Tastes Like Sorrow

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic
An aging spinster comes to terms with her spent life, and ill relations.

Submitted: April 26, 2008

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Submitted: April 26, 2008

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The last time Ethel was in a relationship, a “serious” relationship, she was in her twenties.  Now, pushing sixty, she posed in front of the mirror; a pillow stuffed up her creamy satin nightgown.  Grazing her hands lightly over her lumpy, fake stomach, Ethel wished that menopause would slow its ravages on her body.  There was a quiet tap on the door, followed by a cautious, “Ethel?”
It was Abigail, her roommate and best friend.  She hurriedly removed the pillow, preparing to be interrupted, she calmly replied, “Yes, Abby? Is it important?”
“No, no, I suppose not.  I just wanted to… oh never mind, goodnight.”
Thankful that Abigail had left her alone, she put the pillow up her gown again and continued to admire her false pregnancy.  It’s not that she was not happy being single and living with her best friend, but there was more; there was so much more, that she couldn’t help but feel she had missed out. 
Like many young girls’ desire for children, love, and romance, Ethel now realised such desires were exclusive to the young and hopeful; she was too old, jaded and cynical.  She often wondered what it would have been like to have children, or just to give birth.  Having never been pregnant, she felt she had missed out on a part of the human experience, but that was a selfish reason to have a child. Ethel prided herself on not contributing to the problem of overpopulation. 
With melancholy indulgence, Ethel lit up a smoke.  She laughed a little at the atrocity of such an image; herself appearing a woman in her third trimester, smoking.  Blowing smoke into the mirror, it exploded as it hit the glass rippling until it disappeared like dust. She sat down on her bed, still looking at herself in the mirror, a feeling of heavy sadness anchoring her down.  How ridiculous she looked these days.  Frizzed grey hairs, somehow less obedient than the wiry brown ones, sprouted from her temples and out the center of her crown.  She was not the vivacious brunette she once was.
Though Ethel accepted long ago that she would not have children of her own, she often had these moments where she experienced a profound regret.  The regret rooted so deep that when provoked nearly brought Ethel to tears.  But Ethel could not cry.  Not in her room, and certainly not while Abigail was home and could potentially hear her.  The only place that Ethel could comfortably cry was under her showerhead, drowning out her sobs and the feeling of hot tears on her cheek.
Ethel had only ever cried in front of another person three times in her life.  The first time she ever cried in front of someone was at her father’s funeral. Always a daddy’s girl, she had a much more difficult time getting over his death than her brothers and sisters.  She was only thirty then, but even speaking of it now caused her to well up a little; though she had not shed a tear over her father’s death since. 
The second time she cried was at her baby brother, John’s house, it was right after she had found out about his cancer.  It was the time she regretted most crying in front of someone because when she started to cry he turned to his wife and said “See!  You see what I have to put up with?”  She had to excuse herself then, and now has a difficult time looking her brother in the eye.  They do not speak much these days; they have always been so different. 
The most recent time she ever cried in front of anyone was at her mother’s funeral.  Not that she was particularly saddened by her mother’s death, but because her sister was sitting beside her, wringing her hand, sobbing uncontrollably.  Tears can be viciously contagious.
Taking the last few hauls off the cigarette Ethel wondered if she would ever stick to her resolution to quit.  Why was it that the men in her family could butt out anytime, but she was still a chronic smoker?Holding the ashtray in hand, she smothered the cigarette in a bed of ash, and placed the tray back on her nightstand.  For a moment she felt she was choking back the sensation of tears, but like a warrior she fought them off and rose up from her bed. 
She took one last look at her profile with the pillow up her nightgown before pulling it out and tossing it back on the bed.  Still standing with her profile turned to the mirror she ran her hands down her deflated stomach; devoid of life, hollow.  She turned to face the mirror and studied her body from the bottom up.  Her feet were petite, on the verge of stubby, topped with toes that had become gnarled and hooked.  Her calves, fat as they were, blended into her feet; she has her mother’s fat ankles. When she got to her hips, she felt the same sadness as she bore with her fake stomach.  She could hear her mother’s voice, “Such full, childbearing hips.  One day, you’ll make a man a good wife.”  She pulled at her fleshy love handles that now covered her full bodied hips; her full, childbearing, hips.  She skipped over her torso, too upset to dwell on her flabby stomach, or limp breasts.  Staring herself in the face, she studied the lines that traced her life experience out in contours and creases.  She cracked a smile, or rather a smile cracked her expression, and a look of grotesque discontent took over her serene gaze.  Feeling a hot sensation grow from behind her eyes, she swallowed hard.  It was like swallowing a big, itchy, lump full of tears, so bitter and unrelenting, it tasted like sorrow.
