, momma.”
Momma? Momma? The word burst in her mind and pierced her heart. Yes, it was true, she had changed that much while he had not. His genetic gift from heaven.
The dog barked and moved toward the girl.
The woman held her back while wanting the dog to chew on the girl’s tender flesh, gnaw on her baby bones, and chomp on the man’s leathered heart. But the dog was too small and the man too big, and she, the wife, too wasted, and the girl … was just a girl … a thief in the night.
She wanted to scream, rant, curse, but too injured and tired, she followed, lagging behind them, up the stairs.
The bedroom door closed.
With a sudden burst of rage, she surged the final steps. Panting, she pounded hard on the door and cried out until she could only pound soft. Now quieted, she stood staring at the door as if she could see through its pine veneer: the amity of her bed, all those delightful years; where her newborns were conceived; where grandkids cuddled on sleepovers. How she loved its nightly respite, its smell, its winter warmth. Over the years, after family and friends, her bed had been her greatest comfort. Now, yellow hair spilled wantonly over its pink sheets. Pink, her love color, soiled. She wiped her eyes and shook her head, vowing to never to lie on pink again.
She visualized the room’s venerable keepsakes: on her blue settee, a white afghan, hand-knitted by a precious grandmom; on a corner chair, dolls, stuffed animals with their smiley faces and happy colors. In her closet, vintage clothes, for her outdated body, hid. On her night table, a wine glass from her wedding — when they shared a forever toast.
All of these, now in the possession of a stranger too young to value their oldness, too wild to value their tameness. Her heart paused, seeing them drink from her wine glass … kissing, smiling.
Music? My victrola? Be My Love? Mario Lanza? Our wedding song? Oh God, they’re playing it. Making love to it.
“Stop,” she cried as she pounded again.
The pictures: on the wall, on the bureau. My mother, my children, my grandchildren. They’re watching, damn you.
The crucifix above my bed. “Sinners, Jesus is watching. Stop, oh God, stop, please.”
It had been a bad day from the moment she awoke. A glance out the window made her want to lie in bed until the sun became the moon. In the kitchen, she had slow-sipped coffee as she viewed her garden’s beech tree. Its limbs bony cold, its luster gone … like her. Old naked can be such a sorry sight. Worse, she wasn’t that old. And the war, how she could still hear and see it. How it caused her hatred of red, of broken sounds, of painful cries, of dying.
Always the past in a tug-of-war with the present, with her fear of tomorrow. Reminiscing instead of planning. Thinking what could have been. Worse, what should have been … if only. This thing flooding her heart, drowning her will. That time was a synonym for death. That she had lost control of living. Of nights with little pink pills — helpers to help her to escape the doom burrowing deep in her heart, heading for her soul.
And now, this … this contamination … this Chernobyl.
She slumped to the floor.
The small dog whined with unease and cuddled close to her.
Jennie put an arm around Miss Eve as her mind retreated with regret. The price she paid for marrying a younger man. The kind lured by shapes born to age slow and love fast. She, born to nurture, to follow her god-like he-man. In letting him go, she had let herself go. As her beauty faded, so did her desires until she forgot what loving a man was like. Now, to hear and picture them a door width away, inches yet years apart. Filled with remorse, she banged her head on the door, a knock not to come in, but to come out. To save what was left of her.
A cruel silence, broken by giggles of indifference.
Her heart, out of rhythm, stopped, then restarted. How she wished she could turn back the years. To see the inside of men. To flick away the cancer like a bug on her breast. To clear her junked arteries. In that moment of despair, she shut out the good of her life: children, grandchildren and irreplaceable friends. Books that taught, entertained, and inspired. An Irish wit that softened astringency, a calm smile that defied fear when it leered at her. Each had helped ease her despondency so invisible to the world.
Now, in this painful moment of moments, there was only a crushing emptiness. All her life she had fought hardships both as nurse and patient. But how, she wondered, do you fight emptiness? She had been thrown from a tall building, arms flailing, grabbing at the air with death waiting to catch her.
He, as if mocking her, doing such a terrible thing. Now, she must do such a terrible thing.
In the bathroom, she swallowed some pills.
In the kitchen, vodka washed them down.
On his bed, she lay down, intending not to get up.
At her feet, a small dog laid, eyes open, watching.