New Brunswick, Canada
I leisurely drank in the Sunday paper as I drank a cup of tea. The ability to read without interruption is one perk of living alone, I suppose. When I was through, I tossed the paper in the recycling bin and started on breakfast.
The image of a brunette woman entered my mind as I sliced and diced my vegetables. I must have seen her picture in the newspaper.
When I sat down with my omelette and a fresh cup of tea, I once again thought of the woman with fluffy brown hair. She was so familiar. Was her picture in the obituary section?
I finished breakfast. I checked my phone. No new messages.
I washed the breakfast dishes. I knew that woman. I did. She knew me. My brain strained and struggled to identify her. Then suddenly, I said her name out loud: Marilyn!
A lump formed in my throat and I ran to the recycling bin. My eyes frantically scanned the obituaries but I did not see Marilyn pictured there. I breathed a sigh of relief and continued searching for her. The business section. The classifieds. I found her! Marilyn was not dead. Marilyn was a real estate agent, and she was hosting an open house. My heart smiled.
Thirty-odd years ago, Marilyn read chapter books to me. Marilyn made me a Ninja Turtle costume for Halloween. Marilyn baked oatmeal-raisin cookies with me. She checked my homework. She French-braided my hair. She looked me in the eye and spoke to me like I was a real person instead of a silly child. I loved her.
One day, Marilyn told me she was moving away. Her words punched me in the gut. Marilyn wiped away my tears and told me she would never forget me. I believed her.
After Marilyn’s departure, my parents decided I was old enough to take care of myself. In the post-Marilyn era of my childhood, I came home from school, ate store-bought cookies and watched The Oprah Winfrey show. By the time The Simpsons concluded, my parents were usually home from work.
One afternoon while searching for the TV remote, I found a gold bangle under the couch. It was Marilyn’s. She always wore pretty jewellery. I took the bangle and hurried to my bedroom. I was sure it was solid gold. I thought about Marilyn’s sweet flowery perfume and pink lipstick. I figured she was the ideal woman, and I hoped to be just like her when I grew up. Soft, feminine and lovely. Kind. I hid the bangle under my mattress.
My childhood rolled along. Marilyn became a warm, fuzzy memory. I became a teenager. My school friends and I passed notes back and forth containing top-secret information. I hid these notes under my mattress and rediscovered Marilyn’s gold bangle. I started wearing it, on occasion.
I kept this little piece of Marilyn with me throughout my life. The bangle survived many moves: From the dorm room to the apartment; from the apartment to the starter home; from the starter home to the dream house; from the dream house to the one-bedroom condo.
I examined the picture of Marilyn in the Sunday paper. She didn’t look much older than me. I decided to give my mother a call. She picked up on the fifth ring.
I asked her if she remembered Marilyn.
“Marilyn? That woman Stephen ran off with?”
“No, Mom. That was Melissa. I’m talking about Marilyn. My old babysitter?”
“Oh, goodness! Marilyn... Was that her name?”
“Sure, I remember. She minded you for a few years. She was great. Did the dishes and everything”.
“Yeah… Well, I saw her in the paper. She’s a real estate agent.”
“Oh yeah? Good for her. Sorry, Penny, I have to get going. Brunch with Lorna and the girls. We’ll catch up another time”.
Brunch with the girls. Must be nice.
I took one more look at the newspaper. The open house would start shortly.
I soon found myself showered and dressed, perfumed and made-up. I went on a great hunt for Marilyn’s gold bangle. I eventually found it in a box of old photographs and keepsakes.
I hopped into my hatchback, drove for a half-hour, and pulled up to a well-maintained bungalow with an eat-in kitchen, newly installed windows, and a fenced-in backyard.
As I got out of my vehicle, I hadn’t decided whether I’d remain anonymous or reveal myself as little Penny Chisholm from Nightingale Road. Would she think I was a deranged stalker?
Marilyn greeted me at the front door. The living, breathing Marilyn was a woman in her mid-fifties. She had a few greys in her voluminous brown hair. She wore sparkly jewellery and rose-coloured lipstick. I felt like I was in the midst of a very strange dream.
Marilyn’s face lit up as she looked me in the eye.
“Penny!” she exclaimed.
Marilyn wrapped her arms around me. I could feel the love radiating from her. I breathed in her sweet, flowery perfume. A lump formed in my throat. My heart smiled.
“Oh, my goodness! It’s so good to see you,” Marilyn beamed.
My emotions swelled up and spilled out in the form of tears. In that moment, I was not invisible. I was not insignificant. I was not forgotten.
Marilyn remembered me.
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