A Dart in the Foot*
(*created via late night drunken ramblings with Susan Daniels, http://susandanielspoetry.com/)
Mrs. Gomes practises darts in the basement. Next to the fuse box hangs a wooden cabinet. She has to stand on a chair to get the cabinet doors open, and again when she wants to retrieve the darts. The chair’s legs wobble and need to be tightened onto the seat every few days. Mrs. Gomes does this by sliding between the legs and placing a hand on the seat while she works the screwdriver. She practises darts at least three times a week. But on Mondays, she bakes.
Mrs. Gomes pulls out a tray from the oven and puts it on the counter. She pokes a fingernail through one of the cookies and sucks at the crumbs. Behind her, the radio has started to play one hour of pop songs. She scratches a red spot on her thumb and turns the radio off.
Mrs. Gomes goes to the refrigerator and begins to pull out items one-by-one until the entire first rack is empty. Most of the items she removes are old sour cream containers with twirls of marker ink on them. She purses open a milk carton, smells it, then moves to the sink. But Mrs. Gomes has forgotten to close the refrigerator door. She shuffles back, puts the milk in first, and then the rest of the items. She watches the fridge light wink at her.
On top of the refrigerator is her dart case. On the far side of the kitchen is a collection of family photographs pinned to a corkboard.
“Would you like something to drink?” asks Mrs. Gomes, standing in the doorway to the living room. She notices that Dorothy has a scar on her forehead, right above the rim of her glasses. The scar is shaped like a product logo, tilting up at the end to face the middle of her forehead, where it points at a lock of hair. There’s a brown satchel on the floor next to her feet. Mrs. Gomes is looking at those feet, trying to figure out which two toes were broken on which birthday, when Dorothy tells her no, and to just sit down.
“I took the ten o’clock train and it was half an hour late. I managed to get a little sleep, anyway. You aren’t busy, are you?”
Mrs. Gomes shakes her head.
“That’s good. I invited some of my high school friends over.”
Mrs. Gomes nods and smiles, and keeps her eyes off her watch.
Dorothy removes her glasses and holds them to the side of the armchair. Mrs. Gomes stares at her and listens as her breathing becomes slower, more like flute music. Above Dorothy’s head is the painting that Mrs. Gomes got for her 50th birthday. It is of a rocking chair, like the one her grandmother owned. The chair burned in a fire, but something in Mrs. Gomes’ description of it had made her son buy the painting for her. It had been stored in the back of his hatchback nearly two months before he’d hung it on her wall. In the painting, the rocking chair is resting on its front ends, creaking with strain. But there is no one in it. Mrs. Gomes looks down at the daughter sitting under the painting. The glasses have fallen to the carpet.
Dorothy’s eyes are open again, and she is smiling. Mrs. Gomes missed the moment when she came awake.
Dorothy takes out a small piece of paper from her shirt pocket and flips it across the coffee table. “Just a few things we’ll be needing. Nothing too fancy.” She picks up the satchel and rummages through it.
Mrs. Gomes begins making the salad at five fifteen in the afternoon. At six o’clock, she has an engagement at the pub down the street. The last time she was there, she’d had a careless moment with a dart and managed to stick the point in her left thumb. Mrs. Gomes had held Pauline’s hand while a bartender swabbed away the blood. She’d giggled, but the bartender had been patient and his grip on her thumb had been firm.
“Iris,” Pauline had said, “you’re going to get lockjaw off that dart.”
That night, her friends had taken her home. They’d opened the front door and led her upstairs to the bedroom. They’d undressed her and put her beneath the covers naked. Mrs. Gomes had thanked them and told them about how she’d been in love with a girl back in the third grade. Her friends had laughed and left a glass of water on the side table, a garbage can at the edge of her bed.
This morning, Mrs. Gomes took the band-aid off her thumb and gazed at the little mark that had been left there. It was a dull, shallow hole that promised to heal well. She’d gone to the basement immediately, and now her legs are tired with the effort of climbing up and down from the chair.
“Is the tea ready?” asks Dorothy.
“Just finished the salad,” says Mrs. Gomes.
Dorothy glances at the photo collection on the far wall. “You should really take those down.”
Mrs. Gomes looks at them too. “I’ll start the omelette in a minute.”
The doorbell rings just as Mrs. Gomes begins grating ginger for the tea. She watches a large woman in a pink dress embrace her daughter. Mrs. Gomes squints until she gets a reasonable image of this girl when she was younger, someone who might have been over for Dorothy’s sixteenth birthday party. The two girls are whispering to each other, and the newcomer’s eyes are closed. Mrs. Gomes goes back to the kitchen and finishes with the ginger, then puts the hot water on.
For the next half an hour, the doorbell rings a number of times, and the living room is filled with voices. Mrs. Gomes is cracking eggs. When the omelette’s done, she pieces it onto plates and carries them to the living room. The girls take the food without looking at her. She takes the final plate and sits on the piano stool at the end of the room. The girls talk as they eat. When they’re finished, they put the plates on the coffee table or on the floor.
