Copyright is held by the author.
RIGHT WRIST or left?
Marigold stopped still, not sure which was correct. Where did she wear her watch — on the right side or the left?
Maybe if she put it on . . .
She slipped the gold-tone elastic band over the fingers of her left hand, pushed it past her bony wrist, looked at it for a minute, and then switched the watch to the other arm. Both seemed right — or was it that both looked wrong? She just wasn’t sure.
Marigold closed her eyes and quickly opened them again, hoping that, when she would look to see what time it was, she would instinctively look either to the left side or the right. But that didn’t work either. Instead, her eyes went to the clock on the wall.
But it can’t be only 4:30, she reasoned. It was far too light in her small bedroom. Even with the blinds closed, the early morning sunshine found a way to slip in between the grimy slats to illuminate the single bed, the slightly dusty nightstand, the woman reflected in the dresser mirror.
“I must have forgotten to change the battery,” she said aloud, and then looked back down at her watch. At this point, she was willing to settle for just finding out what time it really was, regardless of which hand her watch wanted to call home. But there was something wrong — and it took her another minute or two to figure out that she had put the watch on upside down and the numbers were standing on their head. If she didn’t change it, she would never be able to tell what time it was.
Take it off, she told herself, and obediently, she removed the watch and set it on the dresser tray, deciding she would finish dressing before tackling again the right wrist/left wrist conundrum. First, the white blouse, then her three-button navy blazer. Last night, she had mended its torn pocket — And how long had it been that way? How many people saw the tear and wondered what else about me needed fixed? — thinking she had used the right colour thread. But now, in the bright morning light, she saw that the thread was black.
Everyone will see that but I don’t have time to restitch it, and it took all Marigold’s willpower to stop her fingers from picking at the visible reminder of her incompetence.
Shoes. Put on your shoes. They at least should be perfect. She had polished them just this morning while waiting for her coffee to brew. But after she slipped them on, she noticed that she had smeared black polish on the inside edge of the right shoe, because now there was a dark smudge on the inside of her foot, like a high tide marker left from a black sea.
Just then, Marigold heard the six o’clock whistle from the nearby factory. Where had the time gone? And now it too late: too late to restitch the pocket, too late to scrub the mark from her foot, too late redo any other tasks she might have performed inadequately, incorrectly, all wrong.
She had to hurry if she would make it to work on time.
She pulled her hair back and knotted it at the base of her neck, feeling a slight greasiness that indicated it was in need of a shampoo. No time now — she would have to go to work with unclean hair, a badly mended jacket, a smudge on her foot.
Hurry, hurry, it’s time to leave…
But when Marigold took a final look at herself in the full-length mirror hanging on the back of the bedroom door, she realized she had forgotten to put on her slacks — the very ones that were hanging there, patiently waiting on the closet doorknob, itself more than a little tarnished.
How did that happen? How could she not notice that she was not fully dressed? And what if she had left the apartment looking that way?
Trembling, she imagined the sequence of events that would have followed. She would have closed the apartment door behind her and then, just as the locks clicked, recognized too late that something was wrong in her appearance.
She would have reached inside her purse for her key ring — the one holding the two keys that unlocked the building’s security entrance and the three for her own door: the upper security bolt, one for the deadbolt near the center and one for the door knob itself — but it wouldn’t be there. It would be still inside, hanging on the hook where it always was because, in addition to her pants, she had forgotten her keys as well.
And Marigold would be trapped out there in public for everyone to see, wearing her badly mended blazer and imperfectly polished shoes and no pants at all, because they were still hanging on her closet doorknob, the doorknob that was tarnished, so tarnished, so very, very tarnished.
I ought to clean that, Marigold thought.
Or did she say it aloud? She wasn’t sure. Sometimes words reverberated in her head so loudly that she thought perhaps they had escaped and were racing insanely around the room, the individual letters of the alphabet jumping over furniture, careening around corners. She could almost see the A sliding down the slant of the W, the O using a lower-case L to pole-vault over the crossbar of the capital H. And inside her head, all that empty space once occupied by thoughts, by words.
And in the end, did it matter if she did speak? After all, it wasn’t like there was anyone in the room to hear her. But still, she ought to know if she was just thinking her thoughts or had moved on to actually verbalizing them.
