10 Musings: Eleanor
Eleanor tells me she remembers when her eye wrinkles first popped up. Then she presses the pad of her thumb into the lines at the corner of my eyes, like she’s smoothing them out, the smell of her perfume singing at her wrist. Eleanor is the type of woman who dabs perfume. She places it carefully at specified junctions across her body—not too much, nor too little. Eleanor is the perfect measurement. A fun exterior—blonde, short, makeup-ed, smartly dressed—and a rule abiding interior.
“It means you smile a lot,” she says.
In reality, I only smile a lot when I’m around her.
Eleanor offers me yogurt covered raisins when I stop by after my allotted therapy hour down the hall. She is technically my therapist’s boss’s boss, which means she could look at my paperwork, but she never does because she doesn’t practice anymore, just oversees things. This means we could date if we wanted to.
“They’re healthy but sweet,” she says, and holds out a carton to me. I lay my palm flat, just to watch her fingers move around the carton, bending and flexing the edges.
Eleanor doesn’t paint her nails. I do not paint mine, either. As soon as they grow, they get itchy, the kind of itch that can’t be scratched because it comes from a compulsion and not something real. That’s what my love is for Eleanor. At least, that’s what my therapist says when we talk about her in anonymity. “If we fell in love, what kind of wedding do you think we’d have?” I ask.
She hesitates, popping a rounded ball of fake yogurt and pruned grape into her mouth. “Beach wedding.”
She tilts her head. Eleanor likes games. There is something bitingly playful about her, this need for chaos and fire, despite all her neatly lined up rules. “A cabin at the edge of a mountaintop,” she settles.
“That,” I say, “is the correct answer.”
Eleanor has very thin lips. It’s something I noticed about her right away. First, it was her eyes. They sparkled, even though there was also something about her that seemed blank inside, like she had fallen back inside herself, a part of her hidden behind a curtain, waiting to see what I might do before presenting itself.
I give Eleanor a code name so I can talk about her during therapy without giving anything away. “Imelda is her name,” I say. “I’m in love with her.”
“No one is named Imelda,” my therapist replies.
My therapist is the opposite of Eleanor. She is tall and lean and always wears sneakers. Her nails are not well tended. I like my therapist. “If I was in love with her, how would I know?”
“How have you felt it in the past when you’ve been in love?”
My therapist should know that I have never been in love before, but that’s not something I’ve brought up yet. There were only obsessions with famous actresses, who I Googled pictures of before falling asleep, so I could imagine them clearly when dreaming of our fake lives together. “There may be something wrong with me,” I tell my therapist.
She exhales. “I don’t know that I buy that.”
After therapy, I sit down across from Eleanor in her air-conditioned office, a snake plant wavering in the corner. It smells like peanut butter cookies. Eleanor wears a yellow cable knit sweater with a white blouse underneath. It makes her look suspiciously like an angel, like a slice of sunshine handed down from the Universe to keep me from offing myself.
“Tell me about the concert this weekend,” I say. “How was it?”
She brightens, an irascible sunbeam, leaning over the desk with her hand cupping her chin. “You remembered.”
When I’m talking to Eleanor, I study her features. Her eyebrows are perfect—thick but not too thick—matching with her bright blonde hair. Her nose is perfect. It’s not too short or too long, slightly upturned at the end. She has rosy cheeks and freckles. Her features are unnaturally symmetrical, so much so that I lose track of what I’m saying. I stop. A blush creeps up my neck.
“What?” she asks, smiling.
I close my mouth. There are moments when I look at Eleanor and think if we were together, all my problems might disappear. The shitty job wouldn’t matter. Neither would the house I just bought that’s falling apart. I could forget that I have no family and that my friends are all at least a hundred miles away, that the hobby I once loved is no longer a possible career. “You ever think about modeling?” I ask.
“Modeling’s a young woman’s game.”
“You could change all that.”
She smirks. “So, you think I’m not young?”
