Winter sun and forced-air heat sucked all the moisture from the room. Bennie watched innumerable dust particles ricocheting above her mechanized bed. They seemed chaotic, confused. An eon ago Bennie would have kicked up a fit about all this dust, commanded her maid to vacuum the curtains, polish all the trophies and photos, wash the floors with Murphy’s soap and clean every shelf and fan and mirror in the place. She would’ve made herself a dirty gin martini and stomped after the girl in Louis Vuitton stilettos, waiting for her to miss a spot. But that was then, the long ago “then” of Johnny Carson and tube television and dodo birds and extinction.
“Are you ready, Mrs. Malone?” A chubby nurse waddled into the room with Dr. Valverde. Bennie wanted to scold her, to yell about the divorce, explain how she was Ms. Malone now and her married name had been Farber and didn’t the nurse know she should always address a lady as Miss unless she was introduced with a husband? But the muscles in Bennie’s face were twisted, alternately atrophied and turned to mush. Every time she spoke, it came out as an unintelligible whine and a stream of drool leaked down her chin. So she accepted the nurse’s ignorance in silence.
“We’ll get started in just another minute, Bennie,” Dr. Valverde smiled, his silver hair reflecting the dusty sun in tiny beams. Dr. Valverde had been Bennie’s doctor for fifteen years – she saw him the first time when she twisted her ankle in Telluride. He had told her he had been a fan since The Denny Oliver Hour and even remembered when she got runner-up in the Miss America pageant. She wished he would look away.
“What a great photo,” the nurse referred to Bennie’s bedside table. It was her at eighteen, tall in a feather headpiece and red sequined leotard standing between Denny Oliver and her first agent, Max Wells. Bennie was known for her legs, and they were at their prime in the photo: half a mile long, perfectly toned, not a dimple or a crease to be seen. Bennie no longer knew exactly what her legs looked like because she made them remove all the mirrors from her room, and she could no longer lift her head to look down. Her arms were buckled and bowed, wrists twisted as if trying to escape. From the hot, clawing pain spanning her hip to toes, she imagined her legs looked even worse.
“Alright, Bennie, count back from a hundred,” Dr. Valverde stroked her hair. She closed her eyes and did not count, but let the twilight sleep overtake her. For a second she slipped into the memory of being in the backseat of a convertible during the Santa Ana, Max Wells driving and her ex-husband in the passenger seat, laughing at the way her hair got sucked up into the dense, dry wind. They were so far into the desert that the smog had disappeared and she could see the Milky Way clinging to the edge of the sky.