Dorothy is still in the armchair; one of the girls is sitting at her feet. She leans forward and everyone becomes quiet. “It’s so good to see you all again, girls. I thought we could begin with a story.” She reaches into her pocket and pulls out a diamond ring. “I want to tell you what happened to my husband.” The girls clap and cheer. Dorothy hushes them and relates the story in a way that Mrs. Gomes would never have thought to tell it.
The phone rings. Mrs. Gomes lifts herself from the stool and takes her plate to the kitchen.
“Where are you?” asks Pauline. Behind her voice, a band begins a new song.
“My daughter’s here.”
“I bought new darts,” continues Pauline. Mrs. Gomes says a few words about a headache, but Pauline cuts her off. “The flights are made from bird feathers.”
“She’s having a party,” replies Mrs. Gomes.
Pauline sighs and says that the girls will be coming over later to check on her. But Mrs. Gomes knows that they won’t, that they’ll walk each other home and the last person will take a cab.
She goes back to the living room and sits on the piano stool. Dorothy is still talking. The girl sitting on the floor in front of the armchair is massaging her foot. Mrs. Gomes thinks about going to the basement, but her thumb is hurting again and her legs ache.
Dorothy comes to the end of her story, and the girls clap. “Thank you, darlings. I suppose we come to my other reason for being here.” Dorothy reaches for her satchel. “I have some things which might be of interest.”
“Would anyone like some cookies?” asks Mrs. Gomes. Dorothy stops and the other girls turn towards the piano. When two of them shrug, Mrs. Gomes brings the cookies from the kitchen and hands them out.
“Would anyone like some more?” Mrs. Gomes watches them eat. “How about some milk?”
“As I was saying,” begins Dorothy, opening her satchel. Mrs. Gomes turns her eyes to the painting above Dorothy’s head, and imagines that she is sitting on the rocking chair, or at least curled up in her grandmother’s lap while listening to a story on the radio. Behind her, a fire is crackling. Mrs. Gomes can’t help but wonder why her eldest bought her a painting rather than a real chair. If she had a rocking chair, Mrs. Gomes would have some men come over and build a porch at the front of the house. Then she would sit there and watch the newspaper boy, the postman, schoolchildren, anyone who walked past. In the evenings, she would take the chair back inside and get herself ready to go to the pub.
Around her, the girls are becoming noisy as they open their wallets.
The doorbell rings. Dorothy puts down the thing in her hand and strides to the door. Everyone watches as she admits a small blond woman to the living room. The new girl looks at the crowd and then at her feet. Dorothy introduces the girls, where they come from, and what they do for a living. “And this, of course, is my mother.”
Mrs. Gomes smiles at the new girl, at the tidiness of her haircut and the specks of pearl at her ears. “I’m afraid we’re out of food, but would you like some ginger tea?”
The blond girl nods and takes a seat on the carpet. Mrs. Gomes puts on some more water. She glances at the dart case sitting on top of the refrigerator. The spot of bare wall next to the photographs would be perfect for a dart board. She could practice while she were cooking, and would not have to worry about the long stairs to the basement or the wobbly chair. Mrs. Gomes looks at the spot until the water begins to boil.
The blond girl comes into the kitchen and introduces herself as Martha. Between sips of tea, she talks about where she’d worked part-time when she’d been in high school and where she’d travelled after graduation. She stays seated at the kitchen table even as Dorothy calls for her from the living room.
“You knew my mother,” says Martha. “Her name was Connie.”
It’s almost nine o’clock. Around Mrs. Gomes is a mess of plates and glasses. It will take hours to clean up. She wonders if Martha might help.
“There you are.” Dorothy walks in and takes Martha by the hand. “Come along, dear, there’s lots more to see.” Dorothy’s eyes are glazed. “Mother, my guests are thirsty. Would you mind?” Martha waves at Mrs. Gomes and says something that gets drowned out by the cheering of the girls. Mrs. Gomes moves to the sink and turns on the taps. She puts her thumb under the cold water.
Later, Mrs. Gomes is in the middle of the living room. There’s cigar ash on some of the plates, and a bottle of rum underneath the coffee table. Someone rings the doorbell, but she doesn’t move. The only light in the room comes from a small lamp. She waits for the person at the door to start knocking. When they are gone, she gets her dart case from the top of the refrigerator.
Mrs. Gomes opens the case and touches the flights. She bought her darts at a garage sale because Pauline told her they were a good deal. She never thought she would become good at throwing them, or that she’d even enjoy it.
Mrs. Gomes bends her arm back. The pictures on the far wall are all slanted, and many overlap. She feels a twinge in her elbow, but lets the dart fly anyway. It hits the wall near the corkboard, then falls to the floor.
Mrs. Gomes throws the next darts harder, and they both stick in the wall. She shuffles to the spot and pulls them out. Two black, dusty holes have been left there. They’re big and look ugly next to the photographs. The plaster around the holes has risen, like a volcano. Mrs. Gomes shakes her head and sighs, wondering if she has a spare calendar in the house. But then she realizes that the further away she moves from the wall, the harder it is to see the holes. From the middle of the kitchen, she can’t see them at all.