Unable to withstand the sorrowful flavour, Ethel had to get out of her room.  She needed fresh air.  Expecting to be the only one awake she was surprised to see Abigail curled up in the armchair doing a crossword. 
“I thought you had gone to bed.”  She said matter of factly, and almost curtly.
“You were smoking again.”
“So?  Abby, you know I am having a hard time quitting.  I only smoke in my room anyway, the window was open.  It shouldn’t bother you.”
“No, no, it didn’t bother me.  I was just worried, a little, I mean you’ve been locking yourself in your room every night.”  She trailed off nervously; sometimes talking to Ethel was like walking on broken glass.  “I made some tea, if you’d like.  It’s in the flowered pot on the table.”
It was if both women agreed to ignore the initial remark, “Thanks Abby.  I was thinking about putting on a pot.”
Ethel walked into the kitchen and poured herself a mug of tea.  The big windows in the kitchen let in the light of the moon and stars, which were strangely present on this cold December night in Montreal.  It was so clear out that Ethel felt compelled to be under the big sky; and so she went out on the balcony to indulge in another cigarette. 
She walked out on the balcony and lit her cigarette.  She had just recently acquired the furniture on the balcony, it was her mother’s.  The kitchen set had only been on the balcony for a couple weeks, but had already been destroyed by the horrendous fall weather Montreal was experiencing.  The painted white iron frames were now stained with rust and bird shit.  The upholstery was cracked and blistering stuffing.  How poorly she had managed to take care of her mother’s inheritance.  She could hear her mother’s voice again, “This is how you treat my things?  I should have given them to John, or Annie, or Jeremy; they could have given it to their kids.  I knew you could never take care of anything…”  Then, as if she had an uncontrollable urge she shouted, “Shut up!  You fucking witch!  Shut up!” Shaken by the sound of her own voice, Ethel realized what she had to do.  She put her burning cigarette in the ashtray and turned back into the house.  She began rummaging impatiently through the pantry. 
“Are you looking for something?”  Abigail asked innocently, only trying to be helpful.
Without turning to face her, Ethel replied, “Yes, the lighter fluid, for my Zippo.  Have you seen it?”
“It should be on the door, next to the batteries and nail polish.  You see it?”
“Yes, thanks.”
“What do you need it for now?”  Abigail regretted the question as soon as she had asked it. 
“None of your business!” Snapped Ethel. “Why don’t you just go to bed?  I am fine; I just need some time to be alone.”
“Oh, ok.  Please, just please don’t do anything stupid.”
“Don’t worry; I am just going to burn my mother’s kitchen set.”
“What?  No, please, that is the sort of stupid thing I am talking about Ethel.  That could be dangerous.”
“I promise I’ll keep the fire extinguisher in hand.”
“Please, Ethel…” But Abigail knew there was no use in arguing.
“Just go to bed, Abby.  I’ll be fine.”
For whatever reason, Abigail trusted her and went off to bed.  Ethel returned to the balcony, her cigarette had already smoked itself, so she started dousing the chairs in fluid.  It would be a nice night for a bonfire.  After she had emptied the entire bottle she stepped back and lit herself one more cigarette. 
The night was perfect for it.  It was starry and Ethel could see the moon in clear view from her balcony.  The natural light made for an eerie milieu to accompany the already peculiar night.  Taking long drawls off her cigarette, Ethel wanted to think it would be her last.  When her smoke neared its inevitable end, Ethel flicked it onto the chairs.  A rosebud of sparks triggered hungry flames.  The fire flared and licked greedily at the upholstery, engulfing the set in its amber radiance.  The flames grew more furious, jumping between chairs, and Ethel began to feel the heat; in front and behind her eyes. Like sprinklers, set to quench the thirsty fire, her tears flooded uncontrollably.  Ill prepared to defend herself against such emotions; Ethel lost sight of the raging fire as it grew.  Leaping flames swelled to the height of the rooftop. The fire dancing wildly around her, Ethel crumpled on the balcony floor, tangled in her creamy satin nightgown and sorrowful tears.


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