Small Comfort
Bev Vines-Haines
Hayward Faultline Winner
Elizabeth Smith waited for her afternoon paper with the breathless anticipation generally reserved for frying bacon, newborn babies or a first responder.  For her, it was a tenuous connection to the world she no longer felt capable of navigating.  Stairs, crowded sidewalks and even thresholds brought panicked images of a broken hip or worse maladies.  So she stayed inside, cozied by piles of magazines and a lifetime of memorabilia.

She had a hollowed out nest far back in the apartment, far from the sound of taxis, buses and humanity.  People had become mere ants, a milling throng fifteen floors below her front windows on those rare occasions she cared to glance down on them.

She had food delivered, necessities brought in by a service and the newspaper carried up to her rooms by a well-tipped bellman. It hadn’t always been like this of course.  She’d once had a career, a husband, friends and a life.  But time eats more than days and weeks and years.  It consumes identities, gobbles recognition and renders irrelevant the most notable egos.

That was why she loved the paper, hurrying first to the obituaries, scanning quickly for known faces, remembered names of friends and foes.  Many entries brought memories: business deals, parties, alliances and brawls.  She often spent entire afternoons studying those names, ferreting out their actual ages, their resumes and the folks they left behind. 

At last she would turn to the front section, losing herself in the tragedies of the previous day, imagining how the chaos looked and felt.  Sometimes her heart would break at this murder or that rape, at people lost on a mountain or burned to death in a fire.  In a strange way she managed to experience each event, imagining last thoughts, panicked regrets or pointless vows to God.  Sometimes her heart would be so moved she would weep.  Fear of the unknown, the dreadful, would overwhelm her thoughts.

At that point she would scramble to read the victim’s names, to find some detail that would mean these things could never ever happen to her.  Terrible events in the Middle East set her mind at ease.  Odd names, unpronounceable names, caused her to breathe again. It had not happened to people like her, with names and faces like her own.  The less she could identify the less she felt their pain.  Hours later she would fix her little steak, bake a potato and know all was right in her world.

So many strange names and colors and cultures.  But God is still on my side, she would whisper as she crawled into her nest and closed her ears to the world.

First published: February, 2014
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