It could not be said that the moment was unusual. There was a room and within it there was a table. The weather outside was unimportant, as the temperature within the house was tolerable aside from a chilling air of contentment. Courtesy disguised relevant tasks as temporarily trivial; the will of her late husband could be settled later. Voices spoke in urgent laziness.
“She likes the floral.”
“I do think the floral is nice, yes. I like the floral.”
“The floral clutters the room a bit.”
“She does like the floral though.”
There were three women in a room. One was distinctly older, while the other two were nearly half the age of the first. You could see that there were three, yet your eyes gravitated toward the woman in the center. You don’t notice the porcelain dog figurines to her left, or the two crystal bowls of gumdrops to her right, or the ruffles and lace and bows of the tablecloth below the clinking chandelier above. Heavily powdered cheeks lay horrified, cowering beside the bloody redness of her lipstick. The soles of her shoes were un-scuffed.
The two women beside her were discussing curtains. It was as though passion failed as a noun to capture their racing emotions. Never before had anything possessed such immeasurable importance. The woman in the center had lived many moments before this one. She had had eleven children.
And then this matriarch’s birthday came. Eleven children had searched for the perfect present. Eleven perfect presents had been found. Cars filed into the driveway. Those who lived far were sad and those who lived close were sad. As they came in she was sitting.
Lavender soaps, candles shaped unlike candles, terry cloth slippers, wind chimes, a calendar of baby animals, a necklace, a pen that writes upside-down, stuffed animal dogs… many things lay hidden inside wrapped boxes at her feet. As she opened boxes and glared inside, none would see a seven year old smiling out of a ninety year old face.
Everyone was hers. Everything was hers. Compliments did not go both ways. She saw herself as a present to her children and grandchildren. She had been treated that way for too long by too many.
When she grew tired she would return upstairs to her room. The family would then instinctively return to their station wagons. She would sit amongst her stacks of magazines, unopened letters, magnifying glasses, plush carpet, and closed windows. She lived ignorant of the sadness of her own life. She drank long sips of neglect out of those who loved her. And they did the same.
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