Julie looked at herself in the bathroom mirror while she made her pledge, trying not to be distracted by the moles on her face that had recently started to sprout grey hairs. She remembered the days where her moles and her hairs were separate and when neither was grey. Never mind! She snapped out of it and pledged out loud:
“I will try five new things this year.” Her voice cracked so she said it again, deeper.
“I..will..try..five..Oh fuck it,” she said and whipped open the medicine cabinet.
B vitamin, Vitamin D, Vitamin C. Acidophilus. Calcium, magnesium, omega 3s.
“I could just lick a fucking mountain and be done with it,” she muttered, but took one pill from each bottle and shoved them in her pocket.
It was her 56th birthday, and for lunch, Julie was going to a Mexican restaurant. She was afraid of spicy foods and had never eaten anything more pungent than a pickle. Trying Mexican food was number one on her list.
Her five things were written on a series of post-it notes, stuck to her bedside table. It was only the first day and already the post-it notes were soggy from her water glass. Julie considered having the post-it notes laminated, or perhaps covering her bedside table in plastic wrap. Not the no-name stuff, though, that wasn’t as good.
I could write a book, she thought as she hunted in the hall closet for her denim jacket. I could fill several books with the information I have in my head. ‘Always Buy Brand-Name Plastic Wrap: And Other Stories of Experience.’ That’s what the first book would be called.
Number two on her list was to start writing. Julie had stories inside her and she wanted to let them out. A teacher once had told her she was good with words and she had kept that phrase tucked in close to her heart for almost, well, how many years is 56 minus 9? Julie closed her eyes and counted back. 47 years.
There was the jacket. It looked faded today, but Julie pulled it on anyway and slammed the front door behind her.
47 years was a long time to keep something precious hidden, only pulling it out to pet and hold to the light when everyone else was in bed. Her ex-husband had dated, married, and divorced her without knowing about it. Her three children had grown in her body and charged into the world like juggernauts, blasting her to pieces that she was still trying to reassemble, and they had never known about it.
At 56, Julie was done hiding. Everyone had left, and she was ready to hold her dream in her hand, where the world could see it. She was ready to pick up a pen, maybe one of the hundreds she had tucked away in drawers over the years.
“But first we eat a burrito,” she said out loud. She was waiting for the streetlight to change. A pair of teenage girls looked at her and laughed. They didn’t even try to hide it.
“Fuck you,” she said to them. They startled like squirrels and turned tail.
The Mexican food gave her heartburn almost immediately, despite the waiter assuring her he would make it mild for her. She pulled out her vitamins, hoping an antacid had slipped in there somehow but there was nothing.
“Anything else?” said the waiter. He tapped his pen against his tray and stared up at the wall-mounted TVs.
“There’s nothing on,” Julie said.
He looked at her then.
“The TVs are off,” she said, “the least you could do is make eye contact. I haven’t paid you yet, you know.”
He looked her in the eye. His were bloodshot and fringed with dark lashes, and was that makeup around the edges?
“Anything. Else,” he said curtly.
Julie thought she saw a trace of lipstick at the corners of his lips.
“Just the bill.”
Number three: say what you mean.
What a waste of time to smile and make nice. What a waste of a life.
Julie walked slowly from the restaurant to a nearby drugstore for a pack of antacids. Her bloated belly forced her to waddle and take shallow breaths.
“Ridiculous,” she said. Obviously there was a reason she had never tried spicy foods.
Number four was a to have a no-strings love affair. Her belly protested the thought. Julie thought of all the plucking she would have to do and felt tired. I have a whole year she told herself, I don’t have to do it all today.
Antacids. Julie’s hand hovered over the large bottle but closed over the small. It would be her last attempt at spicy foods. She would have no future need of antacids.
The list had made so much more sense in the middle of the night. It had been a little light, helping her find her way back to sleep. Julie remembered waking, startled and in pain. Shoulder pain, was it heart pain. Thinking this is it. They will read about me dying in my sleep and think it was peaceful. In the dark, it all made sense.
Julie looked at the bulletin board behind the cash register. “Join us and tell your story,” a piece of paper read. A poster for a writing group.
“Can I get a photocopy of that flyer?” she asked the cashier.
Number five. What was number five? She should have written them down in a notebook, to carry with her. Then she wouldn’t have had to wait for twenty minutes, pushing back her cuticles and crunching ice, while the waiter tracked down her bill. She could have spent that time writing, putting down the first stories of the rest of her life.
Julie looked at the flyer tenderly, folded it into a small square, and tucked into her jacket pocket. Outside the store she unwrapped the roll of antacids and chewed one, two, three. Her mouth flooded with chalky, fruit-flavoured saliva. She felt better already.