The Tour

Posted on: May 29, 2014

“This is it,” he says, opening the bedroom door. He flips on the light switch and steps out of the way, allowing me to move into the room. A small twin-sized bed is pushed against the wall, with a plaid comforter tucked military-style around the corners of the mattress. The room is bare—as if someone never slept in it. The mirror is clean and unblemished. A single comb and a tray of coins rests on the dresser. No photographs on the night stand. I turn to look at him. He shrugs, leaning against the door frame.

“This is my room.” He flicks off the light switch and nods toward the hallway. “The tour doesn't end here.”

We walk past the kitchen, and I notice a rotary phone mounted on the wall. “No one has those phones anymore,” I say, immediately regretting it. It’s as fixed as he is.

He leads me to the back of the house, toward a wall of tall, wide windows facing the back yard. The tree line is deep, and after sunset, the houses in the distance fade from view. The overhead lights cast our reflection on the windows. We look spectral. I see myself in the reflection, see this ghost woman move as I move. She sits down nervously on the sofa, and a man sits next to her, polite, and afraid to move.

My ghost self looks so calm and womanly, but I feel so small sitting in front of him for inspection. I can feel him wrestling with age and time and space all at once. He frowns.

He pulls a photo out of a book resting on the coffee table. The photo is cropped and faded. A young man sits on a picnic bench at a wooded campsite. His long, tan legs stretch out like tree limbs from his khaki shorts. He wears a bright blue collared shirt that pops against the green background. The young man's hair is thick and dark, pushed to the side of his face. A new beard grows around his giant grin.

“I wish you met this man,” he says.

We both wish a lot of things: that we aren’t forty years apart, that I am not just a young girl trying out womanhood, that he wasn’t married to the wrong woman for the last thirty-five years. We have a lot to wish for, and nothing can change.

I feel heavy, like I am starting to drift underwater. He is talking to me, but he feels far away. I can see the current pulling the ghost in the window down. I see her body start leaning toward the floor, and I realize I am falling into his lap. Those lean knees from the photo are no longer there, but instead they are knotted and gray like roots. I feel my heavy head drop to rest on his thighs.

I want to tell him that our situation isn’t real, couldn’t be real. Earlier, when he had come to pick me up, we stood in my kitchen. I was barefoot, my high heels strewn aside. I struggled with a bottle of wine, chipping my front tooth as I tried to pry the cracked and broken cork out of the neck. New to wine, I drank too quickly, choking down something more bitter than I'd expected. I was afraid for this man to look into my home, to see my childhood relics.

Would he notice the photos of friends on the fridge? Would he notice my diploma framed on the wall? The cat toys and women's magazines littering the living room? I thought of these things as marks of my new independence, but as his eyes moved around my kitchen, I felt young.

Now the wine from earlier catches up with me. All my nerves reveal themselves once more. I run my tongue along my front tooth, feeling the new jagged edge where it chipped. I lift my head, overwhelmed and too warm. I can’t see the ghost in the window anymore. Pulling myself from the couch, I stumble down the hall and toward the bathroom he showed me earlier. The bathroom he said belonged to his wife.

I lock the door behind me, hearing a rattle against the door. I look up to see hooks, each one shining with long strands of necklaces. I stand there, my feet sweating through my stockings. I peel off my tights and absorb the coolness of the tiles. I pull a long strand of beads from the hook, running my fingers over each section like a rosary. How many sins am I committing by being in this woman's home? How many sins am I committing by tempting this married man? What am I doing here?

The swirling in my head returns, and I drop the necklace, lowering myself to my knees and bowing my head over the toilet to vomit. I try to keep quiet. The wine is too much.

I flush the toilet, close the seat, and pull myself up against the counter. Opening drawers, I poke around looking for mouthwash or breath mints—something to take it all away. I pick through toothbrushes and combs and make-up. I find an old tube of lipstick; it looks familiar, one that maybe my own mother might have used. The dust on the cap leads me to believe it hasn't been touched in a while.

The ghost woman catches my eye in the mirror. She is pale but not sickly, but she looks tired, or is she older? I lean toward the mirror and pinch my cheeks—an old trick to add color to my face. I smooth the lipstick onto my lips, blending the color by rubbing my lips together. I reach for the necklace on the floor and wrap it around my neck twice. I clear my throat, inhale and walk out of the bathroom and into the den.

“Are you okay?” He stands up from the sofa, still holding the photo.

“Fine,” I answer, walking toward him.

“That's a beautiful color,” he says. “I've never seen anything like it.”

Written by: Whitney G. Schultz
Photograph by: Emily Blincoe

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