The beautiful song of a mother robin chirping to her hatchling wafted through the window on a warm spring breeze. The serenity of the scene was suddenly interrupted by the metallic twang of a mechanical marimba ringtone. A hand groggily reached out from under the covers to silence the violently vibrating intrusion. Its back looked like the varicose vein road map of a budding urban metropolis. The hand unfurled an index finger and repeatedly pushed against the smooth screen, blindly searching for the “snooze” button.
“Not today,” thought Celia, her head still under the heavy comforter. It wasn’t every year that her birthday landed on a Saturday, and this year she planned to make the most of it—starting with a good, long sleep.
“You’d think you’d want to get up early and do something exciting!” George had thought aloud at the dinner table earlier in the week.
“Oh?” She had pointedly asked her husband with an inquisitive, arched eyebrow. “And why is that?”
“Well, I mean… Fifty… ya know?” He had stammered, desperate for an eloquent way out of the quicksand into which he had unwittingly walked. Just when his head began to submerge to its sandy fate, Celia’s son, Mikey, had heroically dove in, head first, to save his father. “Yeah,” He chimed, “You gotta prove you’re not an old bag yet!”
“Mikey!” George scathed, “Your mother is anything but!” Yet Celia had seen through her husband’s façade—through to the Olympic diving judge awarding Mikey a perfect ten.
As she lay in bed, Celia couldn’t get that conversation out of her mind. Being one year younger (and a man), there was absolutely no way George could understand what she was going through. He was still full of energy and life; Celia was exhausted and felt like death. He still had strength, youthful vigor and muscle tone; Celia had constantly aching joints, visible upper lip hairs, and menopausal heat flashes. Most importantly, George was still forty-nine. Celia was… not.
Begrudgingly, she pulled the covers away from her face and stared up at the sponge-painted ceiling. She sighed and looked to the oscillating fan in the corning of the room. It looked like the fan was emphatically shaking its head, “No,” as if shouting, “Stay in bed forever!”
Ignoring the windy warning, Celia pushed the covers all the way off of her, stretched her toes, and sat up. She grabbed her phone, noticed her reflection in the black screen, and quickly pushed the “unlock” button to check the time. 7:50. “How fitting,” she thought.
With a dainty sigh that became a masculine grunt, she lifted herself out of bed—on the second try. The initial effort was a “trial run” (or so she called it), testing the waters of the day. This struggle to leave the comfort of horizontal life and face gravity had become a daily ritual. Each morning, her body quite avidly refused to wake up its faculties enough to stand. Normally she could pass it off with a joke, but today she was acutely aware that the humor had run its course.
She walked across the room, dragging her feet audibly on the shaggy carpet, and into the bathroom. Turning the tap to “scalding”, she thrust he hand into the steaming stream and splashed water on her face. Celia grabbed the black towel next to the sink to dry off. As she pulled the towel below her eyes, she paused to look at her reflection in the mirror.
“Not too bad yet,” she thought, admiring her full head of auburn hair. Apprehensively, she pulled the black veil down the rest of her face to reveal dark and cavernous crow’s feet, deep canyons of wrinkles, and black bags drooping under tired grey-green eyes. “… And that’s what I thought,” she sighed to herself in disappointment.
It wasn’t as if her aged feature were anything new. Over the years, her once smooth skin had eroded in much the same way that a river bank did. And yet, she felt as though a passing flood had suddenly washed away her youth in the middle of the night. True, she turned fifty today, but she was really only one day older than she had been yesterday. She hadn’t felt nearly this awful last night.
“It’s not like one day can make that much difference,” She tried to convince herself.
But it had! Celia felt as though she had lived her fifty year lifespan while sleeping last night. Where had all that time gone?
Finishing her morning beautification rituals in front of the mirror, Celia returned to the bedroom and opened the closet. She scanned her clothing rack from left to right—then right to left—then she blankly stared at the amassed collection of linens hanging there. She felt as ridiculous as George and Mikey when they sat in front of the premium cable, high-definition, big screen television and groaned about the lack of any decent programming.
“How can I have bought all these clothes and not like a single thing?” She asked herself.
Unlike the television, this was more than a simple sensory overload of options. Looking at the clothes, Celia felt that they were both too old and too young for her. Even the flower printed sundress she had bought at Nordstrom last week seemed to have been hers for ages. In a different lifetime she had worn it: a more youthful lifetime.
“This is ridiculous!” She thought, blowing a fat raspberry and sliding the closet door resolutely shut. Still in her black bathrobe, Celia turned around in disgust at herself and the world. That’s when she noticed the curtain of the east facing window—it was closed. It was never closed. Both she and George took great pleasure in awaking to soft sunlight warming their face and bed—it had been a leading reason they had bit the bullet on the outrageous down payment for the house.
“George must’ve closed it so I could sleep in,” she thought. It was a nice sentiment, but as the idea festered, Celia realized her husband should’ve been lying beside her in bed. He was never an early rise on the weekend—with one exception: an early-bird tee time at the local lynx. She listened intently, but the entire house seemed shrouded in silence.
“If he is off golfing, I’ll kill him,” Celia fumed before correcting herself. “Better yet, I’ll divorce the man-child. It’d be more fun to watch him helplessly flail about adulthood than to let him relax in a grave.” Celia walked over to the window and pulled back the curtains. What she saw took her breath away—as if brutally jabbed in the abdomen by Joe Frazier.
Amidst the greening grass and budding dandelions, the lawn had been infected with a speckled plague of death in the form of numerous black balloons. Some were tied to stems of flowers and bushes. Others were drooping lazily from the branches of the old oak tree that dominated the landscape. Others still were filled with enough helium to float and bob gaily in the morning breeze—like imps dancing on a grave.
“There’s no way…” Celia muttered to herself as she quickly counted the balloons.
Indeed, fifty bubonic balloons were ailing her lawn. Most of them, she noticed, had been arranged in a foreboding sort of aisle leading away from her window. Walking down the row with her gaze, she arrived at an inflatable tombstone. In place of an epitaph, an ominous white “50” shone like a waiving flag of surrender to Death’s forces.
Staring in disbelief, Celia look at the two men—her two men—standing beside the grave, clad in black funeral suits. Mikey was laughing and waving at his mother. George stood holding a box of chocolates with a stupid smile on his boyish face.
“You know what?” Celia thought to herself, “I think I’ll just kill ‘em both and be done with it.”
She was so upset that she half convinced herself, living our retirement in incarceration wouldn’t be an unpalatable fate. But as she turned away from the death scene before her, that anger also turned and became a sort of determined vigor for rebellion. Gliding across the room, she thrust open the closet door and pulled out something she hadn’t worn since New Year’s Eve, 1999. She held it up, laugh, and slipped into the little black dress. Without looking the mirror—because she knew she looked good—Celia walked down the stairs.
Coming in through the front door, Mikey’s mortified eyes widened so much, that Celia feared they might pop out of their sockets. Her husband, on the other hand, finally had the slack-jawed, drooling expression to match the horny, pubescent teenager he really was. Celia stood on the landing with a vindictive smile, raised and inquisitive eyebrow, and said, “Who’s the ‘old bag’ now?”