< A Mirage
by Carly Berg
My neighbor Carolyn called herself “Rolyn,” as if it made her more interesting. Rolyn refused to accept her ordinariness. That’s what I thought anyway, as much as you could know who anyone else really was inside their skin.
According to “Rolyn,” a big-time agent once begged her to model for Chanel. And she was related to Audrey Hepburn. And the big piece of glass in her ring was a diamond from her late husband. But she and her mechanic husband raised five kids and never even owned a house. Also, Rolyn was fond of giving the final word on an alarming variety of topics by claiming that she was “in a position to know.”
She arrived with doughnuts one morning after we got here last year, to this flat on the Apalachicola River. She came over every morning since, as soon as my husband Frank left for work.
“Holl-y,” she called, as she walked right in and poured herself a cup of coffee. She could be annoying, but having her around anchored me. Our morning ritual made me feel like a real person.
Frank put two dents in the wall in the past week. He threw the remote when his ball team lost. He threw is phone when the bank put him on hold. The signs were all there now: agitation, nervousness, and that low buzzing, the vibrations.
That evening, I broke down over spaghetti and meatballs.
Frank said, “I know, babe. It’s time to go.”
After dinner, we sipped wine in the dark, moonlight streaming through the sliding glass door, not saying much.
“Can Rolyn watch? She wants so badly to be extraordinary, she’d love to know.” I said.
“Hell’s bells,” Frank said. “What we wouldn’t give to be ordinary. But, no. We’re not a goddamned Ripley’s Believe it or Not act.”
“I know. But she did give me the gift of the ordinary, for a little while. It would be like a good-bye gift.” It seemed nicer to have someone see us off for once.
“What the hell. Go ahead then, get her.”
Rolyn came when I called, not even stopping to wipe off her night cream. She said, “What’s wrong?”
I was too shaky to speak.
Frank stopped my fall. He helped me out to the patio, then it hit. The ripping away from this world, spinning off into the dark, the terrible aloneness.
If anyone was on the riverbank, they’d see Rolyn at the sliding door, hands splayed on the glass, wide open mouth screaming. Rolyn stares at the patio, from which Frank and Holly have disappeared. They’d shed their skins like lizards, their clothes as well, a macabre pile of laundry.
If anyone was on some other riverbank far away, they might spot a pair of naked humanoid forms with new red skin. The pair crawls into the woods, and huddles together. One of them felt a little less unanchored now, knowing that someone shared the secret and was in a position to know.
published 20 November 2013