Copyright © Courtney Josephson
That lady who looks like you came in again today. I’ve often thought about talking to her, but I’m afraid that in doing so, the illusion will be gone. I’ll realize her voice isn’t the same as yours, her smile isn’t quite as bright and unguarded, her hair isn’t the right shade of chestnut, her eyes are blue-green, but not your green-blue, and she’s alive. You’re not.
I always see her from a distance; getting her usual medium coffee with cream and two sugars and a simple donut (no frosting or filling) to keep her body satisfied while she satisfies her mind reading the morning paper. Again, I’m painfully reminded that she’s not drinking Red Rose tea and collecting the small animal figurines that come in each box like you do—did. That lady who looks like you sits down at the same table every morning; the one in the corner, nestled away from the hubbub of loud customers. Her hands are like yours; long and slender fingers flutter to the top of each page.
Her nails are clear though, so she doesn’t smoke Marlboro light 100’s in the flip-top box, which means she also wouldn’t snap off the filters before lighting up. She seems to be absorbed in reading and sipping until she glances up swiftly, catching my blatant staring. She looks at me in a way you never did; she looks with caution, uncertainty, and confusion.
It’s a long while before I chance another peek at the lady who looks like you. She’s getting ready to leave, and I can just see in my mind’s eye how you would have been fighting to leave the house under the onslaught of at least half a dozen cats and your two rambunctious dogs. This lady doesn’t own any animals because there’s not a single hair on her black cotton pants, and no slight pulls and pilling where a cat would have accidentally stuck its claws. No, she would not have adopted all fourteen cats and six or so dogs like you had done over the many years.
The woman who looks like you leaves, and I notice she is not pale and stick-thin. She isn’t confined to the hospital bed in the back room, down the hallway, to the right. She’s not singing like you used to; I bet she can’t even sing half as good as you. I’ll bet she was never in the hospital, so fatigued and worn, but catching a few moments of pain-free sleep. The lady who looks like you was never wondering why I didn’t visit more often, and she certainly didn’t know that I went to visit you that day. I replay those last months of your life and question what was so important in my life at that time that was more important than being with you. Nothing comes to mind.
But still this guilt drops on me like sulfurous rain, and as the lady who looks like you turns to leave, I feel a stab of panic in my breast. She can’t go, not yet. I need more time. I need you.
Morning again, and I clock-in to work. I look over at the corner table and see the lady who looks like you. Tea today. Red Rose Tea. I hold the water in my vision, I want the obscurity. I catch the sight of green-blue eyes and smile.