Tiny wasn’t religious anymore, but she remembered the rhythm of those days, a purposeful beat, not as scattered as the rhythm of secular life.
What was the use? Religious or not, it was all the same in the end. Tiny pulled her shawl around her, tried to feel dignified and calm. She lifted her head perched on a slender neck – the word scrawny was firmly pushed away – imagining that she was delicate and tough, like the dried rosebud she kept in a tall glass vase on the dining room table. Deep crimson, it had endured for years, though it looked to be as fragile as burnt paper.
She wasn’t a modest woman. She was vain and proud, defiant to the core. She disliked all boundaries, natural or man-made. Most difficult to accept were her own limitations – her cowardice, her flaws, her foolish daydreams.
An image thrust itself into her thoughts. That waiter at the cafe…how beautiful, how radiantly perfect. He always flirted a little when she ordered.
No, she wasn’t a good woman. Beauty had always seduced her, enthralled her. The world’s damaged creatures made her cringe. Like that plump, blank-eyed boy she sometimes saw waddling down the street, singing off-key. Or the cripple, a regular visitor to her block, who looked as clumsily folded as bad origami. She never dropped money into his cup, though it seemed legitimate that he used his twisted limbs as others used their beauty. She actually admired his nerve, his business acumen. But her thoughts were not as helpful as coins would have been.
It wasn’t precisely true that she had no pity. Wounded animals moved her. She would have gone out of her way to help an abused dog or cat. Once, when she was younger, she’d found a litter of starving kittens in a yard. She’d tried to feed them, and had gotten badly scratched for her trouble.
Tiny grimaced. The other night, she’d seen a dead cat in the road. It looked quite whole, except for the pillow of dark blood under its head. Perhaps she heard faint sounds, a kind of bleating. Impossible. The animal was finished. It was over. Tiny had walked away without turning.
There can’t be any heaven, Tiny thought. She certainly didn’t deserve it, and she was far from the worst specimen of mankind. She clenched her fists, the nails hurting her palms. Sometimes she felt so angry, she couldn’t bear it. Angry about illness, about death, about all the tragedies that blighted existence. But she couldn’t change a thing, not even herself.
Tiny’s husband watched from the balcony as she approached. What a fine woman she was, still slender, still youthful, still sensual. She’d kissed him passionately that morning when he woke, made him feel young again though they’d been married for over thirty years.
She was so kind, his woman. The way she’d cared for their old dog, Jam, before he died, the tenderness in her hands, in her looks. It moved him to remember those last days, Tiny patiently trickling water into Jam’s mouth, exultantly calling out, “Look, he’s drinking.” She’d sponged Jam’s bloated stomach with cotton wool, and, though he still smelled foul, they took turns stroking him, his heart stuttering under their fingers like faulty neon. Thank goodness they hadn’t needed to ask the vet to put Jam to sleep. He’d died during the night, in his own box, after an evening spent on Tiny’s lap.
There, Tiny had seen him, she was waving. Her wonderful smile flashed out. It was still the smile of a girl with her life before her.