Dolores’ alarm taunts her with passive angelic chimes, like a gnat whispering sweet nothings into her ear. It timidly hums with the insecurity of an adolescent afraid of their own voice and leaves the confidence of a sweaty palm. It’s sold as the anti-alarm, gently waking you with a suggestion of urgency, but for Dolores it was a generator of rage. It slowly travels up her body and boils over into a deep exhale, provoking enough steam to lift her heavy eyelids. A younger version of Dolores would have stayed under the covers, but remained conscious composing a mental checklist of her failings: all the things she shouldn’t have eaten or drank the night before, all the ways she unintentionally embarrassed herself by doing her best, and how she wore all her poor choices and imperfections like a death mask. This was her biggest failing of all, being unattractive, or as her mother used to say, not making use of her naturally good looks. After fifty-seven years, she realized that beyond the footlights there was nothing but darkness. No one cared about her pain, just as they didn’t care about her happiness. She peeled her bedroom curtains back with force, like a discolored Band-Aid with just enough stick to stay stuck. The sun had barely arrived, but Dolores believed the ritual was a form of encouragement, just like how the cooing of the pigeons underneath her window inspired her to start her day. She unplugged her charger and grabbed her phone to listen to a voicemail. Her doctor’s name appeared and she felt a combination of guilt and warmth. She had cancelled and rescheduled her follow-up appointment for months. She secretly hoped against her better judgement that her doctor had left a message communicating concern, but disappointingly it was an automated reminder for the appointment she had already cancelled. Dolores would never admit it, but she yearned for someone to care, especially more than she cared about herself.
Dolores entered her bathroom and leaned deep into her sink. She adeptly washed her face and brushed her teeth without meeting her reflection. The mirror was unavoidable while flossing, but she mainly fixed her eyes on her bleeding gums and the lines around her mouth. Dolores only momentarily lost herself in her affection for those lines. She remembered them curving into her smile as she would apply lipstick with the broken half of her mom’s compact, the one with the faded image of a cluster of children and a dog from a Renoir painting. She could almost taste salt from the Long Island Sound on her chapped lips and feel the moist heat of her husband’s mouth on her neck. The memory was penetrated by the steady sound of the faucet. She watched her blood rush down the drain as she thought to herself, this kind of daydreaming was what made her chronically late for, well, everything. Dolores was suddenly awash with anxiety as she heard a car door slam outside, followed by the whining of a clumsy engine starting, a sign that the morning was being dominated by the day. Dolores’ daily routine distracted her from observing the growing distance between who she was now and who she used to be. It was flashes of connective tissue like the feeling of cool bedsheets on a warm night, the smell of a fresh cut lemon or olive and mustard sandwiches chased with glacial cans of cream soda that rewound her thoughts back to her husband Benji and a measurably more amusing version of herself. This breed of time travel left her chest flushed and her stomach lousy.
Dolores yanked a pair of paint splattered sweatpants from a shopping bag underneath her bed. She placed her feet through the elastic foot holes and then wiggled them up her toned thighs and ass. Her distressed t-shirt appeared translucent against the stark natural light as she pulled it over her head. Dolores stuffed the broken ends of her ponytail up into a baseball cap and placed her house keys around her neck. She called this look serviceable, like the spiritless fashion of a pioneer woman. As she opened her door, Dolores was met with a loud “the British are coming!” bark from Nacho, her tenant’s corgi. Nacho and his owner Victoria moved in during the Benji regime when pets were still allowed in the building. The door slammed hard behind her as she fought to keep her grip on a bucket filled half way with dingy soap water while holding a steel wire brush under one arm. Nosy Tom’s ceaseless cough announced his presence on the landing below. It sounded as if someone was shaking a dog cage full of empty soup cans. Dolores peered over the railing with a forced grin. She intended to say hello, but instead emitted a chirp akin to an aroused rat, and a nonplussed Nosy Tom retreated to his apartment. As she reached the ground floor she paused to catch her breath and take in the orchestra of gentle snoring, spoons dinging and the squawking of a morning chat show. The hollow reverberations made her feel profoundly lonely.
Dolores dragged the dirty bucket and brush out onto the sidewalk to tend to the mosaic of pigeon shit that arrived each morning. She used to ruefully compare this practice to a lifestyle magazine fantasy of escaping the city limits to tend to sheep and sell artisanal cheeses, a solemnity to reset one’s inner clock. In more sober moments she would admit it was a diversion while she waited like a parent terrified to leave the childhood home of their abducted child. She used to fall asleep to the murmur of the television, but it wasn’t necessary when the pigeons started nesting in the awning of her shuttered travel agency downstairs. Their dulcet chittering filled the emptiness of night, giving Dolores respite from her bruised grit. As long as she erased all evidence of her feathered inhabitants, her mostly featherless tenants would tolerate them. The stiff bristles spit cloudy water onto Dolores’ tennis shoes as she broke a sweat scraping her brush over the wet cement. Overhead the words “no Travel” appeared on the awning. The caked-on waste had bleached out the greater part of their last name, Scardino, a few years back. Dolores caught an image of a woman in the blackened storefront. She thought it was a stranger passing through on her way to the B62 bus. It took Dolores a moment to realize it was her wide dark eyes and cheekbones in the windowpane. Her transparent reflection allowed her to see the action across the street at Biscuit, a popular breakfast spot. She saw the tender pawing of a flirtatious couple, spent faces pulling up to the coffee window and a blissful woman distorting her face for an amused toddler sucking on its filthy shoe. Dolores’ ghostly image dissolved against the vibrant scene behind her. She briefly saw herself as part of that universe, no longer haunted by her own ghost.