PHOTO RESOLUTION A Short Story Cheri Laser Jenna Brolin’s reflection in the mirror was disgusting.

How could she have let this happen to herself? Tonight was New Year’s Eve and, technically, her sixth wedding anniversary. This second marriage had been welcomed with cheesy clichés and all the hyped up expectations of fresh love. But a few years later, the middle-aged fairy tale had morphed into a trilogy of deceit, betrayal, and invective. Now she’d been alone for eight months. Her only child—a daughter—was married and living a thousand miles away. Her estranged husband Paul was currently visiting Las Vegas with Carla, the woman he’d met while Jenna was immersed in cancer and chemotherapy a year earlier. Even soap operas at their most ridiculous aren’t this ridiculous, she thought, leaning in close to the mirror to remove her contact lenses. The eyes looking back at her were raw and swollen; her face, which she cared for so meticulously, was covered with red blotches; and her hair, freshly re-grown after the chemo, stuck out in matted clumps. “Good God in heaven,” she whispered. “This has to stop.” Shedding her clothes on the bathroom floor, she stepped into the shower where the water rushed over her head and down her body. Just this morning, she’d been entertaining a sick hope that Paul might call and invite her to join him for a drink, to toast the memories and the last anniversary they would legally share. A week earlier, when the two of them had been discussing the settlement agreement, his words had been gentle—almost remorseful. He’d even said that he missed her. Then, in spite of instinctive red flags and cries of disbelief from her trampled heart and dreams, she’d told him that she still loved him. Although their conversation had concluded without an invitation for tonight, she’d honestly believed that one would be forthcoming. As the shower water continued to wash over her, she revisited the moment when she’d discovered Paul’s voicemail, which he’d apparently left while she was out walking after lunch. His message had begun with an upbeat Happy New Year greeting, which then degenerated into the announcement that “they” had flown to Las Vegas for the holiday weekend. He wanted Jenna to know he was out of town until Monday. How thoughtful. When the recording ended, she’d popped the cork on the bottle of champagne she’d been saving. Six hours later, that bottle was empty on the coffee table, and she’d awakened on the sofa with her cheek pasted against a throw pillow still soaked from her tears. The problem was control—her own over herself, rather than his over her anymore. As soon as she’d heard his heartless travel report, she’d surrendered her power, again, to the soulwrenching sense of loss. Yet tonight, as she finished her shower and twisted a turban towel around her clean hair, she felt an unfamiliar resolve to become master of her emotions rather than a slave to this debilitating self-pity. Once she’d lathered her skin with a grapefruit-scented after-bath lotion, she wrapped her body in a white robe and her feet in blue slipper socks then shuffled out to the kitchen for a tall glass of ice and ginger ale. Returning to her bedroom, she sat down at her vanity table and switched on her makeup light. “Showers are amazing,” she announced to the small mirror rimmed by tiny white bulbs. Re-examining her face, she noticed a slight improvement. The time was not quite nine o’clock— three hours until midnight and the opening scene of a new year. On an impulse, she reached for her cosmetic bag instead of her night cream.

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****** Sixty minutes later, Jenna assessed her image in the full-length mirror. Her black jeans and boots were slimming and helped showcase her blue sweater splashed with silver sequins and beads. Her eyes didn’t feel terrific, even with a fresh pair of lenses inserted, but that ghastly bloodshot effect was fading. The chestnut sheen and bounce in her short hair had been revitalized, and although her complexion was still splotchy beneath her powdered blush, she doubted that anyone would notice. Pulling on her coat, she grabbed her camera and purse and left the house. The time was 10:05 pm. Her destination was a rustic restaurant and pub two miles away, and when she walked in, she was surprised to find the place nearly empty. Somehow she’d assumed there’d be a New Year’s Eve celebration unfolding. “Hi,” she said with a wide smile, as the host approached her. “Where is everybody?” “Obviously somewhere else,” he answered, his Latin eyes flickering below the silver cone-shaped party hat held in place on his head by elastic around his ears. “And they are all missing you, my lovely! Is someone meeting you for dinner?” “No,” she said, trying to feel lovely at the other end of his thick patronization. “I’m by myself. Can I just sit in the pub?” “Of course. Food is available in there, too, if you change your mind,” he added with a wink, holding out his arm and bowing effusively as she passed. The two women and four men gracing the horseshoe-shaped bar were wearing party hats that matched the host’s. The bartender, who was drying glasses with a huge white towel, was wearing a hat as well, and the seven people turned simultaneously to look at her when she walked in. “Hi!” she said preemptively. “Happy New Year!” “Happy New Year!” they answered in unison, with varying degrees of enthusiasm. “What can I get for you?” the bartender queried, sliding a dry wine glass onto the rack above his head and tossing the towel over his shoulder. “Just a coke, please. Sorry.” “It’s your nickel and your night,” he answered, almost looking as if he were flirting with her, except she couldn’t believe that he’d want to. “Can I ask you a question?” The woman who was speaking sat between two men on the far side of the bar, and there was a mild slur to her words, as if she’d been there awhile. “Sure,” Jenna responded, happy to be communicating with anyone at all. “Why are you all dressed up and partying alone?” “Well, frankly,” she replied, handing the bartender a five dollar bill for her coke and feeling uncharacteristically anxious to share the truth with these strangers, “I haven’t been very good at merrymaking so far. Along with New Year’s Eve, this should have been my sixth wedding anniversary. But there isn’t much reason to celebrate, now that my husband’s not here any more. So cleaning myself up, wearing sparkles, and getting out of the house just made me feel better, I guess.” “Oh, honey,” the woman responded in a raspy voice, lighting another cigarette, “I’m so sorry. When did your husband pass?” “Hmm,” Jenna hummed under cover of the room’s din. “Well, the man is definitely gone, but he’s not the least bit dead. He’s in Las Vegas, with a date named Carla.”

