The Advice-Giver

by Judith Meyerowitz

She appears in my life in only one place— the Y locker room and always standing in front of the mirror. She has been reflected in the background for many years.

A seventyish woman, she applies her makeup as if cast in a horror flick. Her eyes outlined in fuchsia between purple and pink. She continues to apply more makeup and smacks her lips vampira bloody red. I keep the bench between her and me.

Like a Stephen King clown, something is disturbing about exaggeration, even grotesque. Face potion-maker… Conjurer… Character. Cara Bella! The Addams Family! The missing aunt—bizarre in looks but good natured?

She is always speaking to someone. She is known— to all, even to me who doesn’t speak to her.

I overhear her movie and book recommendations. And repeatedly— her mantra “I swim so I can eat ice cream”. I picture her in the pool with one arm in mid-stroke and the other holding an ice cream cone.

Or does she have a secret stash in her locker? or in the overhead light fixture?

Why did I talk to her today?

I was up— excited to be back at the pool after two covid years and the locker room was empty. She was available for consultation.

I shared: “This is my first time back.”

She said: “I have been here for months.”
You fool- where have u been? Scaredy-cat.
“I have to have ice cream.”
You fool, you can have ice cream without swimming, although I’m having trouble fitting into my suit.

To be fair she is a disciplined, regular swimmer. I have seen her in the pool. Annoyingly, she is not too fat, not too thin— just right.

She is standing at the mirror putting on makeup. I wonder which she needs, more makeup or ice cream? I fantasize her smearing ice cream on her face.

“I swim so I can eat ice cream”
A Descartian declaration. A statement of her raison d’etre. But even more frightening, I was beginning to fit together these pieces of her life.

I have overheard her stories of being a school guidance counselor–advice giver. This concerns me but she is retired now. And the kids either made it— or not. I imagine the advice she gave the girls:

“You have a cute figure but you need to keep it to attract the boys.”
“Enjoy your ice cream but it has a cost.”
“You can never have enough makeup.”

Is she all about appearances? Is it because we are in a women’s locker room— runway before transition to the world?

And then it all started coming back— The one other time we spoke, she had told me about having lived in Florida and how she had successfully matched a couple. Of course, storyteller of the locker room, guidance counselor, Florida matchmaker.

Unlike many of us, this woman’s life and her ideas had an internal integrity. We are rapt by her stories in the locker room like in the old village. She was the advice giver of the shetl more than a century earlier.

She laughs, “I’m putting on all this makeup that I am wearing under the mask. It is like women who need plastic surgery. “

You could see her doing a YouTube video with the Y locker room in the background, standing in front of the mirror giving her followers instructions on how to put on makeup under a mask and advising: “Remember! It is important to look good even if you can’t be seen.”

Judith Meyerowitz: Judith has written prose through her participation in the LP² Writing Workshop and is pleased to share it in Voices.