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It's A Pandemic and Her Husband Clips Her Toenails

She can’t reach them. She can’t see them and the salons are closed. They aren’t that clean in the first place, and it’s something she definitely has to worry about during COVID, given her age.

He could do this for her, she had told herself. What else did he have to do with his time? Although he couldn’t see any better than she could. He used his glasses (the ones he only used when the light was bad). Since the pandemic, she’d noticed he’d been wearing them more. She noticed other things even though they were both retired and married for 50 years. There were some things that she was sure were never there, or maybe they were and she just never bothered to see them. Now she had no choice but to take a good look at this man she married.

His eyeglasses rested on his nose at an angle, looking like Santa Claus. His beard turned white these last few months. He never colored it like some men did. Her hair was gray now too. They might as well face up to their age.

He cradled her foot in his hand. Steady. He would be gentle. He wouldn’t slice the toe or clip the nail too far. She trusted him with this job. His blood pressure was good, hers was not. Even taking two blood pressure medicines, she still shook like a leaf. She did love her pizza, and yes, the saltshaker was always close at hand. But hypertension ran in the family. There was nothing to do about genetics, right?

She admitted that he did a lot of other things for her, like how he’d wash out the muffin tin. She never had the patience to scrub out the encrusted pieces of egg from the frittata she made that morning, yet he would do this for her without a grumble.

These small memories of their life together seemed to come out of nowhere.

She felt like a two-dimensional cardboardcutout of herself standing as still as possible to greet the people coming to her husband’s funeral. A locked expression. Red eyes, smeared mascara. She stared straight at the wall behind all the faces that came up to her to give mumbled condolences through every shape and color mask worn to stay safe. They were all being careful and practiced social distancing. So no hugs, and sometimes she didn’t even know who somebody was. She kept looking for a nail on the wall or something to focus on, yet trying to pay attention to the words that came through the masks and nodding at appropriate times or awkward breaks in the conversation. She nodded to each one individually, thinking she looked like one of those toy animal heads that bobbed in a sunlit window. Her right hand clenched a scrunched up Kleenex.

At the same time, her mind tossed thoughts around like in a lottery ball machine. Remember: just take it one day at a time, just one thing, just focus on one thing. You can do this, give yourself some time, it will get better, you have time. Josie can do an estate sale. All his shoes in the closet, the vacuum filter – how do I change it again? The mowing, the lawn, the weeds, the dead lilac bush.

She put her hand on her chest. Only one thing.

She came home that night to a pair of recliners facing the plasma TV waiting silently. She knew that one of them would have to go. She would never sit in his. The remote next to his chair indignantly expecting her to turn on NASCAR. Not happening.

She let out a deep breath and opened her right hand to the sweaty decomposed Kleenex. A new drop dangled in the corner of her eye, ready to slide down her blistered face. She hurried into the bathroom to grab a fresh Kleenex. That’s when she spotted the toenail clippers gleaming up at her from the sink.

ROBIN SAUERWEIN is a NE Minneapolis writer. She teaches creative writing in the community. In her free time, Robin enjoys hiking, thrifting and spending time with her four grandkids.

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