Curtains by Tiffany Coffman

18 Feb



It’s Saturday, a day where she should be kissing the world and venturing outside her boxed life, but there’s so much of it. God saw fit upon every sway through each day that her attention was drawn to couples; couples in love, couples laughing, and couples making a life. It had been years since she made anything. The slap that God delivered she viewed as particularly cruel as her decision to remain alone seemed dishonored. Or perhaps her anger was rooted in the idea of a God forcing her to see things differently, to buy into that bullshit hope that maybe one day, one day ‘he’ would come. But she was smarter than this and knew she’d outwit her God.

Spared by the oncoming brightness of the day, she rattles around in her slippers scuffling across time. The rising light gazing through the broken curtain on her sliding glass doors suggests she’s peeked out a time or two into a world she feels doesn’t want her. Changing directions between wanting love than not, she sips her conflict slowly every morning heating up that spot on her tongue that has long forgotten the taste of a man.

Sitting slouched on the worn sofa, shoulders rounded from carrying the weight of a thousand nights, the first morning’s tea is finished off as she looks across the empty room at all the things that don’t belong to her. Charitable bits of odds and ends that neither reflects her style or intent stare back at her as if to say, “We just don’t care.” The irony of this is not lost on her as she shuffles back into the kitchen for a second cup of heat.

Inside her robe pocket, she pulls out a tissue that has seen better days. She once thought to invest in a handkerchief but was too broken to feel she’d deserved otherwise. Besides, there was something pathetic and demeaning about using a tissue until it fell apart that she found sadly familiar. Catching a glimpse of morning’s beam from the broken curtain on her kitchen window, she let out a sigh as another day was unavoidable. Wandering, she retraced how she felt upon the sun’s awakening the day she believed he loved her, the one after the others. Her heart, bright as the sun upon her, expanded with a rush of him filtering in only to be disturbed by the sound of the kettle’s final call. Little balled up bits dropped to the floor as the tissue partially disintegrated, making an unnecessary bread crumb trail from the whistling kettle to her teacup as she knew better than to be misled by anything unfiltered.

Traipsing back into the living room spilling her tea, morning had officially taken over. While she knew she should eat something she just prayed the day would speed by quick enough to carry her to night and straight into bed where hours could be tucked away. The clock high on the wall was permanently stuck at 2:19, dead and drained, with no indication of a.m. or p.m. except that it was the only thing left from her second marriage. A relic from a moment when her second husband actually gave a shit about something, at least something that alluded to being part of a family. She’d allowed it to remain on the wall despite its uselessness, partly because it did reflect a time when her second husband actually cared and partly because he placed it so high it was only accessible via a ladder of which she did not possess. Ignoring the clock after so many years, it had once struck her mind that he might have placed it so irretrievably high as to remind her how little in fact he did care about her, but she only allowed that consideration for a brief moment as the other scenario performed better in her head. Regardless, her complete indifference to him made any decision over the clock’s removal a waste of time.

Tea stains on her slippers, she let out another deep, long sigh. She wasn’t ready. Today was the day she’d promised to get the place together. Since her last child left home, she hadn’t cared about straightening up or much else for that matter. Things like grocery shopping and picking her clothes up off the floor seemed an effort she had neither the energy nor care for. Reduced to a life of slim pickings and stepping over things, she’d grown accustomed to expecting the least while tripping the most. “It’ll be alright, mommy. You’re strong. You don’t need him.” Her daughter’s last words echoed more confident than she. “Movement. You just need movement.” Noticing an odd flash of light from the hallway, she shifted slightly over to observe her cat scurrying from her daughter’s old room.

What had once housed her little beacons of light had now become asylum to odds and ends secreted away. More often than not she kept the door nearly closed as the broken curtain on her daughter’s window allowed in the sun without permission. But nothing would get past her. Not sun, not God, not love. The room, looking lifeless and in shambles, was but a ghost of what used to be; two dancing, silly little girls twirling and falling all over each other in laughter, giving her reason, giving her purpose. The closeness they gained being shoved in the tiny apartment after the fire seemed more charitable than the mismatched furniture ever was. At least the closeness was authentic, not feigned like the closeness she received from men.

Men. She never reasoned what they wanted except she knew it wasn’t her. One after the next would pass through her leaving a haunting residue. “I must be wrong,” she thought. “They never come back for me.” She remembered leaving home at 17 knowing well and good her mother didn’t care, but her father? She knew for certain he’d come for her. He never came, and just like the others after him they never came for her either. “It says something when your own father doesn’t come to collect you. It says something about you.” Glancing glossy eyed across the length and width of the room, she reached her hand inside her robe pocket for that familiar tissue. Backing out and into the hallway, another disintegrating bread crumb trail paved way as she proceeded to her room.

