Her eyes were fully dilated. The pupils were so large, only the barest hint of pale blue could be seen, like space dust glowing on the fringes of a massive black hole. The flickering candle flame reflected in those huge dark pools, making her eyes look like those of an alien being. The reflective fire turned those eyes into something that could contain great power; power to destroy entire worlds, and to bring men to their knees in fear.
The corners of her mouth began to curl into the beginnings of a smile. She always had an active imagination. The smile collapsed into a frown. She tilted her head to the left, and her reflection mimicked the move. She never took her eyes off the mirror.
“Mirror, mirror on the wall,” she whispered.
From down the hall she could hear a hissing sound, like a ball of angry cobras spitting and biting each other. For a moment she couldn’t remember what the sound was, perhaps she swallowed too many pain pills.
Jack really worked her over good. Her entire body hurt, the pain radiating from deep within her bones. Already the pain was beginning to leak away as the pills worked their magic, but the emotional anguish? No, that pain stabbed at her heart. After sixty years of marriage how could he do this to her? How could he hurt her like this? She was a good faithful wife. She was a model wife!
Or was she?
A memory crept in from the dark corner of her mind. Her reflection shed a tear as the old memory unfolded itself and crystalized. Sixty-three years ago to the day she stood tall and beautiful in the courtyard of Canopy Oaks High School. Her family had moved to Oakwood Forest, Florida over the summer and she had met few friends. She was so nervous, although she would never allow herself to show it.
Nancy and Kelly ran up to her. They were her neighbors and only friends. She guessed they were okay, kind of hick though. But what wasn’t hick in this small sleepy town? Miami felt a zillion miles away. Kelly was blowing an enormous bubble and Nancy was chewing away at her gum like the glum cow across the road from her house. “Hi, Ann. Are you ready for the first day?” Nancy said.
“Gosh, Ann. You plan on killing the boys dead or what? Think that skirt could get any shorter?” Kelly said, blowing another bubble.
Ann gave a tight smile. Kelly had about thirty pounds on her, when she stopped moving, it took the fat an extra minute to stop giggling around. “I plan on getting the hottest guy in this school by the end of the day. This,” she gestured to her outfit, “is my bait.” She knew she would turn heads. Her legs were well formed, slender hips, a small waist. Her breasts finely chiseled and had that uplift perfectness that only the young could achieve.
Her hair was long and golden, hanging in very loose curls down to the center of her back. Her skin was smooth as silk, and blemish free. Her eyes were like chips of sapphire, magnetic and compelling. She often lowered her eyelids, giving the appearance that she just woke from a timeless slumber. That sleepy-sexual look caused guys to get hot flashes and dream of what it would be like to stare into those eyes while in bed. But she could easily switch the look, and appeared colder than an ice sculpture.
“Good, luck. All the good guys are taken.” Nancy commented as they walked to the front doors.
As if summoned by the Gods, a boy dashed in front of them. His eyes were focused on something in the sky. A second later he clamped his large hands around a descending football. He sent the ball in a tight spiral to another boy across the yard. On the up stroke his shirt lifted high enough for Ann to see his tight flat stomach, lightly coated with a line of light brown hair. His eyes were a deep brown and his smile so radiant that Ann couldn’t help smiling in return.
“‘Morning ladies.” He said as he jogged past them.
“Who is that?” Ann gushed, unable to hide her interest. He had phenomenal rear suspension as well. What a bod.
“Jack McMillen. But forget it, he and Mary Beth are a couple.” Nancy said, “they’ve been an item for two years now.”
“You stand no chance, sister.” Kelly added. Ann stabbed her manicured nail at the bubble Kelly made. It popped, covering Kelly’s nose with sticky gum. Yuck.
“We’ll see about that,” Ann said, smiled and walked up the stone steps to the entrance doors. As fate would have it, Jack arrived just a split second before her. He held the door open and winked at her as she swept past, his turn to check out her rear.
