There were days when she couldn’t stand it. The being alone. Ivy was solitary by nature, she liked her own company, but sometimes she just wished there was someone she could turn to in the evenings when the nights were getting colder; someone to keep the black shadows from sliding under the doors.
People at work couldn’t believe she was single. You must have been so beautiful when you were younger, they said as if they thought that once being beautiful could make up for no longer being beautiful.
Ivy wasn’t sure if she’d ever been beautiful. Her father had been married to a woman more beautiful than any other. She had broken his heart. That woman, he called her whenever he referred to her, as if he had forgotten she was in fact Ivy’s mother.
You have the look of that woman he said when she was 16, taking away all of her make-up and feminine clothes. He made her wear her brother’s hand-me-downs and crept into her room at night, cutting her hair into short, disordered spikes.
Dyke, the girls at school called her, shocked that any girl in her late teens could walk the streets without make-up or high heels. Labelling her a lesbian was the only rationale they had for such behaviour.
Despite her non-feminine look the boys at school liked her, although peer pressure always got the best of them and they were unable to ask her out on dates. Ivy didn’t mind – she was afraid of what happened to people when they fell in love; watching night after night as her Dad pored over photographs of that woman, crying for his broken heart. I loved her like no other, he said.
Then you shouldn’t speak of her with such hatred in your voice, Ivy thought.
Ivy hadn’t lived with her father for twenty years, moving out as soon as she graduated from high school. Whenever they met for lunch he couldn’t help but taunt her, bait her, as if he thought that was the only way men and women interacted.
Those shoes must have cost a fortune, he said.
That lipstick makes you look cheap.
You spend far too much time getting your hair done.
Ivy no longer dressed according to her father’s specifications. Her hair was long. She wore make-up but her clothes were plain. She was wary of drawing too much attention to herself. Despite her plain attire she could still see glimmers of her mother when she looked in the mirror. She wasn’t sure how she felt about that. It was like catching sight of the streaming mane of a ghost in darkened hallways at night. Unsettling, yet familiar.
One day Lewis came. A new client at work. It was as if someone had opened a window and suddenly the air was cool and fresh, only, until that moment no one had noticed the room was stuffy.
Lewis was a widower. Ivy had always disliked the word, it had blame affixed to it as if the widower was responsible for his own aloneness. But it wasn’t as bad as spinster – all mean and twisted and witch-like.
Lewis spoke to Ivy about poetry and art. Her favourite things. When they talked it was as if they were long lost friends. There was an ease between them that she had never experienced with anyone else. She wanted to step forward into it and just sit.
Lewis bought her scarves in blues and lilacs to adorn her plain clothes. You look happier in colour, he said. You shouldn’t be afraid of being beautiful.
But she was afraid, because the ghost of her mother still stretched out to the edges of the mirror.
Lewis took her out to dinner three times, five times. Soon they were eating together four times a week.
There was so much they had to tell each other, yet so much they already knew. With Lewis, Ivy experienced the golden sheen of belonging. It was as if she was a leaf, russet in the blue day, falling slowly, casting sepia shadows to soften the city streets.
One day she bought a dress; a red dress soft as Christmas ribbon. The sun shone on the fabric making it change hue like hot syrup being stirred in a pot. She was meeting Lewis for lunch. Before going to the table where he was already waiting, Ivy went into the rest room to check her make-up. Her face was smiling back at her. There were no ghostly streaks reminding her of her mother. Just herself. She didn’t think it was a trick of the light. She thought it was hope. She was no longer afraid of falling in love.
*Inspired by the Search Engine Stories prompt – falling slowly.