Stella shivered as she slipped out of bed. Glancing out the window she saw unmoving clouds, just beginning to redden. An hour, maybe two, yet before dawn broke.
She stood by the window, her thumb worrying the ring on her left hand, and watched the sky.
No longer night, not yet day, she thought. Caught in-between.
"Aren't we all," she whispered. "Aren't we all."
She shivered again, but stood a moment longer, as unmoving as the clouds.
What are you trying to do? Punish yourself? There's a lot more than a little chill needed for that.
Stella's skin was covered in goosebumps as she shook herself and turned, gathering her clothes from the bedside chair.
She slipped on her plain white cotton bra and panties but faltered trying to button her sensible, starched blouse.
Jesus, God. What's sensible anymore?
The palms of her hands hurt as her fingernails dug deep groves into them. Her eyes were as tightly closed.
An eternity passed before she drew a deep breath, forcing the emotion down, hard. Stella opened her eyes. The clouds through the window remained unmoving, just tinged with a deeper shade of rose.
She unclenched her fists and finished buttoning her blouse.
Enough, she told herself. You made your bed, you lie in it.
She caught herself as hysteria rose in her throat.
If this were your bed, Stella, your husband would be lying in it. Your kids would be down the hall. The banner for the church social would be over there against the wall.
She busied herself, pulling on her hose and zipping up her skirt. Earrings, cross and chain, watch. If she could keep doing, not thinking, then it would be all right.
All right? Exactly how is this ever going to be all right?
Stella stepped into her shoes and moved to the mirrored closet door. She regarded herself for a long moment, an uncompromising audit of the lines on her neck, the creases at her eyes, mouth, the gray visible in her hair.
She turned and looked towards the bed. The figure there stirred, dark hair flowing over the pillows, but didn't wake up.
Jesus Stella, she's ten years younger than you.
She turned and opened the door, her face a mask of pain.
The door closed quietly behind her.
"But she's my life," she whispered to the dawning day.