Cynthia Wells hoped she wasn’t going crazy.

            She had always thought the scanning of obituaries a harmless pastime. Now, she wasn’t so sure. And it wasn’t because of her string of recent nightmares, either. Rather, it was due to the fact that lately, the names and particulars of the departed were sticking to her brain like her mother’s dumplings used to stick to her stomach. Hazel Dowd, Charles Mactrell, Amelia Davis, Thomas Gates and a host of others—all strangers, all names off past obituaries —had taken up residence inside her head as though it were a hotel with plenty of vacancies.

She remembered who the grandmother of eight and great-grandmother of nine was, the World War II veteran, the buyer for Flossie’s Mercantile, the pastor of the Beacon Mission. And that wasn’t all. She knew, for instance, that Hazel Dowd was born in 1924, that Charles Mactrell was awarded the Silver Star, that Amelia Davis worked for Flossie’s for thirty-five years, that Reverend Gates had been in ministry even longer. And considering that Cynthia had trouble remembering how long her own mother had worked for the legal team of Sly and Sly before retiring last year or whether her father had gotten two Purple Hearts in Vietnam or just one, this whole obituary thing was beginning to disturb her.

            She folded the pages of the Oberon Tribune, ignoring the smudges of newsprint that covered the tips of her fingers, and placed the paper on top of the pile of other folded papers beside her bed. She supposed this obsession with the obituaries bothered her because it made her life smack of “imaginary friends”—if you could call a bunch of dead people that. Her mother called it something else.

Isolationism-the word she coined for Cynthia’s self-imposed socially-Spartan lifestyle.

But who was her mother to talk? There were other ways to become inaccessible. You could party more than Paris Hilton and still be isolated, with emotions penned up, and left to starve. Her parents had mastered that one.

Still . . . both methods, her parents’ and hers, resulted in a sort of self-destruction, like the end of a Mission Impossible tape where it goes up in smoke. But wasn’t life, after all, a vapor? She had heard that somewhere. She tried not to brood over the obvious metaphors. Brooding came all too easy these days. It was silly to think of her life as a played-out tape when it was still on its first one-third of the reel. And her life, instead of smoke, was a block of concrete; a veritable bulwark of solid employment, solid finances, solid future. And though living could be rough, it was hardly “mission impossible.” Besides, she thrived on the difficult. Everyone said so. She had even built her reputation on it.

Cynthia absently brushed her fingers against the blue and cream Jardin sheets, leaving behind a faint smudge along the top edge. She was finally sleepy and needed to push that roster of names in her head and all that nonsense about self-destructing tapes into the backroom of her mind.

And maybe, if she was lucky, she’d actually get some sleep.

***