Where Did All The Older Women Go?
after Caroline Kim
Perhaps they’re tired. Perhaps their nap was too short and their chemo too long. Perhaps they wanted to meet you for dinner, but Sleepless in Seattle is on TV tonight, and they’re going to the mall tomorrow, and honest to God, they’re sick of picking tufts of hair out of their chicken Kiev and they’d rather eat in solitude where their hair can fall out without an audience. Perhaps they just went home.
Perhaps one day, at the end of the decade when the blood that flows each month begins to slow or stops altogether, when they’re alone in a crowded place (which is almost always these days), someone passes them a card: pale pink cardstock, thick and smooth as a slice of cheese, and on it, an address. Perhaps they find themselves there a few hours later, a tad embarrassed, at a CVS, or a J. Jill store, or the outpatient facility where they had their colonoscopy. When they convince themselves to go inside, they’ll notice — at the back near the pharmacy or behind a rack of linen tunics or in the corner next to the tray of tools — a door, outlined in glittering light like the expanse of city streets they’ve flown above but never visited (like hot metal being poured into a mold they remember thinking, again and again). Perhaps the door opens. Perhaps their faces are bathed in light.
Perhaps they too are untamed. Perhaps they are not translatable. Perhaps they sound their brutish, inhuman yawp over the rooftops of their little suburban corner of the world until their neighbors come running with their shovels and guns. Perhaps they stand in their bathing suits on the balconies of their houses and give those neighbors the double bird. Perhaps they turn the Björk up to 11.
Perhaps they’ve just settled themselves on the couch for Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks and the ridiculous improbability of love at first sight when the phone rings. Perhaps it’s their pastor, that boring old fart. Perhaps they listen to him drone on for the third time this week about the bittersweet pain of life’s journey even though they want to tell him to suck an egg but the most enduring lesson their mother taught them, the one they cannot break or even bend, was to keep their mouth shut when a man was talking. Perhaps they grit their teeth; perhaps they oblige, because their husband has been in the ground for a month and they haven’t gotten used to the shock of it, the thrilling absence of him telling them what to do. Perhaps they’re saying all the right things but the chemo has destroyed their tolerance for bullshit along with the cancer cells and so they’re watching Sleepless in Seattle with the volume low. Perhaps their pastor says love is eternal. Perhaps he says marriage endures beyond death. Perhaps they listen to those words and watch Meg Ryan fly across the country for a man she’s never met because of course she does, because of course, the pastor is right. Love is an infinite sentence. Marriage is that thing that somehow clings tight past even death, and this is how it keeps its grip: in order to get to that same eternity, it keeps the women running ragged for miles and miles while all the men have to do is stand there.
Perhaps when they walk through that light-filled door they find themselves inside a closet with a hundred hangers, and on each hanger is a different human skin. Perhaps a voice tells them pick one and perhaps they do, shimmying into it the way they used to into panty hose before they gave that bullshit up, and when they smooth it on, they find they are sleek and soft and 22 again. Perhaps they find themselves in a neighborhood of identical houses filled with identical sleeping men, and one by one, they sneak inside those open bedroom windows, and one by one they stand there, silver-skinned in the moonlight, until the men awaken and their cocks raise up like flags hoisted on the hills of invaded countries. Perhaps the women climb on top of them and conquer them. Perhaps they fuck them until they’ve sated themselves. Perhaps they simply stand by their bedside, a single index finger pressed against the lips of the men, the other hand held behind their back, concealing what, we don’t know, we don’t know.
Perhaps they grow old, old, old, and wear the bottom of their crisp white trousers rolled to a party where the livers of middle-aged men are served as canapés, where the livers leave a film on their fingers that they run like pomade through their Joan Jett hair.
Perhaps they get a pretzel at Auntie Anne’s and wander, wigless, through the mall toward Dillard’s. Perhaps they pass a dozen young mothers, babies strapped to their chests like bombs, the toddlers behind them, rough, beastly, slouching toward the Disney store. Perhaps they put their hand to their stomach where their uterus once lived, sliced, scarred, pocketed with tumors. Perhaps they think how glad how good that’s gone and perhaps they think how terrible. Perhaps they remember the doctor who told them you’re past the age where you even need it and perhaps they remember asking if they could have it after the procedure. What, said the doctor, like in a jar? With formaldehyde? And the women smile. They imagine driving past the doctor’s house in the middle of the night in a big black van, the stereo screaming out “Immigrant Song.” They imagine bending their elbows in unison and pitching their soggy, slack-skinned organs out and watching them burst and bleed against the brick and the sight of it filling them with the same glee those burning bags of shit did at 16 when they watched their physics teacher stomp them out. Yes, they say to the doctor. Perhaps. Something like that. Perhaps they stroll down to Dillard’s to buy themselves the kind of dress their husband would have hated.
Perhaps they try on skin after skin and they all have the sameness of youth. Perhaps they cut the last one from their body like tissue paper. Perhaps they get such joy from tearing apart that delicate young flesh that they take the scissors to the lot of them. Perhaps they make a skirt of them because their slack and soggy skin is home the way that fleeting tightness never was. Perhaps then a new door appears, one bordered in black as if someone has inked it. Perhaps they tip it open and fall through into the ink-black sky and there is no need for light because they are lit from within. Perhaps, sometimes, when they get tired of galloping across the infinite sky, they drop to earth again and bury themselves beneath the fields behind your house. Perhaps they birth shimmering silver rocks from their mouths and wait for the sun to catch them as you pass by on your morning walk. Perhaps you to dig them up, take them home, put them on shelves like bookends. Perhaps they turn their hundred silver faces when they hear you talking. Perhaps they’re listening to you now.
Perhaps they do not disappear or die. Perhaps they grow invisible. Perhaps they multiply.
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