On Paddles, Smoke, and Mirrors
You left, early, for work. A usual day. Circular alarm
clock struck six as your thumb pressed sleep. Ten
minutes later you were awake, and I was ready. Always.
Paddle upstream, downstream. No matter the weather.
Hot shower, scented soap. Lavender and rose.
Smiles etched of steam on the bathroom
mirror. Freshly laundered khakis and a crisp blue
button down. Striped socks woven of electric
red, deep purple, neon orange, and lime green stripes.
Scuffed loafers, faded brown, tied in symmetric bows.
Ready. Or Not.
Your coffee was hot. Steamy. The mug slipped
and fell. Asymmetrical glass shards and scalding liquid
spread. You cussed, then quickly cleaned the mess.
Sopped up stray liquid with your personal handkerchief.
Embroidered of love and hand-stitched lettering. The first
personal item of the morning, I was also the last
possession you touched, before leaving.
A quick brush, your hand held my wide
tortoise stem and my bristles smoothed
your tufts. Wild, wayward hairs – easily
contained. You smiled and whistled as you
and I fixed your locks in the mirror.
My 250 bristles taut and busy, happiest
in your hands. I remember the day
you claimed me. From a dusty shelf at the far
back corner of a deep discount box store. Five
thousand square feet of life on lockdown.
I was lonely. You came in late, also alone. Near
closing time but before the bells tolled. As your hand
wrapped around me I felt warm. You removed
my chains of plastic wrap and twisted wires.
Four, three, two. Time to go.
Short on time, you placed me on the side table,
by the front door. Not my usual resting spot. I felt
out of sorts. Eager for your return. I missed the song
of the birds outside the window of my usual place.
I’d watch the plants that lined the living room
windowsill. A row of obedient soldiers. Evergreens.
Goldy, too. Rover sniffed, then returned
to his solitary pad. I waited patiently, but ultimately
idle thoughts turned to worry.
Six, Seven, Eight. Way past time for your return.
Goldy gave up before Rover. The plants soon after.
Milk, bread – gone, too. I watched the clock. Twenty
Four full rotations before the key turned in the lock.
A stranger. Smelled of smoke and sadness. Her nose
sniffed and inhaled, then cussed. No matter. Goldy
and Rover gave up, then in, long gone. Tired of waiting.
She collected the mail that had gathered in a pool
on the other side of the front door mail slot. Her
fingers graced me, but for a second. Slid me three inches
over, to make room for the stacks of mail.
Cleaned out the fridge, then gathered some items. I watched.
Three white T’s. Some underwear. I prayed, silently, to join
the collection, but no. Paddles of my kind are not permitted
in your new home. Temporary digs, with a dulled sense
of fashion and a heightened sense of confusion.
Her piles were bare. Stark whites
and tattletale grays. Three pairs
of socks. Only those maintained
subtle signs of life. She spoke to herself
and cried as she worked. Something about
an accident. You ran. Unpaid fines. Old
violations. Fresh fears, Strings of words
with little meaning, only further puzzlement.
Five, four, three… She left.
Q1: What am I?
- A birthday gift from a wife of twenty years
- A retirement gift after 30 years of teaching
- An impulse purchase after a run to the corner drugstore for fish food
Q2: Who is she?
Q3: What is Goldy?
Q4: What is Rover?
Q5: What types of plants lined the sill?
Q6: What was the most common type of mail?
- Birthday cards
- Get well soon cards
Q7: The answering machine held upwards of 60 unanswered messages before the tape ran out.
- Library, Missing Girl was available
- Library, Double Agent was overdue
Jen Schneider is an educator who lives, writes, and works in small spaces throughout Pennsylvania. She is a Best of the Net nominee, with stories, poems, and essays published in a wide variety of literary and scholarly journals. She is the author of Invisible Ink (Toho Pub), On Daily Puzzles: (Un)locking Invisibility and On Crossroads and Fill in the Blank Puzzles (forthcoming, Moonstone Press), and Blindfolds, Bruises, and Breakups (forthcoming Atmosphere Press).