I had expected a circus freak, the type Jack normally points out, but my mouth fell into a limp "O" when I saw Her. Far from a circus freak, She made our usual twenty plus customer fade from glory, natural jet black hair so dark and perfect the limited light in the store shone off it like a web of gaudy Christmas lights. Her white skin stood out against her hair and low-cut black lace-up dress, made of some stiff material. The dress was worth a second or third look, as much a part of her as lips or hair. The blood red lips, the color of the laces tying her dress, were the only color on her. Enormous black eyes sucked in light rather than reflect it. My eyes swam. For a moment she had twenty beautiful eyes. I became conscious of my too long arms and legs, my split ends and the pimple on my forehead.
My indigo hair matched my DDFT boots, my big brother called them “fuck-me boots,” faded from black to blue at the toe. Jack had commented on the touch of color when I came in to work that day. How he noticed in that light is beyond me; to anyone with human eyes both my hair and boots looked black in anything short of daylight. I avoided the daylight and whenever possible. Black midriff top, sleeves torn off, small white letters reading “God Is Dead.” Exposed belly button I was considering, but had not yet pierced. A silver buckled belt held black jeans up over my flat ass. My body had as many curves as a ruler. Her body had just the right amount, not soft, but sure and hard. She didn’t belong in the twenty-first century; she should have been the heroine of a silent horror movie.
“She’s a picture isn’t she?” asked Jack, grinning at my amazed face.
“She makes me like Martha fucking Stewart,” I gasped. She radiated darkness.
“Toldja,” said Jack with a wink. Jack heartily encouraged my half-serious plan to turn lesbian. The more freaks, the merrier the circus. He noisily walked off toward a normally glamorous 27-year-old woman in a pleated mini skirt who suddenly seemed depressingly mundane.
Jack's meaningless words to our boring customer floated across the store, “No that won't work at all, try the chains instead. That’s it. Di-vine.” She glanced disdainfully at a collection of people-sized dog collars on display by the entrance, her passage smooth and liquid as though carried by more than the normal amount of legs. I wondered what miracle could possibly bring her to us, what she could need from a store as everyday and uninteresting as The Darkest Hour. The air hummed. To my dismay and joy, She walked over to me.
Her twenty eyes peered right through my skin. She knew my darkest secrets, even the ones I had buried so deep I couldn’t remember them myself. Things I thought had long ago drowned in the pit of my poisoned stomach. She could see the loneliness, the pain, the self-pity. The timid hunger in my eyes. All twenty eyes bore into me as I stood frozen. I wanted her eyes. I wanted to be her.
She stopped in front of me, the hem of her dress an elegant inch above the floor, rustling with a sound like the clicking of old hardened joints. It touched my boot-clad ankles and I thought the stiff fabric would envelop me. I wished my feet were bare.
“Excuse me,” she said in a deep voice that called to mind a predator at midnight. “Do you have black silk bootlaces?” Silk? I shook my head. Her eyes finished their journey from my indigo hair to my indigo toes. She had asked about bootlaces, yet I felt her tearing through my soul, discarding the parts not to her liking. “No? I see,” she said. Her examination had found me short of expectations, very little worth keeping. It hurt more than I thought possible, the venom in my stomach burning my throat. “Could you tell me please where I could find them then?”
Her eyes demanded an answer, pulled it from my chest. Half choking, I spit out, “uh nah- no.” I sounded like a fool or a caveman. I could be quite articulate when I chose to be. Teachers, suspicious because my brother's reputation proceeded me, soon spoke glowingly of me. I never did the homework and sat in the back of the classroom drawing skulls or black-lining the veins in my hand with a gel-pen but I answered difficult questions and asked many of my own. I had an easy way with words. So it was shocking that when I wanted desperately to rattle off something witty and suave, I could hardly manage to utter a coherent syllable.
“I see.” She said again. We stared at each other for a moment silently, or I stared into eyes that sucked me inside. Beyond all understanding, she touched my face. It should have been gentle but I was struck by the sudden irrational fear that her long black fingernails would bite into my cheek. Another part of me wanted to be bit. “Thank you for your help then.” I gasped, imagining my silly fear come true, a sharp nail cutting the cheek beneath wide eyes. It burned. As she removed her hand I felt my face drawn by invisible threads of energy. I thought her eyes would take me, but she was gone with a gust of September air that blew a strand of indigo hair into my right eye.
Jack came over with a cheerful grin, leaving the boring woman in the mini skirt to browse belts. “Wha'd I tell you?” he said. “That necklace was something though, wasn’t it? It almost looked alive. I wonder where she got it.” I hadn’t noticed a necklace. He shook his head, “What a trip huh?”
“Jeezuz,” was all I said. Then my knees buckled and I sat on the black concrete floor, my right eye closed. I barely noticed Jack’s startled attempt to catch me. I felt empty, like one of the seashells I’d beg my parents to let me keep when I was little and they took me to the beach. Maybe she had devoured me.
Jack grabbed my arm and tried to yank me back to my feet. “Shit Annie, you ok? Holy fuck, you’re bleeding, what happened?” His increasingly concerned voice oozed lazily into my brain. I pulled the hair out of my eye and, blinking, allowed him to pull me up.
“Oh, I’m fine Jack, just fine,” I told him as I felt the power to form sentences return. My voice shook; Jack raised an eyebrow in disbelief. I wished I could raise just one eyebrow like that, then realized I should be concerned about something more serious. I just couldn’t quite remember what, except that I couldn’t stand without hanging on Jack. Bleeding? How could I bleed?
“Fine?” he asked in a grunt as he supported me. “You’re fine, and I'm a Republican.” That made me smile, I felt a bit of strength return. He continued, “Look, go home? I’ll finish up inventory and lock up. You look like you’re about to barf on my shoes. If you do I’ll have to make you eat live roaches.”
“Mmm, bug sandwich.” I said in an attempt at levity though neither of us laughed. I wanted to argue but I knew he was right. I found the strength to stand on my own power. He dragged me into the back room and thrust uncoordinated arms in my black leather jacket as though I were a three-year-old. Then he pushed me past the pair of Combat boots on the inventory table, out the back door. “See ya tomorrow Annie,” he said firmly. I nodded and started down Madison Avenue.
I vomited suddenly into a sad bit of hedge. It burned my stomach and throat. Home was only a few blocks away, I slid inside, past my parents whose questions I ignored, to collapse on my bed. I fell asleep with the door left open and my indigo-toed shoes still laced. I dreamt of going to the beach with my parents and trying to avoid foot-eating land whales while I collected empty shells from the sand.