The Illusion of Starlets

I used to like to pretend that I was a spy, and peer through the hole in the fence between our backyards. I remember her looking like an old movie made when my grandparents had been teenagers. She looked bright and sharp, the color of her hair, her lipstick, her clothes a bold, almost magical blue. She looked like an I Love Lucy episode, she looked the way the world does after you walk out of a darkened movie theater and squint in the sunlight when it’s still time for lunch.

Pressing my face against the old, splintering wood of the fence that divided our properties, gazing through a place where a knot in the wood had come loose and then been dislodged, it was like looking into a different world that didn’t exist outside of her backyard. It felt like I spent hours crouched there in the grass, although it couldn’t have been, because if my mother had caught me spying she would have assumed the worst, that I was like every other eight-year-old boy peeking into an older woman’s fenced-off backyard, and I would’ve been slapped ‘til my ears rang.

I remember how she looked, with her large, floppy white sunhat and her dark sunglasses, black of her one-piece bathing suit, reclining on a long chair by the pool, reading a book. Sometimes she would take the sunglasses off while she read and put one end between her lips, pressing the tip of her tongue against the narrow ridge of the plastic like it was a pencil eraser. Her blonde curls bounced gently in the occasional breeze that wafted through, an infrequent respite from the brutality of the summer heat, a humidity that made sweat droplets run down the back of my neck and my legs, tickling behind my knees and in the small of my back.

One day, playing out in the front yard on the sidewalk with a toad the boy from down the street had found, I saw her walk out her door, her purse over her shoulder, heading in the direction of the grocery store. There was no magic to her, suddenly – she was plain and drab and there was nothing exciting about her, here, where she existed in the same world, the same universe, as everybody else. I fell into a sour mood that lasted even after being called in for supper, and when it was time for bed, I buried my face in my pillow and pulled the blankets over my head, despite how stuffy and warm it already was. I cried for several minutes, although if you had asked me I couldn’t have told you why.

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