Every time she gazed at her friend Mira, Sarah was moved to both pity and disgust. How could Mira let herself go like that? Those bulging blue veins should have been concealed with long sleeves and pants that covered every bit of the leg. And that drooping chin and cheeks needed to be flattened out with an iron.
But even worse than her putrefying flesh was her weak spirit. All strength had aged out of it. No guts, no fire. Mira was just a spineless sniveling dog who followed her around trying to cater to her every wish, but had no other redeeming quality. She was a woman who lived to take care of others because... because, she had no desires of her own. A living corpse. "She walks among us but with one foot in the grave," Sarah murmured to herself so often that it had almost become a ditty. A ditty she feared that Mira would overhear while she was vacuuming, decluttering, or cooking for her. Good, sweet, helpful Mira.
Sarah placed her white mittens on the counter exposing her pink nails to the glaring light of the ceiling lamps. Stretching out her hands like a predator on the prowl, she clasped a soup ladle. She then proceeded to pile plump hot dumplings on an innocent white plate. The porcelain prisoner groaned under their weight of the meaty monsters.
She was still wearing her dark purple fur coat. Her eyes had that intent look of concentration, a penetrating glance one usually sees in museumgoers deciphering the myriad details on a wall-length tableau.
Her pale friend, Mira, stood right behind her. She wore a frumpy white blouse with a yellow flower pattern. Her bright blue pants were the epitome of calm. She seemed to wear her flesh lightly, as if her skin barely clung to her. It dangled in folds off her arms and legs. Most frighteningly of all, it exposed a network of purple veins; a mechanism best left out of sight.
As Mira's hands were gingerly holding a plate decorated with tiny red morsels of shrimp, the veins sticking out of her arms reminded one that she could bleed. "Sarah," Mira's guttural voice emerged from her frog-like throat, "I've got the shrimp for you. "
Sarah's head jerked back as she heaved her tense shoulders. She banged her plate of dumplings on the counter. A thud bounced off the walls like an invisible sonar refugee. Turning around to face Mira, she stuck out her tongue briefly. As she dispensed a dollop of saliva onto her red lips, they turned a paler shade of pink.
"Didn't I tell you that I only want breaded shrimp? Why do you have trouble remembering what I say? Every time we go dining out together, I keep telling you that I can't stand cocktail shrimp. It's tasteless. There's no pleasure to it. I might as well buy some frozen shrimp from the store. Oh my God, I am losing my breath."
Indeed, as she spoke, Sarah spluttered out her words at remarkable speed. She was also gesticulating quickly with her hands. Sarah's fingers curved inwards. Her pink fingernails seemed to match the flushed pink of her face. "Sorry, it just left my mind," Mira stuttered.
She then looked past her friend to commune with the bright lights of the ceiling lamps. Closing her eyes, Mira saw their afterimage as circles, circles that shone as bright as halos emanating from some mysterious aura. Once she opened her eyes again, she approached Sarah and, after some hesitation, touched her shoulder. She wanted to say something, but didn't have the chance. Sarah shoved her curved fingers into Mira's face and hissed, "You've irritated me enough as it is. Leave me alone and do something about your memory for God's sake." The shrimp suspiciously reeked of seaweed. Mira could swear that the knuckles that almost touched her nose were covered with those rancid sea plants. The angry sea spurted them out to rid itself of their poison.
Sarah then trod with a heavy step towards the edge of the counter. Quickly stuffing her white mittens into the pocket of her fur coat, she lifted the plate of dumplings to her face. The steam rose right up to her eyes. It dimmed her field of vision, diluting the brightness coming from the ceiling. She was lost in a haze of gray. Her tongue danced around inside her closed mouth responding with exuberant joy to the savory smell of meat. As in a fit of delirium, she started going through the chewing motions as if she were already devouring them. An unwitting passerby could be forgiven for mistaking her gustatory delight for a fit of choking.
All of a sudden, Sarah heard a shy, hesitating voice utter, "Do you need help with anything, ma'am?" Out of nowhere a young man carrying a tray of tall transparent glasses came into her field of vision. The patches of stubble on his cheeks belied the perfect smoothness of his skin.
Sarah envisioned taking out her mitten and slapping him on the cheek with it. But then as she stared at him, she yearningly recalled how she would finger her late husband's neck to point out where he should guide the razor to remove the prickly offenders. Those prickly offenders tickled her fancy. If not removed in time, they taunted her with a promise -- a promise of a whole forest of hair. Like on his chest.
He was not her husband and she could not clasp his neck to produce a hoarse grunt, nor make him yawn by grabbing hold of his chin and pulling it down, a maneuver that always caused no minor irritation to her husband who kept reminding her that he was not a doll to be played with.
But once her eyes left the waiter, a horrific emanation had taken hold of her senses. The tall water glass projected a distorted stretched-out image of her face. Was this phantasmagorical vision conjured by an evil sorcerer? Her wrinkles were like thick boils of the Bubonic plague. The loose flesh off her chin was drooping like melted cheese coming off the edge of a pizza.
"Oh you scared me," she hollered and with a wide sweep of her arms knocked over one of the glasses that, as it tipped over on the tray, squirted its humble contents onto the right chest of her fur coat.
"Mira, come over here," she screamed out. "How could this happen to me? I am standing over here getting my food, and here comes this bumbling inattentive fool and drips water all over me. And this is such an expensive coat. I was so happy when I bought it last year, gorgeous coats like this are hard to find."
The waiter was standing on the sidelines watching the two ladies talk. "You can leave now, sir, I'll take care of it," Mira told him in a quiet voice. She approached Sarah again and placed her hand on her shoulder. "You don't need to breathe so fast, it's not good for your heart. It's just water, your coat will dry." As they made their way to the table, Sarah kept on talking about her coat and Mira kept on listening. Soon they would both sit down and start eating.
While they walking, Mira quickly ran her eyes over Sarah's white hair. It was much more beautiful than her own. Her poor head was not much to look at. Just unruly weeds sprouting from a tired soil. Sarah's, on the other hand, was like a soft quilt redolent of strawberry. A titillating scent that it absorbed from a gooey paste of shampoo.
The last time she laid her hands on this fine pleated quilt came back to her. It was when Sarah was nothing but warm breathing flesh submerged in layer after layer of hot bath water. Her eyes were closed. The o-shaped mouth was blowing out cool air. Like an air conditioner vent.
The image of that Sarah, her gentle breath, her softened flesh rose before Mira as a small bubble. A bubble that kept expanding its dimensions until it reached the ceiling. Eventually, it was a huge transparent balloon. So, Mira no longer saw the real Sarah anymore, but gazed at the ceiling to watch her bathing double.