From behind the dirty register, butterfly-knife safe in your back pocket, you try and bask in the glow of the magazine rack. Pasty fumes are thicker than blood in your veins. They pump from your aching heart that craves a grin of disdain, lips that promise everything but the chance to taste them. Sports, the rich, cars and cigars glare back at you from the closest racks . . . and none of these will do.
You need the blissfully mean one-hundred-watt smiles of the glamour girls whose unblinking eyes stare through you each and every shift. Silent, picture perfect rapture from dead still faces, the thin, rich beauty of air brushed Aphrodites torn from their bodies and stamped on a hundred covers, alive, real, and more than you can stand to be without.
And the trolls of normalcy block the view.
The pinched, powdery Belladonnas with sharp heels and accordion ankles kneel before mirror reflections of their glory days. Behind them, young lumps in layered camouflage stare silently at their narcissistic twins on the “after” side of the looking glass. Sad attempts at imitation clack gum and duplicitous disdain from their moving lips, and it makes you sick. A hole in your heart starts to crumble in on itself. Your breath becomes a crackling warble.
“Closing early, folks.”
The tap of heels and shuffle of flip flops fills the store as they begin their exodus, leaving behind the salacious mouths of glossy wonder, forever yours. Yours alone. Your chest aches . . . when a three-dimensional Aphrodite approaches the cash.
Her smile is as hidden as your blade, her contempt at dealing with a hideous normal like yourself is thicker than her perfume. She piles stacks of perfect smirks at the register with a practiced disdain cemented in her mannequin skin. And you wonder what it would be like to add her lips to your heart. Your chest itches. No, you think. She’s not worthy. You finish the sale, knife still hidden, and she doesn’t even offer you a fake goodbye smile.
Hurry. Close the door, hit the lock. Release the blade with an eager flick. Collect a mountain of magazines and strip the covers free, one by one, and cut them until all you have is a stack of pretty faces. Take them to your sour back room, crowded with magazines trapped in tight twine, faces peeking from the stacks at your final victory. Drown the cut faces in the sticky bowl of milky paste, all starch and chill, and caress them into a ball. Grow a fresh, grey heart, the size of a fist.
Bite. Swallow. Dream of bramble lips brightening the dark with red and your heart turns wet, grey, and full. They hate you, warden of smiles, but cannot strut away. You kiss every last one with a bite until sated, until your heart is made new, and you open for business again.
Jason is the author of the Spar Battersea thrillers (DEATH MATCH, CON JOB, and DICE ROLL), the short story collection KNOCKOUTS, and has published fifty stories in such magazines and anthologies as Out of the Gutter, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, EVOLVE II, and more. His popular non-fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld, Dark Scribe, and the Internet Review of Science Fiction. He’s a former punk rock musician and cemetery groundskeeper, and holds a Ph.D. in War Studies from the Royal Military College of Canada. Visit him at his writing blog, Ridlerville, (www.jridler.com) facebook, and on twitter at http://twitter.com/JayRidler