"I am in search of the perfect man. Does he exist? Probably not. So am I destined to become an old woman who is slowly being fumigated to death by the rank stench of cat piss? Oh my God - Alice - it could happen."
I was sitting in the windowless employee break room at McGrady's Department Store drinking cold coffee from a Styrofoam cup and telling my problems to a seventy-three year old deaf-mute woman named Alice. Life was pretty grim. Against my will, I had been forced to wear a Santa hat, which came complete with a jingle bell that jingled every time I took a breath. The hat only complimented the huge wreath shaped nametag that had been pinned to my black sweater, which screamed, "MY NAME IS TINA! MERRY CHRISTMAS!" to anyone who came within a few feet of me.
Alice and I shared the only table in the room, sitting across from each other in cold metal folding chairs. The break room was claustrophobic and offered very little comfort. I breathed deep. The jingle bell on the hat chimed and I cringed. Every minute - on the minute - the time clock near the coffee maker made a sharp punching noise - calibrating each painful moment I was being forced to spend in retail purgatory.
Alice stocked the shelves at McGrady's, something she had done for the last four hundred years, or since the store first opened. She kept to herself and shuffled around, putting away one item at a time. Now, she sat hunched over a micro waved Tupperware bowl of clam chowder soup. Her right hand trembled slightly as she brought a pink plastic spoon to her hungry wrinkled mouth. I watched her carefully, waiting for her to spill. She was a quaint, friendly looking woman in powder blue polyester pants, a dark blue button up cardigan sweater that I was certain she had knitted herself and pair of Christmas tree earrings that looked so heavy her earlobes practically reached down to her knees. Her hair, cut short and permed tightly, was tinted to match the almost orange streaks of blush across her sagging cheeks. She caught my eyes for a moment and she swallowed the bite of creamy soup slowly, almost cautiously. From the hesitant and furtive glare she was giving me, it was clear that Alice was trying to figure out why I was staring at her. I felt the need to explain my emotional state to her, although I knew that her hearing aid had suffered an early demise last Tuesday in a Chicago blizzard and her lip reading skills were minimal at best. I purged on.
"Christmas is in a week and my life sucks. My ex-boyfriend, Shawn - the drunk, psychotic and sometimes schizophrenic bastard who justified having an affair with a college cheerleader as something he needed to do to prove to himself that he really loved me - well, he left me with nothing. Not even a friggin' Christmas tree, Alice. He emptied out our joint bank account and he withdrew all of my self-esteem. While I was serving Thanksgiving dinner at a homeless shelter, he packed up his stuff and he left. I came home to our apartment, expecting a little turkey and some mashed potatoes shared intimately between two people who were slowly losing interest in each other. Instead, he left a note on the coffee table that explained he and the pom-pom girl were moving to Florida - Boca Raton to be exact - to help his Uncle Earl with their family's flourishing alligator farm."
Alice froze for a moment, her plastic spoon mid-air dripping with soup. A strange, sorrowful expression crept across her old face. She blinked a few times, put down her spoon and reached for a sandwich bag of Saltines. I gulped down the last sip of black coffee and I shivered from the aftertaste. The jingle bell chimed and I bit my lip, vowing silently to not swear profusely.
"I cried for two hours, Alice. By the third - and a bottle of Captain Morgan's Spiced Rum later - I realized that I had never been in love with Shawn. But I was pissed because I would never get the chance to tell him what a lousy kisser he was and, 'No, Shawn. I'm sorry. Size does matter'. I had been holding that in for the eleven months and sixteen days that we had pretended to be in love."
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David-Matthew Barnes' fiction and poetry have appeared in anthologies and
literary journals, nationwide, including The Comfusion Review, California
Quarterly, Poetic Voices, Oasis Magazine and Down In The Dirt. His stage
plays have appeared in several anthologies including The Best Stage Scenes of
2000. Barnes wrote and directed the independent coming-of-age film, Frozen
Stars. Current obsessions include trashy novels by Olivia Goldsmith, Parker
Posey movies and anything sung by Jane Jensen.