Joan feels remorse for having hated her toes most of her life. She inherited them from her grandmother, who had hated them too. Her grandmother had cried at the swimming pool on Joan's 11th birthday... [+]
She danced naked in the rain, her palms upward to accept the droplets of moisture. Captivated by her own imagination, lost in a world of her own creation, a world where outsiders weren’t welcome, she twirled, her feet sinking deep into the sodden grass. Mud squished between her toes, and she tipped her face to the sky, her heart soaring upwards.
Passersby stopped to gawk at her, but that didn’t halt the Judy Garland tunes she sang at the top of her voice. Strangers could never understand the happiness inside her heart. They didn’t even try. Instead, they called her crazy just as they had when she was a child. Odd behavior couldn’t be blamed on eccentricities back then. And no one knew of another word to describe her fascination with the icy rain as it ran in rivulets down her pale skin, or the delight she took in the wind whipping her wet hair across her face.
Occasionally, she would stop singing long enough to converse with the teenage girl talking in her head or to argue with the gaunt, harrowed next door neighbor who threatened to call the police if she didn’t put some clothes on. She always waved at the end of the shouting match, never wanting the anger to seep into her soul and cloud her happy thoughts.
When the rain slowed to a drip, the smile left her face, and she slipped back inside her house, leaving damp footprints on the scarred wooden floor. Humming, she skipped her way to the back of the house. In the bathroom mirror, she caught her reflection. Sparse gray hair and bright blue eyes highlighted by the flush on her cheeks. The smile returned, dentures gleaming beneath the fluorescent lights above.
Serenity wrapped her in its calm embrace, and she climbed into the claw-footed bathtub, bringing her knees up to her chest. The whisper of peace soothed her, and she rocked back and forth inside the porcelain.
She ran no water, but in her mind, she bathed, washing the mud and sticky grass from her body with slow, methodical strokes. The teenage girl told her to wash behind her ears, and she followed her instructions. She trusted that voice, even though she’d gotten her into trouble more than once with silly suggestions, like running naked through the halls of that other home she hadn’t liked.
The kind people in white hadn’t laughed, and they’d locked her inside that cold room for a very long time. For a while, she wouldn’t listen to the teenager after that, but she couldn’t stay mad at her friend forever.
A tear slid down her wrinkled cheek, and she quickly wiped it away. The sounds of her quiet breath echoed against the tiles, and she remembered she was alone. Except for the voices. They all clamored for attention at times, and sometimes it was hard to think, but she couldn’t live without them. They were her friends, too.
She had others that lived outside her head. Nice people came every day to feed her, and a really friendly young woman visited her quite often to talk to her and comb her hair. She didn’t know the woman, although she was sure she was supposed to. It didn’t matter. The lady always returned, and sometimes, she brought chocolate.
But those friends weren’t like the teenager who loved sarcasm or the shy boy with a fondness for the violin. Recently, they’d been joined by an older woman, one whose voice wasn’t as clear. She stumbled over her words sometimes, and the teenager often got irritated with her.
The old woman could only be a visitor. Sometimes, that happened. Just an odd voice stopping by now and again to say something important. Then there were the times when there were too many voices talking all at once. Like now.
It’s time to get out of the tub now.
Leave her alone. She can bathe as long as she wants to.
Do you want to hear some more music?
Why isn’t the light on?
She pressed her palms to her temples to quiet the cacophony of voices and struggled to her feet. “One at a time!” The loudness of her voice startled her friends. She didn’t like yelling, but when they all tried to get her attention at once, she had to admonish them. How could she understand any of them if they wouldn’t take turns?
It was only polite to take turns. She climbed out of the tub and peered in the mirror again, this time touching the slick glass. Her friends quieted to a low murmur. “Thank you,” she said. her voice cracked with age, but she had barely turned seventeen. That was why she could never understand why her skin and hair had begun to change.
Those people at the home told her she was older, but how could she forget her age? Her seventeenth birthday had brought her such great things, like her friends, and it was etched in her memory like yesterday.
There had been a cake with lemon frosting and dancing under the stars. She’d worn a pretty, yellow dress with a silk bow at the waist. Her father had told her she was beautiful, and she’d been so happy...until...she frowned. Well, she couldn’t be expected to remember everything about the day.
Her palm slipped against the glass, and a loud crash of thunder spun her around. A delighted smile on her face, she ran out of the bathroom. The rain has returned! With a gleeful laugh, she raced out onto the front porch.
So many fat drops of rain fell from the sky, and she could hardly contain her joy. She only hummed this time because her friends wanted to sing. It was only fair; it was their turn.
The union of voices created a lovely quartet, though she didn’t recognize the deep bass. But it didn’t matter. The tune was a lively one, and the thunder kept time with the beat.
And she danced.