Thursday, April 27, 2023

"I'm still here" ; prompt challenge WEEK #1

I dab tiny dots of concealer under my eyes. Looking at them in the mirror, I can't recall a time when I didn't do it. I sit i before my vanity mirror, tilting my head to get the light just right as I soften my features with makeup. I'm immediately satisfied with the way the dark circles from my sleepless nights seem to disappear with each delicate tap of the concealer, blending seamlessly into my skin. It’s a quiet, meticulous work, like an artist's, and I use my clean ring finger to gently lift the corners of my eyes where I suspect-

“Stop obsessing. There’s nothing there, Vee.” I hear Matt's voice behind me, his reflection in the mirror, like he’s reading my mind. It doesn’t take a lot—I'm an open book in a foreign language that he happens to be an expert on. “You’re perfect.”

Kind words, buy empty meaning.

“It's easy for you to say." My lips tighten, and I see some new lines marking my cheek. "Wrinkles look sexy on you.”

I hear a loud sigh escape his lips.

“I’m sorry you’ve been fed this misogynistic crap, dear.” He says with his brand of cynical, all-knowing drawl.

It's my turn to sigh. Misogynistic or not, I’m right and he’s wrong, and we can prove that right now in this mirror. He looks handsome, better, like wine. And I don't look bad, but I know what my face used to look like. I try not to feel too annoyed when I reach for the lipstick, using my finger to wipe away the excess from my mouth and dabbing it onto my cheeks, thinking once again that I look too sickly. Matt is still watching me when I slide the cap back on and spin around on my butt, facing him instead of just his reflection.

“What is it?” I ask.

The grin is replaced by a sheepish look when he shows me his wrists. “The buttons, please?”

Seeing the undone top and cuffs of his white dress shirt, I scoot forward on the low vanity bench and he brings himself closer, several inches taller than me in his wheelchair. I do the buttons, first the right cuff and then the left, brushing his paralyzed, curled up fingers, then move to his chest—a task that would take him hours of frustrated battles, solved in less than a minute by me. 

I might not be the hottest anymore, but I can still be of some use, can't I?

A grenadine tie rests between his thumb and index finger and it slides easily away from his grip, or the lack of, when I tug it. I place it around his neck and make sure it's even under the collar.

“Simple?” I ask.

“What is your dad getting?” He asks me, one eyebrow up.

I chuckle, like that’s a stupid question. “A Windsor, of course.”

“Then a half Windsor it is.” Matt winks, which makes me roll my eyes.

I give him a four in hand. He doesn’t know the difference anyway, and it looks far better. My dad has never worn anything but a Windsor, he's just always been an old and joyless politician.

“Jacket.” I say, then I see it’s draped over the back of his chair. I grab it, standing behind him, and hold it in a way that makes it easy for him to slip his arms through the sleeves. 

Rounding Matt to get a view of the full picture, at last, examining the careful work of the tailor with the navy-blue suit I got him as our anniversary gift, I feel like it makes me catch my breath a little. It’s one of those selfish gifts, as much a gift for me as it is for him, more even— Matt would gladly wear velcro ties, unmatching blazers, oversized trousers, but I got sick of it. 

Over the years I’ve been slowly but surely modifying his wardrobe in ways he doesn’t even notice and won’t destroy our marriage. For instance, a couple months ago when he asked me “Where’s that black dress shirt, honey?” I answered, “Laundry mishap”, instead of “Black dress shirts are criminous and the fact that you would even consider it makes me want to file for divorce.” Sometimes though, his original style slips through beyond my control—like that one silly pair of socks, or his university shirt with holes in it and oversized khakis. We’ll get there eventually.

The point is, he looks handsome right now.

I sit down on his lap and smooth down his shoulders, feeling the soft wool texture and canvassed structure around his chest. It doesn’t bulk, there’s no extra material in his abdomen or crotch, no lapel or collar gaps, even his posture, the one he can’t really control, seems better.

I should have done this sooner.

“So?” I ask, excited for his answer. I want him to tell me I’m right—of course I am. And I proved it.

Matt rolls his shoulders, lifting his hands to his rubber-covered pushing rims, rocking us back and forth in his chair. He looks a little amazed, like being this comfortable in formalwear feels alien to him. He smiles, that cute smile I’ve loved for a decade, now with the elegant lines in the corner of his dark green eyes. 

"It's expensive, but is it worth it?"

I lean forward for a kiss. He smells like the aftershave I used on him after we had a shower together about an hour ago. I took the opportunity to shave him because I know my parents would dismiss his sexy stubble as carelessness, and that's the last thing I want associated with him.

 “Every single penny.”


We would have fought about the sixteen steps when we were younger. In fact, up until very recently, we did. Sixteen steps to my parents' not so humble abode. Today, we just exchange a painful glance, prepared but no less annoyed by it, conformed to our fates.

Matt wheels up to the stone stairs, connected to a beautiful, intricate metal railing. Our savior. The mansion, an art nouveau chateau in the meadows, towers over us. It's too much. And we always regret coming when we're here.

"Let's do this." He tells me with a determined look. He never complains, and I know he does it for me—he’s the one who should hate me for making him come. Instead, he’s the one who whispers into my ear “say yes” when mom calls.

“Okay,” I nod.

As Matt braces against the railing and pulls himself up, I stand by ready to catch him if he falters. Some days are better than others. His legs go into spasms,  bouncing him up and down like he’s shaking, but keeping him upright. He closes his eyes, face up, waiting. 

"Ok, get the chair." He instructs me once he feels ready. We’ve done this so many times before, and I do so, rushing upstairs with his lightweight wheelchair to have it there, waiting however long it takes like a silent witness to our climb. "My hand." He directs me. I notice his hand isn't completely grabbing the railing, so I open his fingers and lace them around the metal. He nods. "Let's go."

