a short story by Stacey May Fowles
the fact that Marnie always wanted to be an outreach worker for
drug-addled street youth, she instead works as a perfume counter girl
at a major downtown department store on evenings and weekends.
This is partly due to the fact that Marnie’s mother told her
she didn’t have the stomach to be an outreach worker for the
drug-addled, and that Marnie’s boyfriend discouraged her from
studying to become an outreach worker because there was a need for
immediate income in the face of him doing his PhD in comparative
owns three knee-length black skirts, each one purchased at the same
mall in the same store for $19.99. Each skirt is a slightly different style and a uniform
requirement of her job as a perfume counter girl.
On the way to work each day she drops yesterday’s black
knee-length skirt at the drycleaner in the same mall where she is
perfume counter girl. The
elderly male attendant who she assumes is the owner and is always
behind the counter takes the skirt from her hands and stares straight
through her, telling her the cost daily through his nicotine stained
beard despite the fact that she has the cost memorized and therefore
always has exact change. The first few months she worked at the
perfume counter she waited for the old man in the drycleaner to
recognize her, acknowledge her return on one of her many skirt drop
offs, participate in some witty banter, but he never did and Marnie
gave up on waiting for him to do so.
drycleaner’s lack of witty banter is directly responsible
for Marnie’s debilitating fear that she will
become like the woman behind the counter at her local Hasty Mart. As the woman packs up Marnie’s six eggs and three tins of
cat food something in her face seems to suggest she has endured a
lifetime of being stared through.
doesn’t know the drycleaner has Alzheimer’s that will be
discovered by his doctor two weeks after they pull her boyfriend’s
body from the lake.
will be thirty soon.
her shift at the perfume counter and after making her purchases at the
Hasty Mart, Marnie goes home to the tiny apartment she shares with her
boyfriend who is doing his PhD in comparative literature and Marnie
stares into the bathroom mirror without unpacking the six eggs and
three tins of cat food. She
is looking for evidence that she does indeed exist, a way to validate
that she is still flesh and bone despite the fact that no one connects with her at any moment
during the day. She squeezes her cheek just to be sure as the cat curls around
her feet on the fraying blue bathmat.
The squeeze leaves a mark of vibrant pink and then the flash
fades suddenly into nothing. The cat looks up and meows to be fed. She forgets to unpack the eggs and put them in the fridge
before she goes to bed and therefore throws them into the garbage the
boyfriend, who is doing his PhD in comparative literature, hasn’t
been home in five days.
the day Marnie wakes around noon, and eats a poached egg on rye toast
while she reads the books she buys on the Internet. Daily they arrive in her mailbox from all over the world, first
editions, new releases and rare signed copies, each one read and then
carefully placed in alphabetical order in milk crates in the hall
closet. Aside from the
books, the hall closet also has hundreds of coat hangers in it, each
one from the drycleaner in the mall, given to her by a man who will
never recognize her despite the fact that she is there almost daily.
three in the afternoon Marnie showers and slips into a freshly
dry-cleaned black skirt, and depending on the day it is slim fitting,
A-Line or pleated. The
pleated skirt costs more to be dry-cleaned.
Marnie feeds the cat and checks the mail and takes the subway
to the mall. While she is on the subway she notices a rather large,
muscular man in a beer t-shirt with a shaved head and the name Carol tattooed all over his body.
The name is written in grand looping letters up his left calve,
contained in a bursting bleeding red heart on his right forearm, and
scripted small in the bulldog folds in the back of his neck.
is sure that Carol’s beauty is convincing.
boyfriend, who is doing his PhD in comparative literature, hasn’t
been home in six days.
tries her best to look pretty at the perfume counter, but in many ways
she cannot figure out why she was hired for a job that’s success is
dependant on how convincing her beauty is.
Marnie believes it to be unconvincing.
She believes that her boyfriend has left her for one of the
undergraduate students in a class he TA’s for, believes that the
undergraduate’s beauty is probably convincing, that the drycleaner
would see her and that she would never fear, would never become the
woman behind the counter at the Hasty Mart.
Marnie believes it is the undergraduate’s phone number she
found in the pocket of her boyfriend’s gray overcoat when she took
it to be dry-cleaned and was not acknowledged by the man who works
behind the counter. Marnie also believes the undergraduate student is the reason
she discovered she had Chlamydia at her last doctor’s appointment.
likes to leave messages without making contact over the phone, never having to
return inquiries directly, merely pressing a button and recording a
response onto someone’s voice mail.
