Bean and Nothingness, by Robert K Omura

Bean sat perfectly still drawing shallow breaths into her hollow chest. Holding the pose of her still life in the vanity mirror, she held two shades of lipstick close to lips that sagged at the edges into a pout. The silver tubes glimmered like armour in the light. A splash of sun pooled next to the spot where the cat soiled the carpet last summer, extenuating the emptiness of the bedroom she once shared with David, her husband of fifteen years. The mission style bed remained unmade, framed between two low end tables, and beside the closet stood the cherry wood armoire she inherited when her great grandmother died. Sitting on the walnut surface of the dresser, but tilted away at an angle, the Jean-Paul Sartre book she'd started last summer lay neglected beneath a clutter of costume jewellery and cosmetic products.

She'd found Sartre last June while browsing the shelves of a used bookstore. The aroma of French roasted coffee beans spilled out through the open door of a neighbourhood café, bitter and warm like summer rain on the Champs Elysse. Paris filled her thoughts when she stepped into the bookstore to the clang of bells tied to the door handle. When she asked the bored twenty-something clerk for the French literature section, he looked up from his laptop and said, "We don't get many requests for that old stuff, but you can try in the back next to occult and spirituality," before sending her off to the back of the store.
Beneath a broken fluorescent lamp that flickered and buzzed, the tile floors were pale and neglected. A thin layer of dust blanketed the forgotten books she found. At the front of the store bestsellers and pulp fiction basked in warm sunlight and smiled at passerbys through the freshly cleaned windows. In the half light at the back Bean met Sartre for the first time since college, and she snapped him up, eager to leaf through the faded pages. She also eyed Camus, but weighing the two in her hands, she decided Sartre was all her mind could handle.

Setting the two tubes of lipstick on top of Sartre, Bean checked herself in the mirror, where she was met by sad blue eyes. More shadow than light made up the hard lines of her face, even under the forgiving vanity lights.

Tomorrow Bean turned forty, the big "four-oh", though inside she swore she was still thirty-five: a little white lie she could live with when people asked her age. As numbers go, forty wasn't particular old; after all, her grandmother, Anna, was a healthy octogenarian and her great grandmother, Nana, lived nearly one hundred years. Bean resigned herself to the cruel fate of long life and senility, trapped in a nursing home shaking her wooden cane at nurse's aides while she complained about "rabbit droppings in her tapioca pudding". If luck would have it, she'd share of room with her aging mother.

When her daughter Sammie pounded on the bedroom door and asked for lunch money, she pulled a five dollar bill from her purse and told her, "I swear, Sammie, I'll never forgive you if you have me sent to a nursing home."

Sammie shrugged her shoulders with that "mother's having another episode" look on her face. A faint flash of a smile sparkled behind the curtain of Sammie's brown hair that swept across her face. "Whatever mom," Sammie said, as she leaned over and kiss her on the cheek. "Thanks," and then pointing to the lipstick, Sammie suggested, "The pink blossom with that blouse, mom." Sammie brushed her long hair to the side, where it immediately fell back across her face again. She grabbed the five out of Bean's hands while Bean was deep in thought. "I gotta go mom, have a good day," she blurted out, before Bean heard her bound down the stairs with heavy steps and out the front door with a slam. Sammie left so quickly Bean didn't get a chance to say goodbye. Sammie was right, the pink blossom it is.

The arc of life moved with clock-like precision, measuring out the thread of Bean's life. Bean frowned at the pulsating green digits of the alarm clock. Seven-forty. Bean repeated the word, "forty", like a mantra, while she tucked her blouse into her grey cotton skirt. She was still mumbling "forty" as she pushed her way off the train downtown, floating out with the tide of daily commuters that flowed down the wet street and gathered in office towers. The mantra continued even when she stepped on the elevator, sipping gingerly from the coffee cup in her hand while pushing "thirty-five" until the button lit up. No one seemed to notice Bean's mantra, not even the tall courier who smiled at her as she boarded the elevator. The elevator hummed, stopping to let younger people off on the floors below hers. Tick, tock. Bean felt changes like the blur of floor numbers through tired eyes and the sinking feeling when the elevator came to a sudden stop at her floor.

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Phoebe Kate Foster