I step closer to him and he swings his free arm around my shoulders.

It's slow. Each step takes forever, and each time is slower than the past one, as Matt's energy wears down about one third of the way up. More than once, his foot catches in one of the steps and he can't lift it high enough to make it up and we have to go back, wait for that spasm sweet spot or try with his other leg. One time his foot gets stuck behind his own ankle, and I can see him straining every single defective neuron of his spine to get it free. The frustration is so big, and the exhaustion so great, that Matt's supportive knee starts to buckle under him. I hear him sigh.

"Can you get… my leg."

Promptly, I guide his arm from around my neck to the railing so he keeps himself up, and bend down to free his right foot from his left calf, planting it on the step. He groans, dropping his head a bit.

"Rest?" I ask.

He nods. Slowly, I lower him down on the steps until he's on his knees. On the expensive pants I bought him that were definitely not made for someone who can stand, much less bend on steps of stone. Matt is holding himself up on his arms and I see the glistening sweat on his face. Still, he chuckles.

"So much for the new suit."

And that one sentence drives me mad.

"Fuck the suit." I nearly spit out.

Fuck the suit. Fuck this. Fuck my parents. This is appalling—this is humiliating. This is a clear sign they don't want us here, and to be honest, I don't-

"Vee." He says, interrupting my thoughts. Reading my mind through my eyes. "It's fine. We talked about it."

About one thousand times before.

I shake my head. This time, there’s a lump deep in my throat.

“It’s the last time we do this,” I tell him, rage spilling inside my chest. “I hate them.”

“You don’t mean that,” he says, softly. I know that if his arms weren’t holding him in that kneeled position, he’d brush my hair away from my eyes. “They’re your parents. They’re just…”

“Awful people.”

He chuckles, “Complicated.”

I purse my lips. It shouldn’t be.

“Then they can climb down the fucking mountain next time.”

Or at least meet us in between. We stare at each other for a few moments.

“Your dad does need to lose some weight,” Matt finally says.

With that, he gets one single laugh from me. A miracle. The reason why I have so many lines on my face. My mom doesn’t have any, but then again, my dad never made her smile.

Then he signals he's ok to continue. I lift him back to his feet. Now it's even slower than before, and I'm doing a lot more of the work. More than once I reach down to lift his leg higher so it reaches the next step. I feel like we deserve a fucking medal after we reach the top, our breaths ragged, both our bodies tired. His legs are no longer spasming but collapsing under his weight, knees buckling until he's holding on to the railing and I'm rushing around him to maneuver his ass onto the wheelchair seat before he falls down the stairs.

The sigh that comes off his lips once he's seated is loud. He stays there for a moment as his legs go into wild spasms. Moments ago, he’d looked determined and ready to pop a sarcastic observation, but that side of him has been worn out.

Matt presses down his knees, the spams subsiding, and adjusts his feet. Expensive shoes, made for a lifetime of use. Now they’re probably scratched in places where they shouldn’t be, but I don’t really care. With the back of his hand, he wipes off the sweat from his forehead and brushes his thick black hair back away from his eyes.

“First monster down," he declares, a hint of satisfaction in his voice.

“Two to go.” I say, grabbing the hem of my dress. My parents are up next. They make the stairs look like a picnic.

And just like that, I summon my mom with my thoughts.

“Vivienne!” I hear her before I see her. “There you are!”

She’s wearing a flowy white dress that matches perfectly the color of her hair, like she’s some kind of nymph or goddess, gracefully floating in your direction. I involuntarily stiffen up, bracing myself for the look she reserves just for me, from head to toe, and cringe inside for the barely-acknowledgement she gives to Matt. Every single time. 

“I’m sorry we’re late,” I say through my teeth. “We took too long on the stairs, you see.”

She doesn’t seem phased.

“Oh dear, we could’ve sent someone to carry him up if you’d told us he was coming.”

Because after ten years, they still wonder if he’s coming. And they still make sure there are thirty two steps on the way, as if that could dissuade him from showing up. And they still talk as if isn’t right here.

“It was wonderful exercise, Elise. Thoughtful as always.” Matt smiles.

She sort of purses her lips in what might be a smile, but I can’t really tell with all that botox. She’d be more than happy to send me Dr. Takeda’s phone number if I asked—even more so if I didn’t ask. If she looks close enough, and the light is bright enough…

“Let’s get going, shall we?”

I sigh, watching her turn around in her heels—which are unreasonably higher than mine. She walks away, too fast for her shoes or age, following the music into her anniversary party.

I look down at my husband. Handsome, witty, funny, definitely the smartest man I’ve ever met. Being put through this humiliation, doing this just for me. 

“And after all that, you’re still here.” I say, touching his shoulder, on the verge of tears as the emotions take over. I'm so emotional these days.

He looks up and grins. 

“I’m still here.”

He must really love me.


  1. Beautiful! Thank you so much for writing and sharing!

  2. loved it! looking forward for more!

  3. Loooved this! Thank you so much for writing this! I hope you continue writing!

  4. Thank's so much for this. I'm so glad I read it. It left me wanting more. Thank's for moving things around here!!!

  5. Aaawesome! Love it so much, very devvy :) Thanks for posting! Lovis

  6. Gorgeous story. So wonderful as well to have a slightly older couple. Thank you for writing this and bringing the blog back to life again

  7. Beautiful, Catarina, I really loved this short story. My prompt for you is "I'm back!"

  8. Thank you very very much for sharing!

  9. Thank you for sharing this, that was just beautiful!

  10. Thanks you! I love this. Can we have more please?

  11. Oh and my prompt is, “I hope I don’t miss my “

  12. 💜💜💜💜

  13. Love it. Thanks so much for reviving things. I’ve missed it tremendously.