Phyllis Schieber Author

Women's Fiction by Phyllis Schieber

Ellen from Sinners’ Guide to Confession by Phyllis Schieber

It would always be miraculous to Ellen how one sweet moment could offer a reprieve from loneliness and suddenly illuminate a life. She opened the door and looked into Joy’s eyes. They were the same color as Ellen’s, and they were framed by the peacock lashes that she recognized from the photograph.

“I love your eyelashes,” Ellen said.

It was so not what she had planned on saying that she couldn’t think of anything else to say.

“They’re not mine,” Joy said.

And then, she was equally speechless.

“That went well,” Ellen finally said, laughing. She opened the door wide and said, “Come in. I’m sorry. Please. Come in.”

Joy nodded and walked in. She was wearing a red coat, not unlike Ellen’s own winter coat.

“May I take your coat?” Ellen said.

Ellen took her hand. Joy was small boned, like Ellen, and her fingers were long and thin, like Ellen’s. Joy was wearing a thin gold wedding band and no other jewelry except a watch and a pair of silver earrings, tiny clusters of grapes, or so they looked. Joy put out her other hand, and Ellen took that one too. They held hands, shyly at first, and then moved with more confidence toward each other and into an embrace. Joy was a good four inches taller, bringing Ellen’s nose even with Joy’s neck, allowing her to inhale her lemony scent.  Ellen wanted to say something memorable, something that Joy could retell when she spoke to others of this day, but nothing came to mind. Ellen had questions and more questions, but she kept them to herself. Did you feel my love every day? Do you know how sorry I am? Have you felt how much I missed you? Have you been loved? Have you been happy? Will you forgive me? Instead, Ellen wrapped her arms around Joy and concentrated on not squeezing her too hard. They held each other like that for a minute or so, silent, awkward, full of need and uncertainty. It was Joy who pulled back first and, taking Ellen’s hands again, said, “You’re so young. I never expected you to be so young.”

~*~

It would always be miraculous to Ellen how one sweet moment could offer a reprieve from loneliness and suddenly illuminate a life. She opened the door and looked into Joy’s eyes. They were the same color as Ellen’s, and they were framed by the peacock lashes that she recognized from the photograph.

“I love your eyelashes,” Ellen said.

It was so not what she had planned on saying that she couldn’t think of anything else to say.

“They’re not mine,” Joy said.

And then, she was equally speechless.

“That went well,” Ellen finally said, laughing. She opened the door wide and said, “Come in. I’m sorry. Please. Come in.”

Joy nodded and walked in. She was wearing a red coat, not unlike Ellen’s own winter coat.

“May I take your coat?” Ellen said.

~*~

Since the day she turned twelve, Ellen had not left the house without false eyelashes. What began as an act of rebellion turned into a trait that distinguished her in ways she could not have predicted. In the coastal Connecticut town where she grew up and later in rural Vermont where she attended college, people made assumptions about her based almost exclusively on those eyelashes. The eyelashes gave her confidence and, at twelve, confidence was in short supply even if prettiness was not.  The eyelashes made her feel glamorous. Glamour. That was what Ellen was after. Her mother, ever critical, insisted that Ellen always looked as if she were on her way to a costume party.  “Are you going as a tramp?” she asked. But Ellen thought the false lashes completed her. She batted them at herself in the mirror, standing sideways and then looking over her shoulder. The eyelashes never seemed anachronistic to her twelve-year-old self. Soon her life was divided into two periods: before the false eyelashes and after them.

~*~

Effortlessly, she told him the secret she had hoarded all her life. It was the secret that had taught her restraint; the secret that had made her suspicious of love. Bill wrapped his arms around her and listened. Bill had secrets of his own, and he shared them with such relief that Ellen cried with him as he confessed his transgressions and his sorrows.  In those early times, he tolerated her endless stream of questions about matters that might seem obvious to others. And never, ever once did he say a word about her eyelashes even as he watched her peel them off at night and reapply them first thing in the morning. He seemed to anticipate her needs, bringing her a blanket before she shivered, a cup of tea before she asked, a back rub just as she was about to stretch. And when he finally asked about those silly lashes (that’s what he called them, but lovingly) all he said was, “How have they changed your life, Miss Ellen?”

And that was why she could not believe he did not love her anymore.

~*~

It was a girl baby. And even though everyone advised her not to, Ellen held her. They would not let her nurse her daughter since it was only a matter of days before she would be whisked off to an eager family in some unknown location. Ellen signed countless forms, relinquishing all her rights and agreeing to a closed adoption. She was only sixteen, and her parents made it very clear that unless she complied, they would have nothing to do with her. Of course, that was incentive enough to refuse to go along with their wishes. But she was too young and too afraid to be brave.

~*~

She kept her promise not to talk about The Baby. (They never referred to her as Faith.) And Ellen never broke that promise until she met Bill. The tenderness of his response when she divulged her secret unleashed a lifetime of sadness. He clucked his tongue, just like a woman would, and kept repeating how sorry he was for her loss. Loss. The import of that statement made Ellen reel.  In Bill’s arms, she cried for her lost baby as if years had not passed.

~*~

And now she was alone. Ellen did not mind being alone. The humiliation of Bill’s betrayal still smarted, but she refused to hate him. When she looked in the mirror, she was not saddened by the lines around her eyes or the slack in the skin on her neck. Bill used to tease her that being pretty was more important than anything else in her life. Bill had been wrong about that too, of course. Nothing had ever been as important to Ellen as finding Faith. Not then . . . and not now. Not ever.

~*~

Ellen had questions and more questions, but she kept them to herself. Did you feel my love every day? Do you know how sorry I am? Have you felt how much I missed you? Have you been loved? Have you been happy? Will you forgive me?

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July 22, 2009 - Posted by | Sinner's Guide to Confession

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