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Crazy Mabel
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One night, one night, all through one night—and how they greeted me had changed, I stepped out into the street and . . . look: it is stretched as if with strings; then Marie grew melody, melody and danced from edge to edge.

—Rainer Maria Rilke

At first, the petite woman drew no stares, or comments, or any unwarranted interest from anyone. She blended in because she looked like any other middle-aged woman walking along Jefferson Street. Mabel hesitated several times while looking in the windows of the different shops. She examined the trendy-looking outfits in one shop and the cosmetics display in a nail shop. The bright colors and the bustle of the people excited her. She smiled and scratched her head, but quickly stopped. If anyone saw her doing that she’d have to go back to her single room and not be able to mingle with the other residents. She hated being locked in her room more than she hated getting her treatments.

One shop in particular appealed to her imagination. In the window was a display showing a fully dressed mannequin in a short, smoky-grey skirt with a white tank top. To the left was a second mannequin, its lower half standing erect while the top half was left carelessly sprawled on the floor beside it. Was it half completed, or was that the intention? She stood without moving, looking at the display, feeling comforted, yet somehow at odds. The uncertainty confused her for a moment, and she absent-mindedly began scratching her head. She stood there like that, scratching and staring at the display, until someone appeared in the window, glared at her and put the top half on the bottom half, creating a whole. Mabel glared back and then turned and left.

She went to another window, a drugstore display this time, and stared at a poster of an attractive couple with smooth, dark skin on a white, sandy beach. The glass reflected her own brown skin back to her.

No one noticed that she held no purse for her makeup, keys, driver’s license, pen, tissues, credit cards, money, loose change, earrings, small packet of Tylenol or notepad—the usual items that most women carried with them when they went forth in the world. Also, no one noticed that she never made eye contact.

Walking down the street she found the surroundings filled with interesting shapes and objects. She had not been so captivated in a long time. There were colorful items back at the nursing home too, but this was different and so much more exciting. The lights seemed to stretch as if on a string, as if something magical held them together.

Yet even though she was captivated, she didn’t feel entirely right . . . inside her skin, it seemed to her. “It’s not right,” she said out loud, not shouting, more like whispering, like she’d been told to talk at the nursing home. Then she clenched her fists. She didn’t like the feeling.

A short man in a bright orange top and khaki shorts with open-toed sandals, lost in some kind of alternative song he was singing, bumped her. “Sorry,” he said and kept walking.

Mabel soon tired of looking in the windows and sat down on the curb. It was too hard and she quickly got up. She looked up and down the street, and spying an open door, walked toward it. The moment she stepped inside, the scent of shampoo, relaxers, hairspray, gel, and the air of hot dryers released something that had been lost within her, hidden deep down inside and forgotten long ago. But no sooner had she felt it than the feeling was gone again. She sensed that it was important, though, and that pleased her.

The shop was crowded and this too pleased her. It was just like at the infirmary, with people everywhere lost in their thoughts. She saw the instruments that were used during treatments. Normally, the shiny silver ones were kept under a towel and they frightened her. This time, they lay out in the open. There was no neat arrangement. They were laying all about, with...

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