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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Almost

Category: Issue 12

1
Jack walked out of the store, his rope handled plastic bag in hand.  He was a tall, thick-legged man with a graying goatee and swollen feet that sagged over the sides of his sandals, his pale sausage toes suffering from a lack of oxygen.  He shuffled, the sound of his sandals dragging against the tile audible over the piped in classical music from the mall’s speakers.
Jack turned his attention to the windows, each passing store brought on new things to want, like flipping through the glossy pages of a catalog, complete with bra and panty section.  Thank you Victoria.  iPhones and robotic dinosaurs gave way to air-cushioned running shoes and discounted hand lotions and thousands of other things he knew he didn’t need but wanted just the same. 
He stopped outside the open doors of Abercrombie and Fitch aroused by the six foot black and white photograph of a young woman stretched out on a beach, clothes soaked, dry sand clinging to her body.  Her picture hung on the wall just inside the open doors and he wondered who was this nameless girl, probably not Abercrombie or Fitch, most likely a foreign model getting by on four crackers a day.  He wished there was a marker or card that gave her name and maybe where she was from.  She seemed as distant as the headless mannequins sprinkled around the store.  Something unreal, make believe, an imagined image of what one could be if they wore Abercrombie and Fitch.  Everyday a seductive day, drying on the beach waiting for the sand to get just dry enough that it flakes off with a quick wipe of the hand.
He turned his head to look at another photograph hanging to his left, the light shining down from the panoramic skylights bounced off the floor behind him and into the glass of the open door, and he noticed he was looking at himself reflected in the clear glass.  It was like finding himself in a Magic Eye Puzzle. 
There he was, holding his bag, XXXL Hanes T-shirt un-tucked, his hair, which stuck out from under his ball cap, greasy and matted.  He took up the full window; from hip to hip he covered the entire width of the glassed door.
“That’s not me,” he thought.  “It can’t be, I’m not that fat.” 
But like all life changing moments, Jack saw with complete clarity and what he saw humbled him.  He was a Jack of three worlds, three realities, three places in time.
The Mall Jack stood in the reality he created for himself, where he lived inside his mind, the world his life experiences created for him so that he could move through each day with something tangible to hold onto, what he could rely on as the real world.  The world where he could tell himself that super sizing was not that big of deal and if one bowl of ice cream was good then two was even better.
On the other side of the glass, inside Abercrombie and Fitch, among the blouse form mannequins and black and white photographs, was the reality where others thought he should go.  The world he should attain to live in, a world only concerned with getting the sand out of your bum after having sex on the beach all day.
But trapped in the middle, in a piece of glass insert from the door of an Abercrombie and Fitch, was the true reality.  That Jack stood in the door glass, translucent, stripped of self-delusion and outside scripting, an opaque Jack free from everything, free to decide on his own what he should do, free to be in charge of his own life, free from others defining who he should be.  That Jack was fat, he knew it, and did not hide from it. 
Truth slipped through perception and Jack saw he was not what he thought or hoped he was.  The sudden realization was frightening and liberating and constricting, the freedom to be free was a thought Jack did not know what to do with.  It filled him with hope and then almost as quickly with dread.  Life was always easier if your problems were somebody else’s responsibility.
That Jack in the window didn’t need to say a word.  Didn’t have to.  Jack turned away from his reflection, closed his eyes and decided a trip to the food court was just what he needed.  A quick snack would help him calm down and then he could think about what he was going to do about being so fat.
A tall, athletic college kid walked out of Abercrombie and Fitch, breaking the spell.  Jack turned and watched the kid stride away quickly, his head held high.  He wore khaki shorts and sandals.
Jack followed Khaki Shorts, stunned by what he had become and aware that the depth of his own self-deception seemed limitless.  He also felt a tinge of hope because That Jack from the Window Glass seemed immune from self-delusion and the pressures of the world.  That made Jack free, free to walk out the automatic sliding doors and into the perfect sunshine and start fresh, start now.  He thought he just might follow Khaki Shorts out the sliding glass doors and ignore the 900 calorie Cinnabon waiting for him in the food court. 
2
At the mall entrance Lilith stood next to the low brick wall that served as a planter for the broad leafy plants flanking the sliding glass doors.  She was a frail, narrow shouldered little woman with long fingers, swollen and knotted in the joints.  Her eyes were sullen, light blue and her thinning red hair was pulled back in a bun, a few stray strands hung over her ear and she absently brushed them back.  She lifted her right foot behind her, standing on one leg like an aging flamingo, to slide the strap of her high heel away from the tender pink skin it rubbed against.  The strap showed, by the worn leather around each hole, the gradual decrease of Lilith’s size. 
