Posted by: Maryann McCullough | January 3, 2012

Story for January 2011

Soft Lines


It hadn’t been a deliberate stop in front of the mirror. As with most women of her age, Mary did not regard the mirror as a friend requiring frequent visits. But a chance glance this morning had surprised her. Could it be that her worsening cataracts were causing those dreadful lines on her face to appear softer?

Mary chuckled to herself as she realized that the combination created by those two nasty vestiges of old age could in fact be a positive one.

Soft lines…

So much of her life had been shaped by “soft.” No sharp edges permitted. Malleable to the point of having very little internal structure at all, she made life easy for those in her life. Non-argumentative, non-judgmental, Mary was a beige person – and a happy beige person at that. The non-strident ambiance of her home was gift to herself as well as to her family or travelers who enjoyed a winter weekend respite in her home.

It was in so many ways a perfect pairing with her great love, a man with whom she had lived nearly 53 years.  Jim had died from a sudden fatal heart attack just two weeks before their celebration of that milestone. He was a man who had loved to take care of his wife and she was a wife who gratefully accepted that attention. Others of her generation had made different sorts of decisions. She had entered womanhood at a time when women were demanding equal rights, burning their bras, and rebuking the men who held doors open for them. Mary lived on the cusp of that revolution, but she had chosen not to join.

Now, she was alone.

Well, not really alone. The three sons produced in their marriage each lived less than an hour from her condominium. She recognized and understood their current desire to “fix” her life and recalled she had similarly attempted to “mother” each of them to a better life.  But now, that solicitous attitude modeled by her husband felt uncomfortable and controlling when taken on by her children.

Visits had become agenda-filled. Each child providing a list of what she should be doing differently. “Walk every day.” “Television isn’t exercising your mind. Why don’t I get you some stimulating reading material instead?” “Do you think two glasses of wine every evening is a good idea?” “Did you do your leg strengthening exercises this morning?”

Each one a well-meaning suggestion designed to improve her life they thought. But there was the problem. Living a life no longer interested her. Not depressed really, she was just ready for the next big event. Like a party guest who had enjoyed the experience but now sensed it was time to bid farewell, she had picked up her purse and was standing by the door, ready to leave.

Those sons (who loved her) were nagging her to stay. “We need you,” they chorused, but each of them knew that the needing time was long past. She’d had little experience in “standing tall” in her eighty-two years. No necessity for that in the nurtured existence she had enjoyed. But now she wanted to confront her children and inform them that she was the master of her fate, the captain of her soul. A grayed head and a form leaning forward, eyes that strained to see and ears that heard imperfectly. She had not one of the outward signs of a strong woman. Was there enough mettle inside?

Her intentions should not be misunderstood. No jumping off a cliff or swallowing pills on her agenda. It was more a plan to not prioritize swallowing her multicolored assortment of pills. Creative avoidance of prolonging her life. Her head and her heart had already moved on and it felt appropriate that her body join them in what she knew to be a better place.

Memories from her childhood of that perfect place awaiting her would surprise her in the midst of an ordinary day. “Would there be swings?” she had wondered as a six year old. Assured by a loving first grade teacher that there would indeed be swings Mary began early to imagine her arrival. Later, religion lessons promised a place of no more pain, freedom from a body which, while necessary, involved a lot of work.  Lately, her day-timer seemed peppered with medical appointments; not many parties, just all those appointments. If she had a body in the next life, she was sure it wouldn’t require eyeglasses, monthly blood draws or dental check-ups.

The reunions that she imagined called to her as well, her mother and her father, two of her sisters; so many friends from her long and happy life had completed their journeys ahead of her.

Most of all she imagined Jim. Sometimes he seemed to her just outside the door, waiting for her to walk through and join him. Jim, who could always find her glasses when they wandered off and settled in some strange location.  Jim, who strove to protect her from reckless drivers, aggressive dogs, and liberal politicians. Jim, who called her “Beauty” years after the world would deem her such.

She turned to look and once again, she caught her own image in the mirror. Yes, those lines did appear softer. But she noticed something else this time. She noticed  she was smiling.





  1. I enjoy your fiction, Maryann! Keep them coming 🙂

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