Ann shook her head. The mirror came back into focus. She reached up and slid her fingers through her course gray hair. Pain laced every movement. Had her hair really been that soft and shiny? Her fingers crawled from her forehead to her face, tracing patterns of lines, dipping into valleys of wrinkles. Oh, how tight and radiant her skin had been! Amazing how the years could change you into an old, stooped, wrinkled shadow in what seemed like a mere instant of time.
Wiping away a stray tear, she picked up the brush, and began the tedious task of unknotting her frazzled hair. Jack had really worked her over. She looked and felt like a wreck. It really wasn’t fair that people aged the way they did. You work all those years to enter a time that everyone calls the Golden Years. “Golden, my butt.” Ann grunted. “The only thing golden around here is my underpants, cause I can’t seem to hold my bladder anymore.” Regardless of the pain, she did smile. “I’d dearly love to kick the person in the shins who coined that phrase.”
What was it that Jack said to her that summer? The brush stopped in mid-stroke as she tried to find the memory. It was like stumbling around in a dark room with memories strewn all about. Some good ones, some bad ones, and just a few painful ones. The memory was elusive. She continued brushing her hair, thinking of the years. She had been a good wife. She made a mistake early in their marriage when her looks and career meant everything. She had gotten pregnant!
Just the thought of what bearing a child would do to her figure and career made her decision easy. One afternoon she hopped over to the clinic and disposed of the fetus. Did she feel guilt? Ann thought back, but try as she might she couldn’t remember what Ann the twenty-year-old felt.
She felt guilt now! Jack had always wanted a child and when she was ready and willing to give him one they discovered a tumor growing in her uterus. Ann wondered ever since if that was God’s way of telling her she made a mistake by taking away a life. But Jack was supportive and life went on.
Until now. Until Jack did what he did.
She put the brush down and slowly walked into the bedroom. Jack lay on the bed in his wedding tuxedo. She took her wedding dress off the hanger and slipped it on. Although yellowed with age, to her it was still beautiful, pure white and sparkling in her mind’s eye. She remembered their first dance and how radiant they were. That day! It was the happiest day of her life. During the first dance, safely encircled in his strong arms, she marveled at what started as a high school mission could end in a fairy tale.
She kissed Jack’s cold face and lay down beside him, clasping his hand. “It won’t be long now, my love.” Ann whispered.
Amazing that only an hour ago she was making a late lunch when she heard something fall in the bathroom. “Jack, are you all right, honey?” She yelled.
No reply. A wave of dread chilled her spine. She quickly hobbled to the bathroom. Jack’s heart was so bad she knew it was only a matter of time. She was sobbing even before she saw him laying dead in the tub.
Ann closed his eyes and clasped him tightly to her. It was Jack’s wish that she did not attempt resuscitation. Nor did he want a funeral, just a quick cremation. She and Jack were loners, they found everything they needed in each other and had very few friends. After all these years, she wasn’t sure if their friends were still alive. They had no children, no family. It would be very lonely without Jack. He was her support, her life.
It took all of her effort to drag him into the bedroom. She’d fallen against the dresser once, taking the brunt of the fall on her arm. She may have knocked herself out because she woke laying on the floor and her arm a pulsing ball of burning pain. Not sure if she damaged it, and not caring if she did, Ann pulled and rolled Jack onto the bed.
After Ann finished dressing Jack, she closed all the windows and turned on the gas stove and lit candles in the living room while she got ready. The two hundred and fifty-gallon tank stood silently right outside their bedroom wall.
They always said they would rather die together so the other one wouldn’t have to suffer. “We’ll be together soon, Jack. You just make sure you wait for me.”
Ann did not have long to wait. Two minutes later the gas gently kissed the candle flame. The resulting explosion blew the house apart. Neighbors up and down the block leaped from their homes fearing an atomic bomb exploded nearby. Twenty minutes later the first fire engine arrived, but it was already too late to do anything.
The explosion was listed as an accident. The Last Will and Testament was handled by a local attorney. After cutting a hefty check for himself he wrote one other check and dropped it in the mail.
A week later a local Children’s Hospital received a generous donation in Jack and Ann’s name. The amount was so large, the hospital paid for a portrait of the couple to be made and placed it in the lobby.