November 02, 2009

Hunters Chapter 2

Sarah stared at the pink-feathered headwear. She hated it. It wasn't necessarily the absurdity. She couldn't imagine that men's eyes ventured as far upward as her head, let alone another six inches above it. Mostly she hated the headaches that the shitty wire straps gave her after each show. The plastered fake smile she wore hurt her face enough. Now her mouth was relaxed into a neutral position as she inspected in the mirror the reddish indentations left on her forehead.

Carl's belly appeared beside her head, but she didn't acknowledge his presence. She knew where his beady eyes were focused but there was no point in discouraging him. He was the manager, simple as that. He knew enough to not mess with merchandise, but at the same time, he knew it was his. Besides, in this case, his interest was strictly professional.

She shuddered as his flab brushed against her neck and a bunch of flowers dropped onto the table before her with a click.

"Flowers, Carl? You shouldn't have."

He grunted. "And you know I wouldn't. Your friend Jesse was here again and he left these for you. He wanted to come backstage too. Don't say I never did nothin' for ya."

Sarah massaged her temples. "You never did, Carl." She listened to another series of grunts as he waddled back to his office. She inspected the flowers. Standard fare. She hated plastic flowers for two reasons. From books she'd learned that the natural thing to do with flowers was to run and place them in water, perhaps spend a few moments admiring them. If she were to do that now, she could be sure that the madness associated with her profession had finally set in.

The first reason wasn't really important. A simple reactionary distaste when presented with the absurd. No, she hated plastic flowers because they didn't die. Real flowers, she understood, were beautiful in their transience, now all the more significant because of their scarcity. Plastic flowers were a contradiction too profound to consider. Your love, Pastor Jesse, is as permanent, unchanging, and utterly common as these beautiful homogeneous flowers? She gathered them together and shoved them into the drawer.

Seeing that Carl's door had closed, she began to change out of her work clothes, pausing to admire herself wearing only a pair of new blue jeans. Her work did occasionally have certain perks, she supposed, and she gave herself another five years of looking good doing it. And then maybe another five after that. She leaned in close to the mirror and ran the back of her hand along her jaw. Everyone agreed when they saw her fully clothed that it was the defining element of her appearance. Her perfectly defined jaw leading straight to her cartoonishly angular ears. It was the only reason Carl allowed her to defy company policy and keep her black hair short.

She waited for Claire to finish her act. One of Carl's almost admirable mandates was that no girl should ever walk home alone after work. A few times he'd even walked her home himself, which made her nervous the first few times. He'd never tried anything, which for a while concerned her more, considering she knew that it couldn't be his consummate professionalism that kept his hands off her.

In an ingrained series of motions, Claire glided through the door and kicked off the six-inch heels that she wore on stage to accentuate her already conspicuous height. Moments later she was supine upon the couch, her legs hanging a full foot and a half off the end. Sarah waited for the obligatory melodramatic sigh.

"Those fucking heels are ridiculous once they're all that's left, aren't they? It's more of a freakshow than it is anything else," Claire moaned, rolling her eyes toward Sarah.

"Nonsense, Claire. They stay to see you because you're the most beautiful one." Sarah used to try to think of the right thing to say until she realized that this was a necessary ritual for Claire.

"Yeah," snorted Claire, "they stay and watch because none of them would have a clue what to actually do with me." She grinned. "Do you think they're scared?"

"Definitely." It must have gotten busy out there, Sarah realized. As much as Claire complained, Sarah knew that she thrived on the spotlight. After finishing a well-attended show, she put in her perfunctory ennui but before long she couldn't hide her excitement. It was on those nights that she became like a banished goddess, drawing energy from her male admirers and dancing herself into a fervor that might someday return her to heaven for good.

Sarah watched as Claire closed her eyes and allowed her feet to drift to the floor. Together they listened to the dissonance flowing from the main room. Carl learned a few years ago that the best way to drive out the lingering men was simply to allow the musicians to play whatever music they wanted. It also kept the musicians docile.

Once the rowdy shouts and shuffling feet faded away, a lone violin dominated the air, only occasionally punctuated by a few beats from the piano and drums. Sarah never could believe that this music was written in the time before the invasion. She felt one with the violin in such a way that no Sarah from before could have felt. Everything she'd read or heard from back then seemed so much brighter, hopeful. Some prescient songwriter had written her music hundreds of years before she was born, before her experiences were even possible. Did the people before really ever feel this way?

The office door swung open. "Are you really staying to listen to this shit? Go home and do whatever it is you girls do there." Larry filled the doorway, he and the smoke trailing from his cigarette completely backlit. Claire stared at his silhouette uncomprehending for a few moments, finally blinking awake into a smirk. She stood before him, gigantic and perfect, daring him to ogle her.

Sarah could see that he was trapped, but Carl wasn't about to back down. He gave her a cursory appraisal before turning around. "Guess it was a good night, huh Claire? Well, that's good for both of us. Go on. Get dressed and be gone by the time I finish with the books."

Aware again of Claire's body, Sarah began to feel uncomfortable as well and wished that she would get dressed already. Still, she knew better than to interrupt Claire's post-work ritual. Unless a five-minute silence was part of the piece, the musicians had finished. There was nothing left to stay for.

Sarah went to her desk, found her knife, and placed it in her belt. She inspected herself in the mirror, to be sure that the knife was subtly conspicuous enough. "OK, Claire. I'm ready when you are."

Five minutes later, the two women walked out on to the abandoned streets of New Birmingham.

1 comment:

Quill said...

Ok, Grace. You win. For now.