Maggie Brown was showered, dried and had fought her hair to a standstill. It was easier to deal with a decade ago when it had been thick enough to hold a comb right out of the shower. Now she had to tease, blow, and layer to pull off what she thought of as cute and young but was only set that way to cover the fact that it was thinning pretty quickly. The way some woman put off getting glasses until they were almost walking into things, Maggie had avoided wigs and weaves. Can’t do it anymore she thought, looking into the mirror from where she stood ironing her blouse in the nude.
Morning coffee made her sweat so rather than give it up, this ritual was born years ago; shower, dry, hair and then spend as much time as possible in the nude in a hotel room kept chilly enough to hang meat. As usually happened her eyes slid down from her hair to her breasts which neither stood as straight nor pointed in exactly the same direction as they once had. But they were fine. They remained fine-the bonus for the small-breasted woman of the world.
Her stomach was still flat and would stay that way. Being naked, she couldn’t see the tiny rolls that would gather at her beltline but it didn’t matter, she knew they were there even if nobody else did. She turned to look at her backside first over her left shoulder, then over her right. Reaching back she lifted her right cheek and watched it fall back into place. Passable. Of course there wasn’t any excess flab back there but she had to be constantly vigilant. Of course, there were times she wondered why she bothered.
As she went back to ironing, a 40 year old episode of the original Hawaii-Five-O played in the background to avoid any morning news casts-even her own station. Years ago she had diligently watched all the morning news shows, sizing up the competition, as it were. Watching the anchors, the reporters, trying to steal what she could but mostly trying to divine what they knew that she didn’t. She had been mired in Eastern Ohio and Western Pennsylvania for what amounted to a career waiting for the break-for that thing-that would bounce her out of here and to the network. She had seemed to be on the cusp a few times but nothing. Weekend anchor if everyone was on vacation and “features” reporter. Which is how she came to be up the river in Bumfuck, PA covering an overgrown fireman’s fair. The perfect start for an intrepid newcomer but a signal to her that her star wasn’t fading as much as burned out.
Her hotel was about ten minutes to the carnival grounds so she waited till the last possible moment to leave the cool darkness of her room and venture over. She wanted to leave enough time to let Jimmy set up the camera on the rise he had found yesterday where the river and the amazingly chintzy Ferris Wheel could be in the same shot. She parked up in the front of what was still a pretty empty parking lot and headed for the spot where she knew her cameraman would be a full half-hour before her stand-up report at eleven.
“Hey Jimmy”, she greeted the young man who was setting his camera on the tripod. He was a youngster, fully a decade younger than she (14 years if she wanted to be honest and she didn’t). His work uniform of cargo shorts, hiking boots and a Pittsburgh Pirates jersey made him seem even younger.
“Hi Maggie! It’s a beautiful morning on the river…”
“It is actually”, she conceded as she scanned the water already counting a couple dozen boats of all descriptions cutting wakes in the green water that perfected reflected the hills all around. “Is that breakfast?” she nodded at the half-eaten funnel cake on a grease stained paper plate at his feet.
“More of a public service…they had to make sure the oil in the fryer was hot enough…”
“Always there to pitch in.”
“It’s good. You want me to get you one?” It was a joke. Maggie Brown was more likely to get on her hands and knees and eat sand than a funnel cake.
“Your water is right there…” he nodded to a small cooler that she knew would be full of ice and bottled water.
“Thanks-what’s our time like?”
He looked at his watch. “We have twenty two minutes…”
“OK, great…I’m going to grab a….”
“In the bag next to the cooler.”
She went over and picked the fresh pack of cigarettes out of the bag. Jimmy had opened it and there was a single filter tip sticking above the rest. She pulled it out and took it, along with the red throwaway lighter, off of the rise to the relative seclusion of the Port-a-John line. The little blue shit houses cut the view from the carnival grounds and the trees hid her from the river. She wasn’t a big smoker but why advertise? She liked one in the morning to tamp her appetite and give her a little nicotine edge.
She held the menthol smoke in her lungs and slowly exhaled through her nose, the way she had watched her dad do it years before. She wasn’t thinking about him, or remembering him particularly, it was just one of his many tics and that she had over time absorbed into her being. Her eyes scanned the water without really seeing the boats and water skiers. It was so early and this busy already. What would the afternoon be like?
Her eyes settled on the bridge downstream and were about to move on when a sudden movement froze her. She blinked hard-quickly-and gasped. Someone had just jumped off the bridge! She watched the body fall, not flailing, but seemingly directed-straight down. Not even waiting for it to hit the water she tossed the cigarette aside and scrambled up the rise.
“Jimmy!” she cried, “Grab the camera….”
Outside, beyond the old, thick sycamore that pushed the sidewalk into pitchy waves, the streetlight cast an imperfect yellow glow on the street below. She had seen someone scurrying past about fifteen minutes ago-perhaps a student rushing home after realizing at closing time that he had an early class in the morning-but nothing since then. Two cats had crossed the street with no cars moving to worry them. Three a.m. pretty much belonged to the cats in this neighborhood.
Behind her-in the bedroom-she heard the bedsprings groan then, after a moment, exhale, as John got up. He padded silently up behind her where she leaned against the desk perfectly silhouetted in the dim light.
Without a word he stood beside her and followed her eyes. There were no lights on in any of the houses across or up and down the street as far as he could…
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