“Time for Dinner!,” read the blaring mahogany letters on greenish, black cardboard. Last night he indulged in Asian noodles, restaurant style. Tonight Mother Cubbard prepared for him a two dollar treat, traditional lasagna, just like the kind you would have in Italy. In the commercials she had assured him that the only difference was a thick plastic veneer aiding in the ability to last forever under the right conditions. These meals didn’t suffice for a hungry old man. Being long retired, he could not afford to buy two of everything. Years ago he made himself privvy to the information that a large batch of mashed potatoes every three days would supplement the scarcity of frozen dinners.
In the morning his energy was provided by a full pot of coffee, heated up in the microwave occasionally throughout the day. If his stomach pestered him enough, a tuna fish salad sandwich in the afternoon would alleviate it’s nagging.
“Joe, Joseph!,” Once the shrill voice accompanied the relentless rapping, he knew he could no longer avoid answering the door. In his armchair with Peter and The Wolf, his two furry comrades, resting at his feet, he cracked open one eye slightly to see the sweet face of a lonely sorceress peering through the distorted glass of his living room window. This had meant, of course, that she had maneuvered herself past the bushes to get an exceptional view of him, attempting to determine with the help of her charm whether he was truly asleep or refusing to acknowledge her presence. He called her, only half fondly, the mad angel. She was nothing but a sweet old woman he deemed a prime candidate to exemplify the definition of off the rocker.
Feigning a startled awakening, his eyes snapped wide open to view such a mundane vision of this worldly, yet primordial face, advertising a giant plate of cookies. She always had something to lure him from his ignorance, gloves that she had knit, a nice hat she had picked up from the thrift store, insisting that it had needed an owner.
“Hi Martha!” His attempt at nicety had failed every time. “Oh don’t you ‘Hi Martha!’ me, I just came to give you some cookies that I baked. Have you any of that lovely tea of yours?” His face had noticeably dropped the charade. Grumbling to the kitchen, he had pulled out a giant package of supermarket brand black tea that had been sitting in his cabinet for at least a year. He made Martha a cup and heated himself up some coffee. She had once rambled on and on about stories of past loves, which secretly to him were quite interesting, but now she only briefly talked about her bird, Wendy, as if it did anything at all. The rest of the time she remained silent while they ate cookies and drank their preferred beverages. Anything he said was silent, spoken through a nod or faint smile.
At times, looking at her was distressing. Her hand gestures were shaky confessions of a growing weakness. Her increasing negativity as the years had passed disheartened him, though he knew that he was much worse in comparison. He was subject to every expression she had ever made in the sixty seven years of her life through the map of emotion on her face that time had drawn to validate its existence. It was simultaneously beautiful and frightening to him. He had known her for what seemed like an eternity, for she was nothing but his female counterpart, once alive, now only alive in the process of reflection.
At times she would comment on his state of mind, or his well-being. He didn’t need to say anything, somehow she had known him, and he wondered if the map on his face was as telling as hers. Sometimes she would even mention his minor health problems, an upset stomach, an afternoon headache, giving the reason for it and prescribing the proper home remedy. He had concluded that she was some kind of soothsayer years ago. In reality he was aware that Martha was merely an intuitive old woman who had lived quite a life, and himself, a very obvious individual who had given into his contempt of existence, fortunately without relinquishing his soul. Though he was never prepared for the lady, he always hated himself for adjusting so quickly to her presence. When he opened his mouth to make an excuse for him having to be alone, she would never let him speak. “Ah!” she would say, “I know.” Without a goodbye, she would make haste toward the door, slamming it shut, as she would never allow herself a pathetic, whimpering exit.