By Justine Champine
Matilda wandered away from the picnic in search of her glasses but soon found herself lost in an untended thicket of vines. Each direction she turned looked identical to the last. Beyond the vines she could see only the shapes of more vines, and strange fruited flowers climbing upward toward the sunlight. As she walked further into the swamp, the light grew weaker and the vines were all covered in moss. Matilda could still hear sounds of the picnic she’d left. It was a party thrown by her family to celebrate her 101st birthday, which was not actually for another week. Everyone spoke to her in a loud, painfully slow voice but she tolerated it because now, when she cleared her throat to say something, everyone went completely silent and listened with rapt attention. Sometimes she only meant to ask what time it was, though sometimes she did want to share some recollection from earlier in life and her children and their children gave her such thorough and unwavering audience Matilda was almost flustered by it. She thought about this as she ambled further into the thicket. Throughout her girlhood the law still barred women from owning property. She could remember making money as a teenager scrubbing cloth diapers on a washboard for wealthier families. As a woman, Matilda was unable to open a checking account without the consent of a husband she did not yet have. People began listening to her so intently only when she got so old as to be aspirational. They were always asking, What’s the secret to such a long life? She’d had to answer questions like this so many times she began to make things up. I start every morning with a shot of cold vodka, she’d explain, or A handstand every night before bed, for the circulation. Matilda reached a clearing in the vines and came upon a hole in the ground about as wide as a garbage can lid. She crouched down to peer over the edge and felt a vague suction pulling at her hands, like a weak vacuum. In the hole, she could see not only the glasses she’d gotten lost searching for, but also every item she’d misplaced over the last century of life. A gold wedding band, an innumerable collection of hair pins, a seal skin coat left on a train, many tax documents and pencils and sets of keys, an antiquated biology textbook, a purple suede glove with seed pearl buttons, bottles of medication. The hole was deep. She could hardly make out the bottom of it beneath all the lost things. Matilda plucked her glasses and a pack of cigarettes from the top of the pile and slowly made her way back to the picnic.