And yet, the thought of her fading beauty chased her; ran her into dark alleys and forests with densely packed vegetation, gnawed at her skirt and calves with sharp, yellow teeth that dripped blood and saliva. And it watched her, through the mirror, with crimson, bloodshot eyes; she could sense it whenever she stood at night, staring at herself, dissecting her features. It dissected her too, she knew. But it was louder than she was, following her, snarling at her ugliness when she smiled at a barista or flipped her hair over her shoulder. She knew it only as The Monster, and it knew her only as The Woman. It had caused everything, that she was sure of: her husband’s affair, though it had happened nearly two decades before, was punishment for whatever defect she knew she possessed, whatever defect The Monster knew she possessed. The affair had left her with a child she couldn’t ever truly love, one that was in every way her father, a man Eleanor had grown to hate. Her other children, the ones she actually cared for, had all moved out; they’d stayed in New York, just as their sister, but rarely visited her, too preoccupied with their jobs and families; jobs and families that Eleanor scarcely approved of, but jobs and families nonetheless. The Monster was far more immediate than any of those things, though. It stalked Eleanor through photo albums, appearing behind her younger self as the omen she had never cared to notice. She longed to be one of the other fifty-five year-olds; the ones without Monsters, the ones whose husbands never left and whose children were always children. She’d had it too, once, which made everything a thousand times more infuriating. So, she clung to the memories: visions of her lively childhood in the South; blooming cherry blossoms with pollen that hung in the air, stubborn and pervasive, the boyfriend she’d had in high school- she asked herself constantly why she hadn’t married him, because she was sure he’d never leave her, was sure he’d have been wonderful to her, scarcely understanding (or remembering) that she hadn’t married him because he’d hardly been courting her and wouldn’t have cared marry her, anyway. She traced trembling fingers over yellowed pictures of her and her girlfriends at football games; all giggling with a youthful ease, holding flowers and bows- signs, she was sure, that they’d been loved, signs that they’d had an easier life than hers.