She adjusted the hem of her skirt and then picked up her clipboard.  She looked up and noticed an attractive young man in khaki shorts walking towards her.
3
Jack noticed the little lady in high heels, a mummified version of his third grade math teacher.  He knew without thinking that she was doing some sort of direct sales.  She was armed with a clipboard and a “wouldn’t you like to help me” smile.  Jack did not want to talk to her so he slowed down, the noise of the food court on his left, the quiet afternoon ahead, curious to see what she wanted.  Khaki Shorts was almost to the doors, close enough to make them slide open automatically, when she said
4
“Excuse me sir, would you like to take a survey?  You could…” 
Khaki shorts turned and smashed his fist down on the clipboard.  Papers exploded into the air.
“No I don’t want to take your damn survey!” he said, leaning into her shocked wrinkled face.
Khaki shorts turned and was out the open door.  The woman stood, motionless, as her blank surveys, like white autumn leaves, followed a slow, seesaw path to the ground, the breeze from the open door cushioning their fall.  She knelt, meeting them as they slid to the floor.
5
Jack, stunned and immobilized, followed the long sweeping arc of the last paper as it glided to a stop a few feet from the little woman.  Deep inside Jack a voice, maybe his conscience or his newfound alter ego, That Jack from the Window Glass, roared with rage.  The voice screamed for Jack to go after the punk kid, teach him a lesson, show him it’s not okay to treat people that way.  Jack almost started after the kid.  Almost.  He paused, no more than a heart beat, no more than a few flutters of a hummingbird’s wings, but it was a pause and in moments that require great courage and immediate decisiveness any hesitation is too much.
Jack looked around, nobody, no other witnesses.  The old lady didn’t see him and Khaki Shorts was gone.  Jack shrugged away his conscience, turned left and headed towards the food court. 
6
Lilith stacked her papers together, clipped them to her board and wiped away the last of her tears with the back of her hand.  Sure her eyes were dry, she looked up to see if anyone else was around.  Relieved to be alone, she sighed, sat herself on the low brick wall and wondered how much longer she would have to do this.  Adam knew how to get what she needed, he always came through, but this time it was taking a little too long, they were cutting things a little too close.  She would trust him a little longer, give this plan a little more time, but if things did not change in a hurry she would have to break off and do things on her own.  Time was running out.
She shuddered, she knew she better stop herself there.  “That’s a sheet of thin ice you’re walking on,” she thought.  “You keep thinking about how little time you have left and your going to break right through
into the blue
into a place you can’t come back from.”
She took a deep breath, re-committed herself to Adam’s plan, no other choice now, she was damned if she didn’t, and stood up just in time to bump into a big fat guy eating a cinnamon roll.
7
Jack entered the food court, quickly bought his sweet sticky treat and by the third bite had forgotten about Khaki shorts and the old lady.  He walked out the way he had come in, engrossed in the soft center of the cinnamon role (his most favorite part) when someone bounced off him.  He turned, his mouth full of dough and icing, to see the old lady, clipboard in hand, standing next to him apologizing.
8
“I’m so sorry,” she said.  “Are you okay?”
He nodded, smiling, relieved she seemed not to recognize him, had not seen him turn tail and run the other way.
“I’m okay,” he said, swallowing a mouthful of half chewed cinnamon roll.
“Okay, good,” she said.  She turned back to the planter, sat down, put her clipboard beside her and dropped her head into her hands.  For the second time that day she cried.  He looked out the sliding glass doors, decided he should try and do the right thing this time, and walked over to her.
“Seem to be having a bad day,” he said, placing his hand on her shoulder, she flinched and he quickly pulled his hand away.  The tips of his fingers felt cold.
“Sorry,” she said, “I’m just a little jumpy.  I haven’t had much luck with getting people to take my survey today and I’m feeling a little overwhelmed about getting it done.”
“What’s your survey about?”
“Movie trailers.”
“Really?  I love the movies.  I go all the time.  I’ll do your survey, go ahead fire away.”
Jack felt great.  He could help this lady and not binge for a week to repress the guilt from running away the first time.
“It takes quite a while.  Are you sure you have the time?”
“Nobody waiting for me at home.  Come on, I would love to help you, it’s the least I could do.”
9
“We’re screening movie trailers.” Adam said sitting across from Jack.  “We’ll show you 3 versions for one particular movie and you just have to tell us which one you like better.”
Jack, Lilith, the retired nurse not third grade math teacher but a pretty good guess Jack thought, and Adam, the head of the research group, sat on padded folding chairs around a table.  The store was empty except for them and another table by the stores entrance.  That table held two stacks of papers, surveys and waivers.  Jack had noticed a change in Lilith, a good one, once he had met Adam and she realized Jack was for real, he was going to do the survey.  She absolutely beamed when he signed the waiver.  “No almost about this,” Jack thought.  “I did help her out.” 
