(note: started looking through some of my old work and decided I need to just write. no excuses. I think I've rewritten the following piece at least ten times in the past 3 years. and I probably will again. still doesn't have a title.)
I sold bras and panties for a living. I displayed them on tables and neatly folded them in drawers below; the cotton and silk billowing out of the over-stocked bins. Pale pinks, yellows and blues stuffed and stacked to perfection, packaged and presented like frilly bite-sized candies fit for Marie Antoinette. I folded and refolded, stacked and restacked, ran my fingers across the tops of them, trying to fill my time in this vacuous store. It was Valentine's Day in Massachusetts and there was a blizzard in the making outside.
Women floated in, fingered the pink and red satin push-ups, plucked out matching panties, mulled over nighties then sought me out to ask, "May I try this on?" or, "Can I purchase these here?" The occasional man would awkwardly step in, gawk for a while, and either ask my opinion or hastily make a purchase and wait while I wrapped his plans for the evening in pink tissue paper. I provide the costuming, they provide the stage; all of these stages.
I smelled the perfume before I saw her face. She had coated herself in it, a flower force-field that permeated the fifteen-foot radius around her. Her click-clacking heels deliberately walked up to one of my freshly folded tables, at which point she bent her body to the very back of one pile and wrenched out three pairs. All the blue, yellow, and pink posy prints toppling over themselves--bowing to this woman. Briefly she smoothed her hand over the disheveled pile then marched up to my annoyed face.
"Just these please," her voice, milky and demanding, escaped through carefully lined, berry-red lips with wrinkles creasing her eyes and neck, her bright-brown, dyed hair pulled into a loose bun. The sleek, business-like green rayon suit etched out a curvy middle-aged body and I feigned a smile as I rang up the three pairs of plain, white, cotton panties.
"Oh, I love these. They fit so well," I lied.
"I know. I had to stop in and get some before going home."
"Be careful," I said, "I hear it's snowing like crazy out there."
"Oh I know! That's what all my customers have been saying."
"Do you work in the mall?"
"Tiffany's," she said so authoritatively. Tiffany's. The pink tissue paper tore in my suddenly sweaty fingers.
"Oh...that's...nice," my words stammered across the counter to this brown-eyed, aged woman. I couldn't take my eyes off that messy table and I remembered the day I found out that Tiffany's was not a glorious cafe filled with the most decadent breakfast foods known to man--contrary to the stage set by pop stars in the nineties. They didn't cater breakfast to the likes of Audrey Hepburn either. They sold rocks. Sparkly rocks. This brown-eyed woman sold sparkly rocks on the lower level of the mall; costume jewelry.
My eyes wandered over to the messed up panty table. Prior to this disturbance my store was immaculate: the push-ups, the nighties, the frills--all in their right place. My fingers itched to properly size and smooth the disheveld panties. Everything had to be perfect in this store, in this stage. Did white cotton panties need a stage?
The high-heeled woman swiped and signed while I held out a bright pink bag filled with her practical garments. Our brown eyes caught each other for a brief moment.
"Drive safe on those roads," I cautioned.
"Oh, I will; I can manage. I hear it's only gonna get worse though." The words knifed through me.
"Happy Valentine's," I said as her click-clacking heels took her flower force-field out the glass doors and back into the mall.
I eyed the clock, still a couple hours left until close. Slumping my body over the counter, head in hands, I stared at the pile of panties to be folded. The customers stopped coming but I didn't notice. Those pink and yellow posied panties hunched up and glared at me but my body couldn't move. My fingers still itched to fold them down, size them, prettily display them; yet, there they lay and my hands remained beneath my chin just feet away.
I don't remember how long I held that pose. I snapped out of it when my manager came in to tell me the mall was closing early because of the blizzard outside.
"So you can go home," like it was supposed to be a relief. I sighed and went into the backroom to grab my coat and bag. Walking back out into the store my sense of pride at the neatly organized bras and hangers vanished and I felt the posy panties watching me. I walked up to the one messy table and turned to face the pile. My brown eyes stared back at the frills then settled on the white cotton ones in the back. Swiftly I grabbed the white stack and placed them in front shoving the frills to the back. I bit my lower lip, stepped back to analyze this new plain display. Why the frills? Why the costumes? I jammed my hands into my coat pockets, and turned toward the front glass doors. I marched out, pressed the elevator to the lowest parking garage level and wondered what the roads were going to be like.