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She wakes up in a closet and refuses to get dressed. Hours or minutes later, hands are covered in orange, elbow deep in a polyethylene bag and bright colors. The machines are beeping and a woman shaves a small portion of her chest. Petroleum goop stinks of glue painted onto her so the sensory nodules can stick. Badum, badum, badum. Dread that isn’t hers waits on the other end of the wires and she thinks of a man in a back room that’s full of monitors reading the electrical impulses, telling her fortunes.
“Nobody should settle for a reading less than 78 cards in the deck. Snake oil, heresy, you know, honey, people travel for miles to sit where you are,” a woman with one glass eye says to her. She’d wanted a genie with a purple turban and padded grandmotherly composure to take her in with loving arms and say, “I knew you’d be coming.” And maybe she had said something like that, anyway, the only grandmothers she remembered lived in the kitchens of ads on TV.
If she’s at work, the face of her boss becomes the slow-cooked, salted, granular texture of shrimp paella. Ruddy pinks and browns kissing small mole mountains of corn and peas and smeared red lips to chew. A mouth that moves but only speaks in commandments, and is saying she looks puffy at the jawline, and haven’t you heard of concealer for those dark circles, and by God, what a miracle that men will even speak to you. “I bet they like your bit of crazy, I bet they eat it right up,” and she nods when she’s offered a Lindt truffle from a bowl on the desk. One gold and one red and one blue, “I have to try every color, no breakfast,” and they’re gone before she is back in her chair.
A burp in the early afternoon tastes like sulphur and white chocolate in a raw throat. The early car ride home, because the office has no use for her except to keep her on payroll. Looks like she could use a sick day.
Here is where the fun hits you, go, go, go.
The man in the talking metal box wearing a headset on the other end already knows her order, on a Wednesday at least, the special. The law is you keep the paper straw top on, and she’ll remove the lid, slurping rum banana creamsicle daiquiri down in gulps so her whole body can freeze, fighting the heat.
Second up of the afternoon, go, go, go. She’s got bags in the car for that. And the next voice in the box in the headset in the window asks, “What’ll it be?”
Tiny white dots dance across her windshield and fingers are revolving tremors one, two, three. “Water, water … and a number 3, a 6, and all the sides, yes, oh god, please.” Up from her throat more, go, out the window, no matter, at least it’s out.
“I need it all out of me.”
“Lust – Interference – Futility,” the woman said, nodding her head and staring at the cards. A woman on a lion’s back, seafoam floating coins, red arrows that point in twelve directions. Fat fingers ticking symbols clucks her tongue and already you’re hungry. “Three more,” she says, and hears, “That’s double.”
“Okay, give it to me.”
“Adjustment – The Devil – Defeat,” and she’s thinking of hot dogs topped with sauerkraut washed down with cheap whiskey to contrapose the room’s dim lighting and chemical New Age purples. A wall covered in polished stones carved as deities, taunting that you’re too much to bear.
“No, no, no, the cards aren’t a prescription,” fat hands says and her breath stinks like caramel saltwater taffy. What does she know? But you’re nodding, crying a little bit too, and asking her for help and she hands you a brochure with price breakdowns.
“A man crosses the horizon on a white horse that’s spooked by three black birds flying in opposite directions at daybreak in late winter. He calls out, but you run, you have … hm – there is a rabid dog underneath your skin, that you care for more than him, or anything.”
Doesn’t she know this says Nothing At All?
The sweat drips down inner thighs. Rain from inside she can’t feel. 12 Miles so far at the last gym left without overhead cameras in a small town because three others are off limits now. They blamed insurance. There, there, coos the voice, is the comfort of being seen as forbidden.
The man in the bar that keeps staring bought her three rounds and on the third she remembers him from somewhere. In the bathroom his hands show her the way, oh, yes, oh, you’re the one, uhhh … from that other place! You sold me that! Oh, oh, groans and he pulls up the side of his mouth to break lines stroking a bristled cheek. “That’s all me baby, rock solid,” oh, yeah, the little rocks.
They’re at his place now, never hers, not this year, but maybe the times before they were at the last house with fewer closets. He asks what the marks on her thighs are after they sniff lumpy white powders and have two three-minute rounds of missionary and she gives an automated response.
“Cat scratches. Damn brutal animals,” and already he’s warming up a spoon.
“Nah, none for me, I kicked that,” because his eyes are blue mirrors of the mosaiced blanket on the wall and the patient sky pressing on blackout curtains.
“What’s worth living for then, sweetheart?” The gems roll back into white pulling the blood from his skin and a single trickle of red scars his freckles and that’s when you know it’s time to bolt.
The only cat she ever had ran away when she was thirteen and she blamed her father’s drinking and wished she could make herself that small and free and wild too.
She thinks about the waiting-to-be-dead man’s question and doesn’t have an answer and thinks about how when dogs die they walk out into the woods and pick a place to go. Her fingernails are orange underneath the quick. The blood could’ve been hers too, she thinks, and she looked down on the car ride home, staining her polyester blend fabric car seats with crimson skirting into a V.
Bleach smells extra sharp today, a few less brain cells sounds alright, but it doesn’t do the job, only makes her fall asleep and her neighbor has to pull her up off the driveway where—
“I just found you laying down here, are you alright?” He’s called an ambulance. “Musta been cleaning your car out, with bleach? Now, why on earth would you do that?” And you stare at him and he stares back at her with hands on his hips, pupils all wide, worried like a father, but you smell judgement, and you pray for the backseat to stay out of sight.
“Awfully strange,” he says to his wife later, and she nods, knowing all about Women Like That, women who beg the world to take care of them until Death or A Big Man does.
She doesn’t know where her clock went to but doesn’t it feel like a Sunday. White noise painted gold pouring in through the slits in her window and there’s food, food in the fridge and, oh, crime shows. Turns out the next day is Thursday but nobody made the call.
Fingers press into her waist, then her shoulders, then ankles, and backs of the knees, the order is always the same. “How do you do it?” A woman in a department store who brings her a smaller size asks. I become I; so, this is another place where the sinking can start.
“It’s natural. What a bore,” and she only comes here before hitting the mall food court buffet. Malls make the automation easy, and this place had private bathrooms last year, but today she sees stalls in rows of ten and the eyes of this large woman on her.
“I think that’s the one for you, and on sale, what a steal.”
“Yeah, yellow, different, I’ll take it. Date night,” and you’re not even lying.
She decides that raccoon eyes could look French, coy, gaunt. She ditches her concealer, plus it always rubs into the pillowcases when she falls asleep. Contours of well-placed bronzer to camouflage the swollen jowls, and she wishes she didn’t have to know that word yet.
The neighbor is keeping an eye out. He sees her leave her house. He watches her powder her nose in the car mirror. He pretends he didn’t see what was in her eyes or her backseat, or probably, he didn’t, anyway, he wouldn’t understand.
She hangs the dress up two days later and wouldn’t you know that it’s the only kind of yellow she owns.