by Jewel Beth Davis
The annex hallway of my apartment building was dank and musty, with the slightest whiff of decomposing animal. Spiderwebs decorated the ceiling corners in swaths. My back was to the hallway as I removed my laundry from the washer. I turned as I heard the apartment door nearest me open with a loud sucking sound.
A woman of strong features stood there waiting to get her clothes from the dryer. That was unusual because she didn’t live here. Her nose was long and assertive, thrusting into the air as though it had a vendetta to play out. Her face was a map of Greece. Her proportions were soft and generous. She wore so much makeup that I couldn’t see her skin underneath. Definitely not a New Hampshire native. She introduced herself as Delphina, Paul’s stepmother, from Miami. I’d seen her earlier sitting in the yard with Paul and his silver-haired father who were both smoking smelly cigars.
“I take care of my Pauly just as if he were my very own,” she said. “I do his laundry and iron his clothes.” She was referring to her 29-year-old stepson who was an attorney. I said nothing in response, but I may have murmured and smiled.
“Sophia Loren,” Delphina said.
“Huh?” I was lifting and yanking a tangled sheet from the washer. I stopped in mid-yank. I wasn’t focusing so I may have heard wrong.
“Sophia. Sophia Loren. You. That’s exactly who you look like. That’s what I call you,” Delphina said.
I transformed into a giggling, shy teenager who’d just been told she resembled a famous pop singer. “Wha…? Me? No. I couldn’t. Sophia Loren. She’s an icon…”
“It’s true,” she said, her speech marked by a slight Eastern European accent. “I think of her every time I see you. So beautiful. You. And Sophia.”
“Thank you.” I didn’t know what else to say. I was gob-smacked.
I’d grown older as the years passed, as we all do. I no longer thought of myself as pretty, though I had been. Never beautiful, but pretty. Now, my face sagged and crinkled here and there, like a 3-D map. I certainly wasn’t a hag, but Sophia Loren? The strange thing was that very day, I’d received a call that I’d been cast as the “Sophia Loren” character in the play Lend Me A Tenor. And now this. My spirits soared. Maybe I was still pretty. Maybe I wasn’t as old and unattractive as I’d felt. I was light. I was floating. I was beautiful.
* * *
It was warm out, in the nineties. I’d discovered a swimming hole five miles from home. The setting was idyllic; ferns and water flowers swayed in the light breeze that visited the pond and sweet flowery scents beguiled the nose. I put on my retro polka-dot suit with lots of seaming and swag, and drove to my hot weather haven in the summer, singing part of the chorus of Bruno Mars’s “Just the Way You Are.”
Some days I was the only human at the swimming hole. Other days as many as ten people filled the basin. I lay on a plastic float like a slug. The water was cool and soothing to the body and spirit.
* * *
On this day I threw a towel down on the pebbly incline to the water and set my beach chair on it. I sat, letting the sun warm me to the point that it would be a relief to dive in. When the prickles of sweat began to run, I grabbed my float and glided easily into the clear cool waters. Aaahh. I felt the droplets of pond water skate off my lithe body and I felt beautiful.
Four young men were playing and swimming in the pond near the shore. One looked to be in his late twenties and gave off role model vibes. He watched the other three and never left them alone or ventured far away. The other three were teenagers, about sixteen. They were skimming a Frisbee back and forth between them. One had purple and green-streaked hair in a faux hawk style.
“You butthole,” said the faux hawk guy with a smile. “Wing it to me, not fuckin’ over my head.” He’d just returned from chasing the Frisbee from the bushes onshore.
“Hey, guys,” the role model said. “There are people here besides yourselves who don’t necessarily want to listen to your foul language. Trim it back.”
“Oh, sorry, Joe. Just kidding around.”
“You’re not going to report it, are you?” another one said.
“We’ll see how you do from now on, but probably not. Just be more careful,” Joe said.
The four of us struck up a conversation, and they told me they were from a group home in Dover. Joe was their counselor. I felt like the boundaries between us were melting, and we were just people in the water, swimming, laughing, and playing.
One of the guys with bright ginger hair began to horseplay, splashing the other two with the heel of his hands.
“Cut the crap,” the brown-haired boy with acne said.
“Cut it out!” Faux hawk jumped onto Ginger and began thrashing him and dunking his head under water. I laughed as the waters around me churned.
“Cut the crap, Miles! You’re going to splash the old lady!”
Old lady?! Old lady?! I was the only woman in the water at this point. But I was Sophia Loren. Beautiful and sexy. I looked around to see if there were any octogenarians in the pond. But no. There was only me…I was the old lady.
From me to Sophia to old lady, back to me. I made big leaps that day. I’ll admit it was a long, heart-pounding drop from Sophia to old lady, but if I listen to people telling me I’m Sophia, then I also have to accept when others call me the old lady. And in the end, I am both. Or neither.
BIO: Jewel Beth Davis is a writer and theater artist who lives in Rollinsford, New Hampshire. She is a professor of writing and theater at NHTI-Concord Community College. She earned an MFA in writing at Vermont College, in addition to theater degrees. Her creative nonfiction and fiction has been published in twenty-seven literary magazines; recently, her work was published in Poetica Magazine. She has just completed her first novel, Sadie and Irving Fix the World. Read more on her website: JewelBethDavis.com.