She enjoys the lack of intimacy that technology affords her.
cannot recall a time in her life where she has been satisfied,
although she additionally cannot recall a time in her life where she
has actually complained about being dissatisfied.
boyfriend is bloated and blue, a heavy drinker who drove into the lake
and now lies there motionless as the waves lap the shore and his flesh
pulls and pops away from bone. The fish gnaw at his pockmarked skin as
Marnie daydreams of him making love to her, daydreams of him making
love to a petite blonde undergraduate student whose phone number she
found in his gray overcoat pocket.
boyfriend did his PhD in comparative literature simply because at
dinner and cocktail parties it seemed more appropriate to announce
academia as his vocation rather than “telemarketer.”
He hasn’t been home in seven days.
this, the seventh day, Marnie’s mother calls long distance from
their family home on the west coast while Marnie is poaching an egg
and watching the cat chase imaginary spiders across the living room
she says in her raspy pack-a-day voice, “you should really get out
more. Make some new
friends. Go out with the
girls in the cosmetics department.”
is doing his PhD in comparative literature and hasn’t been home in
seven days. A petite blonde undergraduate student is calling his cell
phone and getting his voice mail.
The petite blonde undergraduate student is assuming Michael has
decided not to leave his frumpy girlfriend and as a result she is now
plotting martinis with her girlfriends and make-out sessions with
strangers. Michael is at
the bottom of a lake in the driver’s seat of an ’84 Volvo being
eaten by fish.
and Michael have been together for three years.
Michael wanted Marnie to go and stay on the pill despite the
fact that it made her gain sixteen pounds and made her moods unbearable.
She had to buy three brand new knee-length black skirts because
she went up a waist size. Since
she went off the pill without telling Michael, she has gone up yet
another waist size. She
has an appointment at the women’s clinic on Friday, which will be
the ninth day Michael has failed to come home and the sixteenth day
Marnie has been late.
has never had an orgasm.
the eighth day the petite undergraduate student unexpectedly arrives
at Marnie’s front door at two in the afternoon.
She is wearing an emerald green mini-dress and a pair of patent
leather kitty heels. As predicted she is convincingly pretty and
Michael?” she asks without introducing herself.
the university,” Marnie replies, deadpan.
gave me Chlamydia.”
slams the door in the pretty blonde’s face and goes back to getting
ready for her shift at the perfume counter.
She can hear the undergraduate student call her an “ugly
cunt” from the other side of the door as she unsheathes a black
skirt from its gauzy plastic casing and slips a second black skirt
into her backpack.
be $4.36,” the drycleaner says.
know,” Marnie replies.
is almost thirty.
the ninth day Marnie has a conversation with a plump and pleasant
woman at the clinic about “options” and comes home to find that
the cat has killed and left her the body of a gray mouse on the
bathroom floor. There are
three messages on the answering machine.
The first is from the University stating that Michael has not
attended a week of tutorials, the second from Michael’s mother
wondering where he is, the third a series of curse words from the
petite blonde undergraduate student.
unplugs the phone.
the police arrive on the tenth day, her day off and a Sunday, Marnie
is picking out baby names and writing them in neat gendered columns in
a small steno pad. She
makes them a pot of coffee and answers all of their questions
last saw him on a Thursday. We
was wearing a torn black sweater and blue jeans.”
He didn’t seem distressed or out of sorts.”
have been together for three years.”
didn’t report it because I assumed he had left me for one of his
she Marnie didn’t say include:
didn’t care that he had left me.”
day we had lunch I told him I was late and he had too many gin and
tonics and as a result called me a miserable bitch.”
was suffocating me with his narcissism and self-absorption.”
am carrying his child because I was deceptive.
I am picking out names and writing them in neat gendered
columns on this steno pad that is lying between us on the kitchen
table. I don’t want him to be involved. In fact, if he is dead I
would feel a sense of morbid relief because I despise my life and have
allowed him to become the architect of it.”
is no longer the architect of Marnie’s despised life. Michael is at the bottom of a lake in the driver’s seat of
an ’84 Volvo being eaten by fish and receiving angry, pleading voice
mail messages from a blonde undergraduate student.
the twelfth day they pull the ’84 Volvo and Michael’s blue and
bloated body from the bottom of the lake.
Marnie receives a message stating that she is required to come
and identify the body, a body that is wearing a torn black sweater and
blue jeans. On the way
home from the morgue she buys six eggs and three tins of cat food from
the Hasty Mart.
is discovered that the owner of the drycleaner has Alzheimer’s and
his thirty-eight year old daughter who has never married and likes it
that way temporarily replaces him behind the counter.
list of baby names, neatly written in a steno pad on the kitchen
table, exceeds one hundred possible choices. During the week that
Michael’s body has been found she has been busy transcribing
them into a separate list, this one in alphabetical order.
following week when she returns to work she drops off a black knee
length skirt at the drycleaner and pays $4.36 in previously counted
must come here often,” the drycleaner’s daughter says.
© 2006 Stacey May Fowles
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