Ernie gave Maurie a shower for her fiftieth birthday. It was a glass, chrome-free square with a brass shower head that hung down like a drunk giraffe. Their old shower had been built into the tile wall with a semi-opaque glass door.
“Clear as God, Maurie,” Ernie had said when they looked at the display at Home Depot. “This is the style, the way they make them nowadays. Reflects society’s need to be open. That’s my take.” Ernie was a man of maxims. There was a philosophical reason for everything.
Maurie stepped in and closed the door, then waved at Ernie. He and the salesman waved back.
There was also a huge party and dinner at an expensive French restaurant. Ernie thought turning fifty was an important event, a transition from living to preparing for death. Thus the new shower.
It took the contractor two months to install the shower. They had to practically knock out a wall to put all the glass in. But when it was finished, there it was–glass so clean and clear it looked like air.
When Maurie first used it—a full month after her birthday—she waited until Ernie had left for work, then stepped inside, closed the door, and looked at herself in the mirror opposite the shower. Her thighs billowed out under her hips and her breasts hung down like eggplants. The water came at her head with fury, plastering her hair to her full face, which made it appear more swollen and worn than she felt.
She squeezed her eyes together, but they sprang back open. She turned towards the one side that was tile, but her body slowly rotated left, and she found herself facing the glass door, staring at herself again. She ran the bar of soap over her skin, then lathered her hair. The suds oozed towards her eyes and mouth. She turned to put up her soap, but looked back over her shoulder at the mirror again. Her butt was wide and dimpled. She gave up, turned and faced herself.
Here she was, Maurie, a wet fifty-one-year-old woman who just turned fifty.
Maurie had celebrated her real fiftieth birthday a year earlier, alone, at a bar in another town. She had ordered a piece of strawberry cheesecake and a pint of Bass ale. After her first sip, she sang, in a whisper, happy birthday to me.
She wasn’t a liar, not really. She just told a big lie twenty-one years ago when she met Ernie. Thirty years old had sounded too old for a man who was twenty-eight. She planned on confessing at forty, but by then her best friend was thirty-eight, and she didn’t want to be that much older than her best friend. In the past few years, in preparation for her truth, she had befriended old people. Her new best friend, Lorene, was seventy-five.
Maurie turned up the hot water and the glass fogged over. She rinsed her hair in the private space the fog provided, then shut off the water. The last bit of water dripped upon the drain; the air conditioner clicked back on; her pug whined at the bathroom door.
Maurie took her index finger and wrote, “51″ on the door. She erased it, then wrote, “fifty-one.” She erased “one,” leaving only “fifty.” She put the “one” back. She erased it. She wrote “one” in very large letters. ONE.
This “one” was something her friend Lorene would accept, she was sure of it. She tried to imagine Ernie accepting “one.” Perhaps they could take a shower together and she would write “one,” like now.
She would take his hand with its gnarled knuckles and veins rooted under skin. She would lift his finger, her soft hip touching his boney thigh, and trace the one.
O N E.
There they all would be– Ernie, forty-eight years of sturdy shoulders, full stomach, hairy back, Maurie, fifty-one years of flesh pushed out by her appetite and water retention. And the one.
It took a while for the fog to fade, the one to transform into rivulets pulled down by pearl-shaped drops of water. Soon the glass was clear again.