Once I Made Shit Up
JUST ABOVE TOUCHING
I like to watch how fingers go. It’s what I’ve decided wrapping is for--the very act, the encircling of something, not by paper, but by hands moving paper. As a kid I was always fascinated by the "this is the church and this is the steeple" game, the way the hands’ cathedral could tornado up into something special, and nothing more than fingers. With wrapping, I have learned it’s why we can toss the paper away: the hands still hover, like a peace dove at its light work, like those people I can’t quite dismiss as crazy, the macrobiotic ones draped in crystals who insist they can rub down your aura. You know the ones--their hands just off your body and everywhere, just above touching.
That’s how this one--“Welcome to Macy’s! CAROL”--does it.
No. She doesn’t. She’s awkward with the foiled paper, edging it as if the perfume box were a gemoetry answer she wasn’t sure of. My eyes are enough to fluster CAROL, and the silence requires filling. “Oh, it doesn’t have to be neat, it’s for my sister anyway. She’ll think I wrapped it if it’s less than perfect.”
CAROL giggles, as if working me for a tip, and her hands go, slower even, trying to make lines right, angles sharp. Her hands move like a knife in chilled butter. My cue, however much intended to be tender, leaves her more vulnerable, as I also planned, as I know.
Closetsful of perfumes await a sister I don’t have, but love dearly. This sibling excuse has given me these many moments, times to wonder at hands and how they can go about any business at all in a body where brains, hormones, heart all battle like a WWF cage match. To still this body I’m in, this mine, I wrap my toes around the high, stiffly padded stool, feeling like a contestant on the Dating Game.
I get to watch CAROL watch her wrapping. She is forced to wear some imitation lab coat that leaves her looking more like a waitress at a cheesy joint where sanitary seems essential, and the chef, some guy named Sluggo, peers into vats of soups, wishing he could unroll the Camels in his t-shirt’s folded sleeve. Still, the coat’s white sets off her raven hair in sharp relief, like watching colorized movies with the color turned off, that black and white always threatening to dip into the Crayolas. Such drama Ted Turner doesn’t seem to understand, the need for shadows, the hope for the yet unseen. This CAROl’S hair cascades, like Lauren Bacall’s over a scotch and soda, like Veronica Lake’s and all the Lake-a-like Rosie the Riveters with their caressing tresses spilling over ball turrets, over B-17s. No wonder we won the war.
Still, even with such an Angel Falls of hair, CAROL’S fingers fret; the ribbon she cut isn’t long enough and she hesitates, as if tossing the nine-but-should-be-ten inch strand might lead old man Macy himself to rain corporate hell down upon her. They have trained this one well. I resist plucking one wayward strand--dangled seductively like a lascivious participle--black on her white lab coat. The counter is a no man’s land, rigged with every fear that matches my heart’s desires.
Even the perfume counter, even in a city like this one, well, I’ve come to learn all rules are ex post facto. Suddenly, you’ve crossed the line, and like Wile E. Coyote, have given up land for air, with one moment to wave goodbye. Why waste time with apologies?
That one time, a name I’ll always recall, her nametag beaming Lily--she had even drawn the “y” like a flower--at me, and I had asked her to sample the perfume for me, something with a name like Jasmine Nights or Heath Romp, or something vaguer, like Scent of Scent, something from a bottle both yonic and phallic, a bottle that needed a cigarette, a bottle that hungered. She obliged. She daubed the scent south of her ear lobe, the invisible place a face hides, a triangle shaded by cheek, chin, hair, a place where lyric poets go to die, where John Keats coughed nightingales. Obligations ended, as I moved close, closer to the spot, her neck birhmarked and lovely. Before I, let alone she, knew it, my lips brushed her neck as if I were an archaeologist unearthing an ionic column on some Attic lawn and were so lost in love with history that I felt I had to repay it its kindness for waiting for me for centuries. For me it only had to be days, minutes, breaths, since dawn, and this Lily left someone who could know this neck better than his own. The glory of necks--they always belong to another, one always on the way to love. It hardly had to do with perfume. I actually giggled, the soft down quivering in my breath; in the perfume, my lips tickled.
Lily didn’t move quickly, but moved, stunned by how our assigned roles had broken down, how words like customer, work, American Express, turned blurry. I knew enough not to buy anything, money couldn’t cover such a mistake, only solidify it into a purchase. I did my best to run without running.
“Thinking of a lover?” CAROL teases, watching me now.
“Necks to nothing,” I mumble, taking the package, thinking of my closets and my perfumes for no one, and how every day is like a gift of clothes, a shirt, say, which even as adults doesn’t really thrill us, but we smile that thank you smile, we have come to know that much. Of course, the shirt never quite fits, but we wear it anyway.