Travelers Welcome

Travelers Welcome

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Aunt Rose’s shallow heart

by Claudia Rey

Aunt Rose fell in love for the very first time in kindergarten. Paul had blonde hair and blue eyes, she was a perky brunette, and this difference was one of his appeals; but she liked the kid mainly because he didn’t pay any attention to her. Paul never teased Rose, never pulled her hair, never tried to steal her snacks. In a word, he simply ignored her. This made her crazy with love – and rage. It went on for a couple of months, then Paul’s family moved to another city and Rose never saw him again.

In secondary school she fell in love for the second time. Rita was new in town and sat near Rose in their classroom, so they became good friends. Rita was an excellent student, far better than Rose who wasn’t especially brilliant but very pretty. The two girls completed each other, in a way. One day Rose met Rita’s older brother. Lawrence wasn’t handsome, but he was tall… and Rose had grown taller than all the other girls her age. Lawrence was the only boy she could look straight in the eyes, which made him special; he called her Rita’s pretty friend, which was extremely flattering. Going to Rita’s place to do homework together became the most important event in Rose’s days. But soon Lawrence met another girl, a very pretty blonde according to Rita. For the first time in her life Rose felt ugly, and never forgave him for this.

Through her teens Rose had other flirts and crushes, but in her old age she used to dismiss them as mere trifles. She was just practicing for something bigger, she said. And when she was twenty-two that something came.

Joseph’s parents rented a house in the mountains near the one where Rose and her family went in summer. He played tennis and hockey, was a good climber and an excellent swimmer. Rose didn’t practice any sport: she didn’t want sweat to ruin her hairdo or make-up, and the idea of running after a ball or swinging a racquet, possibly breaking one of her perfectly lacquered nails, was simply absurd. But she liked boys who were into sports, if only because this gave them a healthy tan and interesting muscles. Joseph had both. He wasn’t very tall… but no one is perfect.
Encouraged by her occasional smiles, he became courting Rose. But at this point she started noticing that he wasn’t so interesting, that his conversation wasn’t so witty, that his adoring eyes were boring. Joseph was too nice, too kind. He was in love with Rose, so he didn’t treat her badly. Big mistake.
She kept him hanging on for two years. Then she surrendered, simply because many girlfriends of hers were already married and she felt that this was her destiny too. Young women her generation were supposed to marry, to have a husband and children, a regular family. Nothing different was socially accepted.

So she married Joseph. Life for the young couple was rather pleasant: Joseph had become an engineer who designed aircrafts for a big firm, he earned reasonably well and as a married man was invited to a lot of social events. Rose was delighted to go with him, of course. She was soon known as “beautiful Mrs G.” and being admired, wearing elegant gowns, flirting without depth became a sort of a full-time job for her. It was at this point in life that she chose to put her brain to rest. No need to be clever, she thought. No need to say or think anything too brilliant, since nobody actually listened to her. Men were too taken by her beauty, women too busy envying or hating her. Her conversation took a regular pattern: after a few pleasant futilities she quoted a funny thing she had read in a newspaper or a magazine, and everyone laughed. If something true or profound seeped in her sentences she quickly erased the feeling by telling a joke or something equally meaningless.
Poor Joseph looked at her from across the room, madly in love – and madly jealous.

He went on loving with his wife even when Rose developed a terrible crush for a very handsome and very married test pilot. For a while she actually thought to leave her husband and to elope with Peter, but the guy was wise enough to talk her – and himself – out of such a craziness. He then asked to be assigned to a different place of work, and she stayed where she was. Hurt, abandoned and resentful… and still adored by Joseph, who knew everything but preferred not to tell her. Their marriage survived; a war came and went, but children never came, so Rose didn’t have to share her husband’s affection with anyone.

Joseph died of a stroke at the age of eighty-five, and his last word was his wife’s name. Rose went on remarkably well. In her last years she had decided to love just herself and no one else, which was why she lived safely until ninety-seven. On her deathbed she was still a beauty: perfectly groomed and made-up, long nails lacquered with purple varnish, in a black silk gown trimmed with lace. A queen.

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