JUDITH by M Teresa Clayton
“Modern man likes to pretend that his thinking is wide-awake. But this wide-awake thinking has led us into the mazes of a nightmare in which the torture chambers are endlessly repeated in the mirrors of reason.” - Octavio Paz
“What do you mean, I’m fired? Judith cried. “I work ten hours a day, picking up shifts when someone calls in sick, and I’m never late!”
“She finds money missing from the register all the time, Judith. It is always on your shifts,” Mr. Dunmore answered. “Look, I know you have a little mouth at home to feed so I’ve added a few dollars to your check this week to help you out until you can find another job.”
She was stunned. Judith had never taken anything that wasn’t hers to take. She simply couldn’t understand any of it. Sure, Mrs. Dunmore was a bit envious but could she be this cruel?
“Judith, I told her there must be a mistake. I asked her to just talk to you but she will hear nothing of it. She’s my wife Judith, she told me I have to fire you. You understand? Please, just take the check and the little extra I added to it and go. I’m so sorry.”
Mr. Dunmore’s eyes were getting moist and Judith could see that this was difficult for him as well. She hugged him and kissed his cheek. “I understand Mr. Dunmore. I appreciate the extra bonus. It’s okay, I really do understand.”
Judith didn’t remember the walk from Dunmore’s Diner to her front door. Thoughts of losing everything she had struggled so hard to hold on to flooded her mind. Tears rolled down her cheek and she made no attempt to wipe them away. Fear held her in its grip as she tried to think; tried to stay focused.
She stopped at Mrs. Henderson’s to pick up Lily and for the next few days she and Lily kept to them selves. Judith needed time to make sense of this, time to heal and time to think.
There weren’t many jobs available around here that she was qualified to do. Being a waitress was about all she knew. She had no office skills and jobs on assembly lines were available only to people who ‘knew’ people… Times were tough and she needed to figure out a way to pay for the apartment and buy food.
Judith sat down in front of the vanity and took her hair down from the make-shift French twist she always wore when applying for work. It made her look more intelligent and sophisticated; or so she thought.
She closed her eyes as she pulled the brush through her hair and remembered how it felt when her mommy would do it. It was hard to see her mother’s face inside the memories that had become buried beneath the weight of a problematic life. When she opened them again she imagined seeing herself as a little girl sitting in front of her mother, getting her hair brushed. Beautiful, like mommy… Judith sat motionless as her mother’s face began to appear inside the mirror; like an old silent movie, she watched as her mother’s eyes met her own.
Suddenly the image of her mother disappeared and the face of a disfigured old woman appeared in the glass. Judith stared in shocked disbelief at the face that was reflected back to her in the mirror.
Watcha gonna do now, Jee- ew- dithhh?
“My God, she is talking to me,” Judith whispered to herself. This figment of her imagination was addressing her from inside the mirror! And, she remembered that voice; that awful hateful voice that used to chide her mommy.
“What do you want from me?” Judith screamed. “What could you possibly want from ME?”
Of course, Judith, I do want something from you. Doesn’t everyone WANT something? What do YOU want?
“To be left alone. I want you to go away and leave us alone,” she sobbed.
That’s right. There are two mouths to feed, aren’t there? You went and did that bad thing with that boy and now look at you, a child to feed and no money. It is shameful.
“Leave my daughter out of this, she is innocent!” The memory of those words sent a shudder down her back and she could feel the hair at her nape stand up as if she had been shocked. Judith could feel herself working into a panic. Her instincts were screaming at her to defend her daughter, yet she could not pull herself away from the mirror.
You are a whore like your mother and her mother and her mother’s mother… you are all fallen women, bawdy and unclean, HARLOTS!
Judith closed her eyes and listened to her own breathing. It’s a dream, she thought to herself, some sort of hallucination. Find out what it is and what it wants. You’re in control, she said inside her mind, don’t show it any fear.
“Who are you?” Judith asked in the calmest voice she could muster. “Who and what are you?”
She lowered her voice and began again, “Why are you so mean?” she asked the mirror. “Why are you so hateful and vulgar?”
I see everything, Judith, Everything! You can’t put one past me. I see inside of you and inside of them! They don’t want to know you child, they want to use you up and throw you away. You are nothing more than a simple fuck, but all that’s about to change Judith. You are getting tired of being passed around like a harlot! You need to show them that you will not accept or tolerate this behavior.
“What shall I do about it?” Judith asked softly. “How can I fix this?”
“Fuck them back! Just like they do to you! Make them pay for their indiscretions, Judith. Fuck them where it counts, Judith, and walk away.
“Yes, that is what I must do,” Judith said in agreement. “I must take back my dignity and leave them without theirs,” she laughed.
It’s too late, Judith. You’ve muddied up your name and your reputation. I know how many you’ve laid with! I know what happens to some of them when they’ve finished with you; the ones you said no to and took you anyway.
Judith’s mouth fell open. Her mind was spinning. What happened to those I said no to? What happened?
Good girl, I say to you. Say no and if they force themselves inside against your will, then you’d no other choice but to have your justice. Kill the muther-fuckers! Kill them all!
Judith sat in shocked disbelief as the distortion in the mirror ranted on.
But, what shall we do with the ones you allow, Judith? How do we handle your sinful ways? You know you will resort to it. You are no different than the others, thinking you can use your beauty to capture a man’s soul inside of you for a price. You will become a grotesque reminder of what SHE was. You’re all tramps.
Without so much as a word, Judith rose from the seat in front of the vanity and walked over to where the red velvet coverlet was draped over a chair. She picked it up and without once looking back into the mirror; she hung the coverlet over it and silenced the hag who lived inside.
Judith could not deny the fact that there was little hope of finding a job that could now pay enough to get caught up on the rent and bills, plus all the extras, like food.
That old “Mr. Waddles” (the girls at the diner called him that because of the loose dangling skin around his neck) was always trying to get a pinch every time she was bussing a table near his, as she would be balancing plates in one hand and trying to wipe the crumbs with the other. He always managed to get a pinch and then he’d laugh in that ‘dirty old man’ kind of way. Yes. I think he might pay for more than a pinch, she thought to herself.
The thought of it turned her stomach completely over, but Lily’s jovial face beaming up at her as if to say – Mommy, everything will be okay – gave her the strength to see it through.