The Good Life _     _    _    _    _    _    _    _    _    _    _    _    _  Mark and Rebecca Spencer





     The hall leading to Rose's bedroom is like a dimly lit tunnel.  Stacks of paper-towel rolls and shoe boxes line the walls, leaving a narrow path.  There's a niche in the wall intended for a religious knickknack, a statue of The Madonna--not a telephone or a small lamp or an ashtray or the empty milk carton that sits in it.  The milk carton has on it the picture of a missing child.

     In Rose's bedroom, I flick on the light switch, but the light bulb in the middle of the ceiling illuminates the room for only a second before crackling and going out.  I stumble, and things crunch under my feet as I make my way to the windows.  I have to climb onto a pile of clothes and old telephone directories.  Dust billows out from the drapes when I pull the cord that opens them.  The light is dim but will be good enough for me to do my job.  This end of the house is sheltered from dust and wind by a neighbor's tall privacy fence, so the windows are fairly clean. 

     The room is composed of mounds.  Mounds of shoes, mounds of clothes, mounds of bed linens, mounds of towels, mounds of empty perfume bottles, mounds of plastic make-up cases, mounds of costume jewelry. 

     The closet doesn't have a door and is crammed with dresses.  I peer at them, study them.  I feel something I can't name for a minute.  Then the best word I can come up with is "surprise."   I am surprised at the clutter and mess of the whole place, sure, but also surprised that I recognize nothing.  For some reason, I expected to see familiar things.  I keep looking at all those dresses, but not one looks familiar.  Not one is anything like the pale blue dress she wore the day of the church picnic.  In fact, nothing in the closet or on the floor among the piles of blouses and skirts and slacks and dresses is pale blue.  Or white or pink.  It seems all her clothes are for winter--heavy and dark.  What did she wear in the summer? 

     The summers.  All the summers that have passed.  Maybe she was always cold.

     On each wall, even on the wall with the windows, hangs a large mirror.  Each is an antique with a dusty wooden frame, and the glass is full of fractures and spots of discoloration, and I think again of the carnival my daddy took me to fifty-five years ago.  One carnival mirror made me a fat midget, another a pencil-thin giant.  Another made me wavy as if I had no bones.  Another made me see double.  At first, I was amused, but then I got mad that none of the mirrors showed me as I really was.

     Now, I see myself in Rose's mirrors, and I don't look right in them either.  They all seem to reflect my image the way a pond would, wavy and vague and dark.

     I fill trash bags and think of the carnival.  The bearded lady.  The fat lady.  The lady dwarf.  The lady contortionist.  They scared me.  I was just a little boy.  Rose scared me.  She still does. 

     I liked the popcorn and the cotton candy.  I liked driving home in Daddy's old pickup in the dark, the cool wind in my face.  I liked getting home and everything being familiar and normal and my mama hugging me, and I liked the smell of Mama.


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