The morning of my 50th birthday was like so many other weekend days. Make the bed, have coffee, check FaceBook, call Mary.
“What are you doing,” Willie says.
“It’s my birthday,” I say. “Before I call Mary, I thought I’d see what’s up.” I pause. “Why isn’t anyone calling me?”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s my fiftieth birthday. That’s a big deal. Maybe I should send out an invitation for drinks.”
“I don’t know,” I say. “It’s my fault, not arranging anything and being upset that nothing’s been arranged. So I’m just going to send out a quick invite, see if people want to join us after dinner.”
I fire off a quick FaceBook invite. “Drinks?” it says. “Join us at 7:00 at the Peacock.”
The phone rings. It’s Mary.
“So how’s it going,” she says. “Excited to keep getting older?”
“It’s lovely,” I grumble.
“Fifty is nifty.”
“Shaddap,” I say mildly. “What time shall we pick you up?” Willie and I had plans to hit the antique shops in her little town, and Mary had plans to join us.
“Um,” she hesitates.
My heart sinks. “What?”
“Nancy called last night. From AA? She’s having a hard time, and I need to meet with her. At the Starbucks. In an hour. Probably for a couple hours.”
I frown. My stomach tightens. It’s my birthday. We talked about getting together days ago.
“OK,” I say. “How about I call you when we get over there and we’ll work something out?”
But several hours later, pulling up to the first antique store, Mary does not answer her phone.
An hour after that, she’s still not answering.
And the shopping was not going well. Sure there was a plaque for the back hall: A Man Should be Rewarded by his Deeds, Not his Needs. And I found two beautifully colored handkerchiefs.
But why isn’t Mary answering her phone?
Surrounded by the past, I consider that perhaps loitering in second-hand shops on one’s 50th birthday isn’t a good idea. There is Aunt Marlys’s velvet matador paintings. There is the foot-pedal sewing machine that Grandma had.
And then I see her: Penny Brite. A doll from my childhood. I loved her, and here she is, behind glass.
The dress. I remember this dress. I washed it in the sink, my little dimpled hands working the suds. Mom let me hang it on the line, and then she let me iron it. I can see that old ironing board, hear the squeak of it being taken down.
I wander away, dangerously close to tears.
In a glass case at the end of the building are a series of hand mirrors. Heavy, beveled, they are elaborately decorated with costume jewelry, encrusted with glittering, multifaceted earrings and brooches.
There is one in particular, white and gold and silver, butterflies and dragonflies, that speaks to me. I pick it up. I look at myself.
And I burst into tears.
This is me, all over, isn’t it? Continually reflective, attracted to the glittering and deceptive.
Smoke and mirrors.
Why hasn’t anyone called me? Where is Mary?
I put the mirror down. Tears in my eyes, I go looking for Willie. I find him by a framed original poster advertising a concert for the Mothers of Invention.
“So did you find –“ Seeing my tears, he stops, mid-sentence. He awkwardly pats me on the back.
“I found what I want,” I say.
I buy the mirror.
And I go looking for Penny on Ebay.
17 hours ago