“Sounds easy enough,” Jack said.
“It is,” Adam said.  “ We have five movies with 3 trailers apiece so it should take a little over an hour to finish up.  Do you need to call anyone to let them know you won’t be home for a while?”
“No, it’s just me.”
“When we’re done you will get a $50 gift card to the theater of your choice and two advance screening passes to the new Johnny Depp movie coming out next month.  How does that sound?”
“Great.  And you’re sure all I have to do is watch a few movie trailers?”
“That’s all.”
Adam pushed a piece of paper across the table.
“For demographic purposes we need you to fill out this form.  Next to your actual responses to Lilith’s questions in the screening room this is the most important paper you will fill out all day.”
Jack looked over the paper. 
“I’ll leave you with Lilith,” Adam said standing up.  “When you’re done filling out the survey she will take you to our screening room in the back.  As for me,” he extended his hand out to Jack, “Thank you for helping us out and enjoy a few movies on us.”
Jack took Adam’s hand, trying for a firm grip and a solid shake, ice cold pain burned his fingers, shot into his hand and up his arm, like frozen ants crawling through his veins making everything
blue
numb.
Jack let go.  Adam hung on a second longer, making sure to look Jack directly in the eye.
“You’re welcome, “Adam said, releasing Jack’s hand.  Jack set his hand in his lap, not wanting to look stupid in front of Adam and Lilith, but the numbness lingered, every nerve below the elbow switched to the off position.
Adam left the room and Lilith stood up.  Jack thought that neither noticed a thing.  He figured Adam grabbed his hand at a funny angle and tweaked a nerve or something.  But hadn’t Lilith been cold?  He had touched her for only a second, it had been quick, and she jumped away so fast.  But thinking back, he thought he could remember the chill of her body before his fingers touched her back.
“Take as long as you need to fill that out.  I’ll go make sure the equipment is ready for us in the other room.  Won’t take but a minute.”
Jack smiled, she left the room and he shook his hand as hard as he could.  The emptiness in his forearm and wrist was gone, and the hand was coming back to life but his damn fingers were
blue
cold to the world.  He squeezed each one until he felt life beating back into them.  He looked over the survey, rubbing while he read.
They were benign questions, nothing too in depth:  age, marital status, income, etc.  Nothing so private he was self-conscious about answering but at the same time he hated the solitary life the answers to these questions revealed.  He sighed, reminded that he was nothing more than a single, middle-aged schoolteacher making just enough to be comfortable. 
He finished the survey, the last of the numbness squeezed out of his fingers, “Damn that was weird,” he thought, hoping it wasn’t the beginning of carpal tunnel, and walked to the open doorway in the back of the room.  The survey group set up a small screening room in what looked to be the storage area of the store.  A row of four theater seats sat in front of an elevated DVD player.  On the wall, mounted into the studs, was a flat screen TV.  Lilith walked Jack over to a soda fountain set next to a large, red carnival style popcorn machine and a table covered in boxes of candy.
“We try to recreate the movie theater atmosphere as much as possible.  Right down to the snacks you might be eating when the previews come on.  What would you like?”
Jack looked at the wide variety of candies on the table.
“I’ll take some Milk Duds and a Coke please.”
She smiled, handed him the yellow box and let him fill his cup with ice and soda from the machine.  As he filled his cup she made a note on her clipboard.
“Okay, now that you have your snacks, please choose a place to sit.”
Jack chose one of the middle chairs.  Lilith noted this as well.
“Are you comfortable?”
“Yes I am, thanks.  This is great.”
“Okay now you will watch 3 movie trailers for the same movie.  After you watch all three trailers I will ask you some questions to determine which one was most effective in influencing your decision to want go to that particular movie.”
“Okay.”
“Alright, here we go.”
She turned a dial on the wall, dimming the lights.  Then she started the DVD player.  Jack’s world glowed green in the light of the preview announcement, he settled into his chair, relaxed and at ease, eager to enjoy something he loved. 
“These guys are good,” he thought.  “I really feel like I’m at the movies.”
Lilith moved quietly behind him, the first preview, a WWII epic, exploded around them.  She reached under the chair and looped a wide nylon band around his ankles and the front two legs of the chair.  She left it loose so he would not feel it.  The screams of the injured men in the trenches came from all sides, Jack and Lilith were wrapped in sound, Lilith took another strap, loosened it, making sure it was big enough to slip over his chest and pin his arms against him at the elbows.  Satisfied that the loop she made was big enough, she dropped the belt down and pulled as hard as she could. 
Jack spewed a molten mass of soda and caramel across the room, the sticky mess splattering on the wall.