Stop thinking. Just put on your pants, and obediently, Marigold slipped first her right leg, then her left into the slacks.
Zipper — where is the zipper?
“They’re backwards,” and this time, she knew she had said the words aloud, because she could hear them echoing in the room. That’s okay. I still have time, and she took the pants off, turned them around and then pulled them back up the right way and zipped them closed before moving to fasten the hook-and-eye closure. The all-important hook-and-eye closure that secured the waistband — the hook-and-eye closure that was now hanging by one very loose thread.
Would it hold or would it let go? And if it did let go, would the zipper itself unlock and descend, and she would find herself grabbing at the waistband of the pants, trying to hold them up, hold them closed? But what if she had her hands full? Or what if she was sitting at her desk when it happened and then, when she stood, her slacks slipped down too quickly for her to react?
Another whistle — had an hour passed by already? Marigold would have to hurry if she was going to catch the seven-thirty bus. All that was left was to put on her watch. Maybe now, if she put it on without thinking, she would put it on the correct wrist. But just before her fingers reached it, her eyes drifted back to the door, the door with the now empty pants hanger, the door with the empty pants hanger and tarnished knob. She still had time, at least ten minutes. She could take a paper towel and cleanser and rub the door handle until the tarnish was gone and the knob was shiny.
But all that happened after fifteen minutes of hard scrubbing was that the tarnish was still there while other parts of the doorknob — parts that had once been shiny — now looked slightly dulled.
“I’ve ruined it. I took the finish right off.” She looked at the paper towel as if expecting to see some cheap brass smears on the paper that maybe she could somehow put back on the knob. But there wasn’t so she couldn’t — not that she actually thought she could.
And now it was even later and she would have to leave right away, hurry even, if she was going to arrive on time. But when she looked at her hands, she saw they were stained black from the tarnish (Yet how could that be? There was still tarnish on the knob!), and she would have to wash them over and over to get the stain out. She couldn’t go to work with dirty hands! But nothing worked — not the hand soap, the dishwashing liquid, the laundry soap. Not even the bleach right from the bottle, the bleach that stung so fiercely when it hit all the places she had rubbed raw that it brought tears to her eyes.
I wish I had gloves. But no one wore gloves anymore. At least, not the kind of gloves she was thinking of — the kind her mother used to wear to Sunday church. Starched white cotton gloves, to hide those red raw knuckles, those fingertips crisscrossed with tiny cuts from scrubbing clothes — other people’s dirty underwear and stained nightclothes and greasy overalls — a week of hard labor that she traded for seven days’ worth of food and drink and lodgings, a week’s worth of life.
Maybe no one will notice.
But even as she thought it, she knew that everyone would notice. She was sure of it. They would look at the black thread on the navy blazer and the smear of black polish on her foot and the black stains on her fingertips and then they would look at her — at Marigold — at the totality of her and find her wanting. Especially if she made the final fatal mistake of wearing her watch on the wrong hand.
And now it was definitely late and she would have to leave. There was nothing more to do, nothing more she could do.
Marigold reached over and picked up the watch. She would just put it on. She would just slip it over her fingers — her dirty, stained fingers — and slide it past her wrist bones and never think which hand it belonged it. She would just let her unconscious decide and hope that, whatever it decided, it was correct. She had no other choice. She didn’t know what was right.
She held it up, noticing for the first time the grease smear across the face. Just a minute — that’s all it would take to clean the streak. Just a minute and a soft cloth. Just a minute and a soft cloth and a bit of window cleaner. And that’s all it should have taken — really, it was just such a tiny, tiny piece of glass — and then Marigold could put it on and be ready to leave the house.
But the window cleaner bottle was empty and all the cleaning rags were waiting to be washed. She would have to wear her watch — the watch with the greasy crystal — and hope that no one would notice. Not notice the dirty watch, the stained fingertips, the polish line, the wrong-coloured thread — the Marigold that was who she was, what she was.
Marigold held the watch tightly in her left hand, closed her eyes against the light and wished as hard as she could that she would know what to do. Then, eyes open and still holding the watch, she reached over to her other arm.
And then stopped.
Which was correct — the right wrist or the left?