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In that instant, she felt herself being inaugurated into some sort of club, as both women in the room slid off their stools and walked over to embrace her. “Now don’t you worry that pretty head of yours,” consoled the one with the cigarette, smoothing her free hand over Jenna’s hair. “You’re going to be just fine.” During the next thirty minutes, her new girlfriends narrated their own marital sagas, the drama punctuated by editorial whoops and boos from the four male patrons lined up and facing the women like an animated peanut gallery across the bar. Standing in the well between the two groups of patrons, the bartender noticed Jenna’s camera and offered to take a few pictures of the escalating festivities and the camaraderie rising from the shared tales of woe. By the time he was finished, he’d snapped at least a dozen shots, including several group photos of Jenna with both women and the four men—all of them smiling, with their arms around each other, as if they’d known one another for a lifetime. Jenna promised to bring copies of the pictures by the bar the following week, and after another round of Auld Lang Syne had been sung off key at a deafening pitch, she knew she’d been there long enough. Pulling on her coat, she waved goodbye to the group and to the host who’d first greeted her. Then, as she listened to the rowdy shouts of Happy New Year still trailing her, she let the restaurant door close behind her, sealing the noise inside. As she moved uneasily through the abrupt silence into the nearly deserted parking lot, the only sound came from the scuffing of her shoes across the asphalt. Another downside of being single again, she thought, is going home alone, from everything. ****** Fifteen minutes later, she was safely curled up on her sofa in time to watch Ryan Secrest and Dick Clark count down the crystal ball’s descent in New York’s Times Square. At 12:05 am, the telephone rang. “Hey, Mom! Happy New Year!” “Well, hi, sweetheart,” Jenna said. “Happy New Year to you, too. What a nice surprise!” “Don and I just watched the ball drop, and we were thinking about you. Did you do anything fun tonight?” “As a matter of fact, I did. I went out for a little while, with some friends.” “Really? That’s great, Mom. I was worried that this might be a rough day for you.” “Truthfully, there were moments, but I got over them.” “I’m so relieved to hear that. You sound wonderful. All set for a new beginning?” “I’m working on it.” When the call ended, Jenna switched off the lights and television and headed back to her bedroom. Feeling oddly detached from her life’s recent implosion, she washed her face, slipped into a clean pair of pajamas, and tucked herself under the folds of her comforter. As her feet moved around in search of a warm spot, she began thinking about the emotional distance she’d traveled since receiving Paul’s voicemail almost twelve hours earlier. It’s all about little steps accumulating into distance, she thought, recalling the comment made by one of her doctors in a discussion about recovery, which apparently applied to broken hearts and divorce as well as cancer treatment. “Paul who?” she murmured with a faint smile, rolling onto her side and pulling the covers up over her shoulders.

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Closing her eyes, she tried to visualize the look he’d have on his face when he opened the pub photographs that she was planning to send him. His power will end once he thinks I don’t need him anymore, she assured herself, as an unexpected and long-absent sense of peace settled over her. She now believed that, eventually, she wouldn’t need him. Meanwhile, her own set of the same photos would serve as a healthy reminder of the moxie she was still capable of mustering, as if surviving her illness by herself thus far hadn’t been proof enough. Savoring the irony of having hit bottom on the last day of the year, and then edging upward as the new year dawned, she felt encouraged about regaining control of her life’s expectations, however loose her grip still might be. She also found herself looking forward to her promised return to the pub, with copies of the New Year’s pictures in hand, and she resolved never again to need anything as desperately as she’d needed that night’s venture out. Then she let the first day of January embrace her with hope and infuse her with a sense of freedom. Were the scars of so many dreams gone wrong finally beginning to smooth out? Perhaps. And maybe those obliterated dreams were at last coming untethered from her heart, along with a past she’d been unwilling to release, leaving space for something new and even better to take hold. “Happy New Year, Jenna Brolin,” she whispered as she eased into sleep, pleasantly surprised to realize that, for the first time, she rather enjoyed having the entire bed to herself.

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