Before he could inhale, Lilith bent down and pulled the other belt so tight it dug into the fleshy meat on his shins.  Jack begged his diaphragm to pull in some air.  Lilith walked around in front of him and using smaller bands fastened his wrists to the arms of the chair.  Before he inhaled his first breath she had completely fastened him to his chair, incapacitated him to the point he could barely breathe. 
She pushed aside the other chairs, reached down and pulled a lever on the side of his chair, Jack reclined.  She pulled a pin from under the arms of his chair and swung the chair’s arms out and away so that Jack’s upper arms were strapped to his body but his forearms and hands were pointed out and away from him.  Lilith replaced the pins locking the arms in place, impossible for Jack to reach her.
She stepped back and looked at him tied down.  He tried to lean his head forward but the rolls under his chin allowed him nothing more than a slight nod, he dropped his head back.  She stepped beside him so that he could look at her by simply turning his head.
“Are you okay Jack?” Lilith asked.
He turned his head and looked at her, spittle hung sideways on his chin.  He grunted a half formed vowel sound then his eyes rolled away, breathing taking a front seat to talking.
“Jack, I need you to help me.  I’m decaying.  My body is wearing down and the only thing that can save me is your blood.”
He strained to move, ropy veins bulged from his neck.  “Oh Jack, please stop trying to fight it.  It will all be over very soon.”
He strained again, tears starting to roll down his face.  He pulled in enough air and said, “Please don’t do this.”
“I have to.  If I don’t I die.”
She stepped back and unzipped her skirt down the side.  She let it drop to the floor and stepped out of it.  She wore no panties; above her sweet spot the once curly red thatch of hair had gone over gray.  She unbuttoned her blouse, dropped it on top of the skirt, and then unclasped her bra.  She slowly pulled her hands away, revealing the prize hidden inside.  At one time her breasts left men hard and awkward, now they rested against her like half-filled water balloons, the nipples pointing at the ground.  She left her heels on. 
Jack tried to scream as she walked over to him but the tight belt and his immense size were too much. 
She pulled his shirt up, tucked it under his chin, and started massaging his bare chest.  She rubbed his nipples, licking her lips, as the little lumps grew hard between her fingers.
“Why are doing this to me?”
She stopped and looked at him. 
“Oh, poor Jackie,” she said swinging her leg over him, resting her ancient ass on his crotch, straddling him on the chair, bending her face close to his, her warm breath tickling the little hairs on his ear lobe.  He sobbed as she whispered the last words he would ever hear.
“Shhhhhh. Jackie, shhhhhhh.  Because you fit my demographic, you’re exactly what I’m looking for.  I guess you could say you’re my target audience.  Now no more tears.  I promise I won’t let this hurt a bit.”
She took the fingers of her right hand and pinched them together, keeping all the fingers as straight as possible, forming the tip of a spear.  She sat up a little, looking at his face, and then took her fingers and pushed them into his chest, tearing through the skin and muscle, finding the narrow space between two ribs. 
Jack’s eyes rolled back in his head, the numbness
blueness
quickly spread through his body.  She was right.  It didn’t hurt a bit.
Spreading her fingers, cracking the cartilage, she separated the ribs, pulling them away from Jack’s sternum.  With room to work, she pushed deeper, the tips of her fingers searching for the beating muscle below. 
Jack heard his chest crack and, as he slipped into the blue, wished for the warming rays of the mid afternoon sun.
She wrapped her hand around his heart, her head rocked back as the ecstasy of the pulsing orgasm traveled up her arm.  Her body convulsed once, violently, then she fell on him.  Breathing deeply, almost panting, she opened her mouth wide, sunk her teeth into his jugular and let the blood flow. 
From inside the blue Jack stared up, unblinking, listening to Lilith’s greedy gulps, thinking he almost did a good thing today.
10
Lilith looked at her reflection in the store window.  Her auburn hair, thick and full and free from the bun, rested on her shoulders.  She decided her profile, the rejuvenated breasts over a narrow waist, was nearly perfect and not a wrinkle on her skin.  Her gaze moved through her reflection and into Abercrombie and Fitch.  Standing at the cash register, returning a pair of shoes was a tan young man in khaki shorts. 
A new hunger grew in her, a spasm of nerves that began in a low, dark place then filled her entire body.  She squeezed her thighs together, feeling a long forgotten wetness. 
Khaki Shorts would fill this hunger, he would do it fine too, she could tell.  Then, once she had her fill, she would show him how to treat a woman.  Yes she would.  “Teach him a lesson that he won’t soon forget,” she thought.
Her cell phone vibrated.  Probably Adam checking in, wanting to know how the screening went with Jack.  It had been almost perfect.  She smiled at her reflection in the window and then walked into the store. 

 

 

 

 

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Old Comments

  • I really liked the observations of the three realities at the beginning of the story,

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/23  at  04:44 AM
  • Yup, I also like the observations of the three realities at the beginning of the story. Thanks!

    Posted by TV wall mounting  on  02/25  at  01:15 PM
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