A Woman Looking at Cards

By Carol Smallwood

Leaving the post office there was this woman. I saw her looking at greeting cards that still seemed odd to be sold there—but it wasn’t the nagging commercialism that caught my eye. It was her air of being solidly accepted, of belonging to an accepted mate, a woman who bought clothes at stores approved of in her circle—a closely knit circle of like-minded bound by gossamer strands stronger than iron. Yes, she belonged. There was security, rules of tradition supporting her. I could see her husband of the proper mold with his proper clothes on his way to play golf with the proper brand of clubs.

Then after all these years, yes, almost half a century, I clearly remembered another woman in a Hallmark store. I’d just left home after filing for divorce wildly intoxicated by anticipated freedom, the long sought escape of living again without barriers. But seeing that woman brought up an unwelcome surpise of what I’d given up to get away—and sorely envied the woman that seemed to have the idyllic life of secure acceptance, money to buy any card she wanted or to just look at leisure knowing she could. The knowing other women envied what she wore, the perfected efforts at casualness, the studied effort to make it all look easy. I knew the look because I’d once had known what it was like to have the stamp of approval, the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval of my generation.

I could still sense without even seeing the effortless way the woman dismissed card after card that cut like a whip so slender, so feminine that women perfect: the subtle, so subtle way women put each other in places so secure that overstepping screams for a reigning in before unspeakable ruin happens to the whole. The arrangement clear as plate glass if one looked that provided structure resistant of change: change only tolerated in imperceptible amounts and which time eroded.

Tears! Where did those come from? Such silly things. When was the last time they came I couldn’t remember—so very odd but no one was around who knew me so it didn’t matter—one of the benefits of not being in an accepted tight circle anymore. To be out of it was something not realized until banished.

That woman over five decades ago had a wallet with large initials in sinuous letters that shouted branding, belonging. But was it a benefit when one got older, when men no longer wanted you and invisibility was so real you stood in the middle of store aisles to prove you had form? But it probably wasn’t true today for the younger generation—was it?

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Carol Smallwood started creative writing when returning to college to take writing classes. Words she edits out are like money returned.

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