My therapist says Eleanor is not a real woman. At least, to me she isn’t. Eleanor is the embodiment of a woman. Eleanor is a fantasy, an amalgam, a made-up scenario in my head. A woman I created—not necessarily who she truly is. “You’ll never find anyone who has everything you want in them.”
“How can you know that?” I ask. “Have you met every single woman? Have you met Imelda?”
My therapist doesn’t understand that it doesn’t matter if I see Eleanor’s true colors or not. It doesn’t matter who she really is. My therapist doesn’t understand yet that nothing matters—none of this. Her job doesn’t matter. Neither does mine. Our sessions don’t matter. My sadness doesn’t matter.
“It feels like I’m going to die soon,” I tell her.
“Why do you think that?”
I tell her that I’ve done everything I’ll probably ever do. I painted, worked. I met Eleanor and life got brighter. But she is married, and we will never be together. So now, I’m just waiting for the end. “We’re all just hunks of flesh walking around on a planet spinning into nothingness,” I tell her.
“We’re not spinning into nothing,” she corrects. “We’re spinning around the sun.”
A constant, pointless cycle. I don’t have the heart to tell her it’s the same thing.
One night while lying in bed, I realize Eleanor is the only part of my life that has any spark anymore. It used to be painting—acrylic on canvas. I’d stay up until four in the morning bleeding all over the paintings. It was automatic, without thought. I’d drink Mezcal over ice and sing and play music and rage and rage and rage onto the canvas. There was so much of me, so much to give. It poured out of me during all hours and now, I sit down with a paintbrush in my hand and there is nothing.
Don’t forget about me, I text Eleanor. It’s barely 9 p.m. My arm is curled around the body pillow that is supposed to be her, the girlfriend I wanted forever but lost the ability to court, just like I lost the ability to paint when I stopped drinking, just like the excitement I used to have for the job, for my future, all these possibilities I believed lay in front of me.
Are you going somewhere? Eleanor replies.
Not yet, I write to her. Dream about me. If you can.
She writes back that she will try.
Eleanor’s love language is small gifts of service. She pays for my car meter when it runs out one day. She brews me coffee one morning when I show up for an emergency appointment, the power having gone off in my house. Eleanor is always smiling. She knows nothing of all the darkness that sits on me every second of the day. She is twenty years my senior, yet there is this youthful exuberance all over her face, in every wrinkle and sun freckle. Eleanor is deeply, vastly alive.
One Friday, I show up to the therapy office without an appointment, a box resting in my left hand, neatly wrapped by the woman who sold it to me. It smells like incense in Eleanor’s office which is unlike her. She is prone to allergies, running a Himalayan salt lamp at all hours. “It’s handmade,” I lie, and extend the box to her.
She glances up at me. Smiles. Reaches for the box. If there is one thing I can enjoy before I die, it will be watching the pure, unadulterated joy that sweeps across her face when she reaches for the gift, something unknown and excitable, the way the whole world looks to her.
Eleanor unwraps the box and pulls out the gift—a snow globe but instead of snow with a winter scene, it’s filled with purple and black glitter, silver pinpoints for stars, and a single stretch of light – our galaxy. “Space,” I say. “The final frontier.”
She shakes the globe. Glitter swirls. “It’s beautiful.”
She is beautiful. The most beautiful thing in the universe. But I will never tell her. I will sit across from her for as long as the universe lets me, and then I’ll go home alone and make my TV dinners, play on my phone while the television is going, stationary while life keeps spinning around me.
“Do you think it really looks like this out there?” she asks.
“I hope so,” I say. “It would be a nice place to end up.”
In 2018, Chelsea Catherine won the Mary C Mohr award for nonfiction and their second book, Summer of the Cicadas, won the Quill Prose Award from Red Hen Press. In 2022, they won an Emerging Artist’s Award and spent a month in Alaska at the Alderworks Artists Retreat. Their story “The Not-Deer” was recently published in an anthology out of London. Their work can be found at Passengers Press, The Florida Review, and other journals.