Tuesday, February 13, 2007

the time of your life

Claire sits in a room, seemingly unaware of the others around her. Rocking back and forth, she hums quietly to herself, something that sounds like a lullaby, over and over.

A young man, sitting to her left, reaches out his hand to tap her on the shoulder. "We should make sure she's okay," he tells the rest. As soon as he makes contact, Claire emerges from her trance, weary and disheveled, to the sight of eight others, sitting in a circle, uncomfortable in their rickety plastic chairs which had been donated to the community centre many years prior. The man to Claire's left reminds her of a young poet, with thick wavy hair and grass green eyes. A closer look reveals a hard glassiness, an invisible barrier forbidding any trespassers, sacrosanct against 'the outside'.

The point of the support group wasn't a matter of self-help; it was a matter of self-preservation. Being able to walk out of the room with you soul intact, not having squandered it for a few moments of peace. Claire couldn't remember a day go by that she didn't relive the memory of her lost life in her head. And Claire was only ever in her head these days.

It had been an orange day. The changing leaves and the warm sun combined to form a deceptively comforting glow, one clothed in the underlying death of summer. She had left the turkey in the oven, not needing to baste it for another half hour, and wandered out of the house for a smoke, eying the calendar on her way out; "Christmas soon," she thought, "1998 is almost over." She sighed.

Claire could hear the familiar drone of family banter, studded with the occasional laugh from Uncle Morty, whose alcohol intake and protruding belly had been increasing steadily over the years. Claire walked away from the house, anxious to be alone, and flicked the lighter on, giving life to the cigarette, its end glowing with a passion of the knowledge of its impending demise. She inhaled the fumes and exhaled, her staccato cough punctuating the ruffling leaves around her. It had been a while since her last smoke. Her blonde hair, stringy and limp, now carried the fumes of a well-seasoned turkey. Her cashmere sweater housed the faint aroma of sweet potatoes. Claire was a walking-talking tribute to all that is holy and sacred during Thanksgiving weekend--the food.

It was only when she started making her way back to the house that she noticed the car parked a short distance away from the house, its engine running and its windows fogged up. She stepped cautiously, for fear from getting caught spying on the unsuspecting neighbors as she very much thought they were. She got a little closer and that's when she noticed the number plates--it was a rented car. She peered into the driver’s seat and could make out the outline of a young blonde woman. In the passenger seat was a sweet young man, his green eyes taking in every inch of the woman in front of him. Claire felt like an intruder and with sheepish embarrassment, she stepped away from the car, and made her way quickly back to the house.

When she walked in, she almost didn't notice the missing aroma of Thanksgiving dinner. She slipped into the kitchen, not wanting to explain where she had been. It was unusually cold and slightly eerie. Not a pot or pan in sight. She blinked several times, trying to understand what had happened. Had someone come in, finished basting, put all the food in the dining room and meticulously cleaned up? All in the time that she had smoked a cigarette and spied on the neighbors?

She walked into the living room where her family sat. She looked around at the vaguely familiar faces, none of which registered an ounce of recognition. "I'm sorry," started Uncle Morty, less rotund than Claire had ever seen him but with the same sparkle in his eye, "are you a friend of Lisa's?" Claire was dumbfounded, her thoughts raced. Lisa was her mother; she has passed away eight years ago from a misdiagnosed headache. It had turned out to be a cancerous tumor.

Claire's heart started to pound, her breath quickened and the room began to spin. In the distance she could hear another voice, "Oh, is Lisa still saying goodbye to that boyfriend of hers in the car? Someone should tell her that her guest is here." Claire couldn't hear anymore, she had fainted on the floor.

Claire looked at the stranger sitting beside her. He held out his hand, gesturing that she could hold it if she wanted. She looked into his eyes, lined with wrinkles from a lifetime of worry but expressing a kindness that she couldn't understand.

She looked at the clock hanging in the entrance of the community centre; 7:52. "Almost over," she thought to herself. Right below the clock hung a calendar, and Claire tried to ignore it, having been the source of her anguish for so long. The clock ticked on.

Claire felt a light tap on her shoulder. It was the kind stranger with the haunting green eyes. "Lisa, honey," he said softly, "are you ready to go?" She got up slowly, her pregnancy weighing her down and took the stranger's hand for support. Walking slowly out of the room, she couldn’t help but glance back at the calendar, hoping for some proof of a lost reality, but she couldn't escape its truth; it was still 1968.