The scent of sandalwood imprinted in the bedroom hovered overhead sanctifying the space. It was the one room in the house that had some semblance of warmth. In the corner was her bed, shoved tight against the wall and butted up against the lone window in the room. She remembered how she despised the sleeping arrangement with her second husband as it trapped her in the corner, cold air hitting down upon her from the window. She always felt up against something when with him, something cold and immobile. “You don’t physically inspire me,” he’d once said upon her plea for intimacy. Noticing the devastation screaming across her face, he’d attempted to correct his misspeak by leaving to get beer so as to get intoxicated enough to have sex. A crumb of nothing, pointing to something, but a crumb she fed on nonetheless. Starved between a cold, white wall and a cold, white wall she felt snowed in, but at least one spark of warmth arose from the physical wall as it offered a comforting ear having wept into it a time or two.

Over on the adjacent wall, countless books were stacked on the overburdened bookshelf underneath layers of dust waiting to be touched. She’d no idea why she continued to buy books with no intent to read them except that it was comforting how they always found their way to her and stayed. Other times the books were bought on mere suggestion from men she felt a connection with but who had since moved on.

The rich tones of the mahogany furniture passed down after her Grandmother’s death were the only pieces in the house that didn’t feel charitable. They offered her a momentary sense of self-worth as she often deemed herself undeserving of such things, and while other foreign pieces were falling apart and peeling away their false laminate smiles, these pieces stood with warmth of heart and solid strength, much like her Grandmother. As for her Grandfather, he passed on in her youth as did the last time she felt adored. “Every morning at the breakfast table, he just has to have your picture there,” her mother would say. Never questioning whether her mother was genuinely endeared by her own father’s love for his granddaughter or flatly jealous, she’d convinced herself it was the former because it just had to be. “It had to.” Staring off into the atmosphere, she pulled out of a moment where the only people who validated her worth were now dead. She fumbled for her tissue.

Piece by piece, she slowly began picking items off the floor and putting them in their respective places. Her mind continued to drift as an automatic sense of where everything resided took over. Again she was flooded by thoughts of him, the one after the others. Entranced as she travelled across the floor, she tripped over a book and was brought to her knees. As the book stared back at her, they watched each other eye to eye attempting to read the other. One of the many books she had because of him, she clutched it to her chest sucking all the air from the room. Now, collapsed over onto the ground, she let out a small whimper. Her eyes, unblinking, welled up as her lip began to shake. Fighting against the urge her mouth tightened with resolve, but, unable to hold on, her anguish released into the floor.

Memories, pinning her down from all directions, turned into a harsh life review as she pricked herself with every lost love and every failure as the air of utter loneliness filled the four-walled killing jar. Dying deeper into the floor, tears rolled downhill soaking the carpet as she lay still, clutching the book. “I’m wrong. I’m wrong. I’m wrong,” she released unconsciously under her breath. Pondering whether this reflected verification or a change in thinking, she swiftly inhaled from a startled nudge on her arm. Lifting her head up from the floor, she watched her cat move past and jump into the lone window briefly parting its broken curtain. A glimpse of light and sky cradled her face. Wiping her cheek with the last bit of tissue as it crumbled to the floor, her eyes now rested on the broken curtain. Pausing, the air grew still.

Unwinding her way to her feet, a stone’s throw of every window in the house skipped across her mind. Meant as openings, she’d worked diligently at keeping them closed, but to little avail. The grubby paws of child and cat throughout the years engaged her in a tug-of-war with every curtain as they fought against each other. Her earnestness to close out the world and push out love had kept her isolated from the things she silently craved. And there, in the corner, was the bed she’d shoved so tightly against the wall. It could be no tighter and no more unwelcoming. Almost as if taken guard in the room, the bed allowed no passageway for new love to come. With tears in her eyes and a folding to her God, she quickly grabbed hold of the bed’s side and began furiously dragging it to mid-room muttering, “No more.” Her heart pounding at the possibilities, lightning discharged across her face striking a new smile.

Standing back from the moved bed, she took a deep inhalation. The air now felt clean. Her cat peeked at her from the window through the part in the broken curtain as if to say, “Is it all right to stop hiding now?” With an approving look, she bolted from room to room to uncloak every window. Fresh squeezed sun pouring through with the empathy of trees as tall as towering men greeted her with outstretched limbs. Now gliding and humming with the swirling air in the house, she swept down the hallway back to her room.

The bed, now in the middle meditating possibilities, was the metamorphosis she’d waited decades for. Still, there was much to be done in dusting away the old, polishing that rich cherry love that had been so gravely buried from a life she so craved. Now warmed by the gentle faces of books winking back at her, she began picking them up one by one across the length of the room and around onto the side of the bed unseen for years. Then, stopping cold, her smile released, and the air became charged.

There, tightly shoved into the crease of the corner wall, was a pile of old, worn tissues stacked almost as high as the bed. They were trophies from years of earned heartache that had fallen over the edge as many times as she; an edge she would not repeat. Another bread crumb trail left behind pointing to what must be done, her determined eyes narrowed. Without a sound and a mouth resolved, she hoisted the bed across the room and back against the pile even tighter into the wall. And giving a closing yank to the broken curtain, the tug-of-war ended.

Tiffany Coffman

February 16, 2013

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: