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She entered Goodwill's musty dressing room, locked the paint-peeled door, and stared-down the mirror.
An old woman, her hair was now the color of white corn and her eyes dark and deep, two sinkholes. Her
face looked tilled and her cheeks, once creamy cakes, hung red and loose. Undressed, her hands moved over her body, the whispers of long ago lovers, of her late husband, breathing at her ears, "Baby, baby, baby," and she
could just remember her defined stomach and arms, her tight, lifted buttocks, her large bronzed breasts and the slick valley between them. She hugged her brittle self, "Happy birthday."

The floral, sleeveless dress with its cinched waist and full skirt reminded her of the fifties, of her as a young housewife in bright aprons, pretty clothes, and sexy lingerie.
 
Honey, I'm home.
 
In here, darling.

She could afford the dress and the bright pink platform shoes, only forty dollars. Regardless, she wore the dress and shoes out of the changing room, and the store. Her insides thrummed with the unfamiliar anxiety, the thrill, of theft. For the first time in months, maybe years, she felt awake.
 
Next, she arrived at the salon for an up-do and lip and brow wax. In the department store, she headed to cosmetics for a makeover that included false eyelashes. The store assistant had bad breath, but luscious curves, and didn't hide her disappointment when she didn't make a sale.
   
At every stop, she was asked for details of the special occasion. Throughout the afternoon, her lies and audacity grew and she went from a tall tale about a friend's wedding in the wine country to a ridiculous epic about a photo shoot at the Ritz Carlton for old, still sexy, women.
 
She parked down at the wharf, thought she might find a lonely tourist going solo. Her stolen shoes proved to be too high and she teetered and struggled inside them. At last, she spotted him at the fountain in the square. He removed his fedora, kissed a coin and tossed it into the brown water.
 
She stood close to him.  "Your wish just came true."

He startled, then laughed.  "Only you're even prettier than I'd hoped."
 
She blushed, taken-aback by his quick wit and broad, handsome face.
 
They ducked out of the surprise rain and into a bustling bar, its tables cluttered with cameras and camcorders and cell phones. Over cocktails, they exchanged personal histories and delved into memories of the war rations, fear, the draft. His father had made it back home, minus the tips of his three middle fingers. Hypothermia. Hers returned intact, in a coffin. Dysentery. Her companion looked stricken, like he might cry. She drained her glass and ordered another round. Several times she made to tell him it was her birthday, but couldn't get the words out.
 
Much later, inside his dingy motel room, she tried to hide her disappointment. This was far from the Ritz, far from the days when she was spoiled and seduced. She'd taken him for a man of means, of good taste. He
dropped down on the edge of the bed in his white briefs and black socks, and looked suddenly frightened and ancient. She peeled off her dress. The spider in its web overhead was the only one watching.
 
She licked her lips, nervous, embarrassed, tasted traces of sugar and lemon. Her mind spun, both of them not a little drunk.

He jumped up from the bed and crossed the room to check the radiator, mumbled curses because it was off.
 
"Aren't you cold?" he asked.
 
She kicked off her shoes.  "I'm hot."

He rubbed his face.  "I'm sorry. I can't."

She forced a smile.  "Of course you can. We're just having a little fun."

He shook his gray head.  "No, please, I'm sorry."

She removed her bra, swaying a little.  "It's alright. It's all good."

His hands rushed to cover his face, hands the color of mud.

She felt slapped and marched across the room, pulled on his wrists.  "Look at me."

He turned his back to her.  "Please leave."

His shoulder blades jutted out, a dull, freckled ravine between them. The dip in his lower back was the size of a baby's fist. She thought to caress him, to slap him.
 
He reached for his trousers.

She rushed into her clothes.

She stopped in the doorway.  "At the fountain? What did you wish for?"

"Health,"  he said, his fingers fluttering at the rim of his fedora, turning it round in his hands like a spinning wheel.
 
She hailed a taxi, defiant, but couldn't imagine where to go.
 
At home, she climbed into bed in her dress. In the cold, in the dark, she watched her gray breath puff and fade, puff and fade. So much breath.



Raised in Ireland, Ethel Rohan now lives in San Francisco. She received her MFA in fiction from Mills College, CA. Her work has or will appear in Guernica, Gargoyle, Potomac Review, Los Angeles Review, and Southeast Review Online, among many others. Her short short story collection, Cut Through the Bone, from Dark Sky Books is forthcoming December 1st, 2010. A second short short collection, Hard to Say, is forthcoming from PANK, 2011. She blogs at ethelrohan.com.
 




 





  


Copyright 2009