The silver hairs escaped from her ponytail, streaming behind her like tinsel.
He sat in traffic waiting for every moron in front of him to figure out that merging goes faster if everyone cooperates.
“Onesies, twosies!” his mother used to coo to him as she pulled him up out of his booster seat.
“Onesies, twosies!” as she would deftly wipe off each sauce-covered hand.
“Onesies, twosies!” as she would yank off his red rain boots and the baggies that she’d put over his socks to provide a largely ineffective extra layer of waterproofing.
“Onesies, twosies!” as she would wash him down, wash him down, wash him down with scalding hot water in winter and icy cold water in summer. The house was never the right temperature, and he was always too cold or too hot, and he was ashamed that she was washing him and talking baby talk well past the point when he was able to wash himself and carry on conversations about those DamnedClintons.
“Onesies, twosies” he said to his mother now, as he gently dabbed both corners of her mouth after giving her a too-big spoonful of pureed butternut squash. As when he bathed her, or helped her on the toilet, or struggled to pushed her 200-pounds of deadweight around the park, he avoided her eyes, but the burn of her resentment and embarrassment bore through him anyway.
There were no onesies, twosies on Washington Road that day. The lifestyle malls and unusually hot weather on this March day made every other asshole driver think they could rise above the rules of road. Hell, they placed themselves above the rules of goddamned common courtesy.
It was then that the gleam of her hair caught his eye. She speed-walked. Her hair, so happy, so MerryGoddamnedChristmas, was a harsh contrast to the grim tightness of her face and body. Angles and downward arcs marching along, lost in billowing Evonne Goolagong-inspired workout gear.
She had perfect form. Arms bent at 90 degrees. Stride well measured, back foot correctly placed. Her lips were pursed, her brow furrowed, her face grim.
She was miserable and loving every goddamned minute of being miserable. He was miserable watching her, knowing that she wasn’t speed-walking for joy or for health, but for perfection and precision. She was perfectly speed-walking to fit into her pintucked silk blouse and boucle jacket (correctly accessorized with a vintage “conversation piece” pin). She was speed-walking to earn the right to look at other women’s and cluck her horror at their thunder thighs while taking bird bites of a garden salad with just a few cranberries and some hot water with lemon.
While she drinks her hot water with lemon, do David Yurman bracelets fall off her bony wrist, trying to escape her much like her muscles were trying to flee her form — flexing and contracting and seemingly completely separate from her skeleton? Maybe, he thought, if she strode perfectly enough and held her head just so as she listened to the concerto that would be played at the Ladies’ Concert at Tanglewood two weeks from yesterday, she could finally be perfect enough. So perfect, in fact, that her muscles could finally break free, break through her skin and keep walking and she could just find some peace in her own skin.
For one brief moment, he wanted to help speed-walker. He wanted to offer her a safe way to open her skin, slice it with a knife so sharp it wouldn’t hurt, and let her precision escape, allowing her the ever-loving joy of sinking into a puddle of soft, warm comforting blood and tissue and silken hair. He would stare into her eyes, reading the gratitude as her brow would finally relax for probably the first time in her life. Slow down, Silver Angel. Hush. Relax.
Instead, he just sat stuck in traffic behind the morons and the assholes who couldn’t merge, and he watched her walk in perfection and correct timing until she turned a corner with mathematical exactness, not twisting, not sending energy out anywhere but where she was headed.