Originally published on Thumpcity.com

Mercury's Dying

Carina Desmond sometimes felt like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. Her companions all lacked either brains, heart or courage. Occasionally a real winner would pop up who was 0 for 3 in all categories. At 37, having never been married, she was society's anomaly. Although the word "spinster" had fallen out of fashion about a century ago, she could see the sentiment reflected in people's eyes when they discovered she was neither divorced nor a lesbian. She'd had her share of love affairs, but nothing that ever stuck or ended at the altar. Or maybe it was she that didn't stick around—the merry-go-round of therapists and books in the self-help aisle had brought her no closer to figuring it out. One thing she refused to do was to feed into the stereotypes of a Ms. Lonely Hearts who was left on the shelf to gather dust, consoled only by the company of her many feline friends.

She had created a full life for herself, was career focused but not obsessed, was an "Auntie" to many of her friends children but not bitter about it and she traveled the globe on someone else's dime as an international consultant, helping museum curators to revitalize their exhibits and draw higher numbers of memberships and endowments. She was financially independent, the master of her own fate and yet her friends always looked at her as though she had survived a holocaust. Their expressions of pity were tinged with shame and relief at their own narrow escapes from the worst karma of all—growing old alone. "You're just fickle and entirely too picky," they accused. "When are you going to be a grown up and make up your mind to be happy like us?" Their oblivious rudeness was maddening.

Carina had been set up on more blind dates than an actual blind person. One of her well-meaning acquaintances had even bought her a membership to an exclusive dating service where only ivy leaguers of a certain background and income need apply. She had thanked her and tossed it into the nearest wastebasket when out of sight of the smug woman who'd had 4 husbands in three decades. She had cried herself to sleep that night, out of the sheer exhaustion of living a life where she was deemed pathetic by all the animals that'd made it onto the ark. She knew that ultimately she was better off as a single than in an unhappy marriage; but she wasn't made of steel, after all, and since she had heard all the jokes she ever needed to hear about ticking biological clocks (to which she always replied, "To be human technically means that all of our biological clocks are ticking") she decided to become obnoxiously single. If they insisted on secretly thinking her a selfish narcissist who couldn't commit out of some ego wound—she'd give them a good show. No longer would she go to parties where she was a fifth wheel or be the subject of every anecdote for how awful the world of dating was these days.

She'd even made this pact with herself one year--she would not stridently defend herself against condescension. She would simply stare at the offender until they backed down or changed the subject. She tried this for awhile and it was quite successful at first until her friends caught on and would simply roll their eyes and say, "Oh—don't give me THE LOOK—I'm just trying to have a conversation for cripes sake!" Another year she'd boycotted all showers—baby, wedding, engagement parties, milestone anniversary celebrations—until her friends and family put out an actual APB on her as a not-so-subtle reminder that avoidance wouldn't work either. They had dubbed her "Mercury" saying that when relationships got difficult she'd sprout wings on her feet running farther and faster than the wind. They even presented her with a necklace that had a glass drop filled with the viscous liquid known to represent her so-called fickle nature. One friend with a literary sharpness quipped—"Just remember Car—Mercury is poison—so don't break the glass." She'd decided that before they organized an intervention she better put in an appearance here and there. If she was dating someone it was almost worse to get the conspiratorial winks and elbow nudges and variations of "So--is he—THE ONE?"

What one? The one who I'll wake up next to for forty years? The one who I'll promise my promise away to? She wasn't a hard-core feminist--she loved men. But they had their place. Some of her lovers had been great teachers for her and had given her amazing insights into the male psyche. In the end she'd come to the gentle conclusion that it was a nice place to visit--but she definitely didn't want to live there. She was thinking these thoughts as she stared at the ambulance ceiling. Anomalies, rebels, loners, they all had high prices to pay. Were the rewards worth it? It wasn't aloneness that frightened her--it wasn't even the loneliness or the pity from others. It was the feeling that there was some big adventure and she was missing it. She hated that feeling.

The EMT loomed over her, the fluorescent light obscuring just enough to create a halo-like corona around his head. The drugs they gave her for the pain must be kicking in. "Ma'am? How we doing?"

"Just peachy... How were the people in the other car?"

"Well-they're banged up a bit but don't you worry, we'll take good care of them."

The siren's blaring faded in and out and the beating of drums filled her head.

"My head hurts."

"I imagine it does." He grinned with a mouth full of the whitest teeth she'd ever seen. Was he wearing a tuxedo with a carnation in the buttonhole? And why was there suddenly a priest in the ambulance? Was she dying? Did you automatically default to your childhood religion when death came closer? A flash of teeth, a ring of gold and a warm sensation enveloped her all at once. And then, from those blindingly white teeth—she slipped into a darkness that was complete and silent and seemed to last for days.

She awoke and groggily looked around expecting to be in a hospital bed, but instead she was hunched over the wheel of her car and her windshield was a cobweb of splintered glass. The ambulance pulled up and the EMT came and loaded her onto a stretcher. And when he asked her how she was doing she noticed that he had the whitest teeth she'd ever seen. Feeling a pleasant net of warmth ensnare her, she thought, "Maybe marriage won't be so bad after all."

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