“So I just sign on the dotted line?”
“That's what it's there for. Just a few quick strokes of your pen. Two seconds of your time. Really not that much considering. And then the contract will be in effect.” His small, dark eyes glisten as he says this to me, and I can't be sure but I swear I see droplets of saliva escape the sides of his mouth.
“It's such a big decision, though. Can I have a day or two to consider it?” I get that itchy sensation in the palm of my hand that always appears when something is not right. Ever since I was a child I could sense when I was about to fail a test, get in trouble at home or have an accident. As I grew the feelings faded, but when they came they were prominent. It was a warning sign. Something was not right.
“Sweetheart, if you sign on the dotted line right now, you will have an eternity to mull it over.” He sits closer to me, holding up a round mirror with a gloved hand. The pungent smell of the leather attaches itself to my nose hairs as if the gloves were just made and sent overnight from Tangiers. I am brought back to my trip to Morocco, right after high school, something I did to try and find myself. It is a benefit of having parents raised in the Free Love era; carte blanc to piss off the real world responsibilities and extend adolescence for a few more years.
I stayed with the family of a friend I'd made while volunteering at the hospital. Bibiana Fernández was a medical student, and we became fast friends the moment I heard her being summoned by one of the nurses. “You have a beautiful name,” I told her when we had a spare moment in the break room. “Where are you from?”
“Tangiers. Morocco. And my name is not so beautiful; it is a burden.” Bibiana had a most interesting accent that I couldn't place having never before met a Moroccan on the streets of Bridgeport, Connecticut. “My parents, they named me after this actress they admire. She is a man.” That revelation hung in the air for a few seconds before she laughed an infectious laugh. “It is a joke! The actress and I have the same name by chance only.”
Bibiana's parents had meager accommodations, nothing like I was used to, but I immediately felt as one of their own. I barely noticed that my bed was uncomfortable, or that the stench of livestock was embedded into the textiles. Mr. Fenandez made leather all day for a couture label, and when he returned home at the end of the day he added many new malodorous layers to the house. Upon returning to Connecticut, I had to launder my clothes three times to rid myself of what my mother called “that dead carcass smell.” I hardly noticed it.
His gloved hand, ever so close to my nose, smells just like the Fernandez's house.
“Have you ever been to Tangiers?” I ask him out of sheer anxiety.
“I've been everywhere,” he responds in a low whisper. “And now I'm here. With you.” I am unsure if his last statement is meant to make me trust him, but it has the opposite effect. My palm itches so much at this point that it's almost painful, as if a small fire is brewing in my hand. “Look at that beautiful, smooth face,” he says, making sure to angle the mirror so that the lesion in front of my left ear is not visible. “You must drive the men wild with your smile, right? I just bet you do!”
I let out a chuckle despite myself, even though I am very aware of the chill that runs up my spine. I'd never met a man that repelled and attracted me at the same time before. “You have to say that.”
“Don't be coy with me, Lillian. It's not becoming. You know you are a stunningly beautiful woman. I mean, even I was taken aback when you walked in!” The combination of reprehension and admiration in his tone confuses me. I try to turn my face to the right, to see the thing that ruins my reflection, but he keeps my head still. “No, Lillian. No.” He sits even closer, and his full lips are pulled taut as he exhales hot breath on my neck. “Don't you want to keep this beautiful, smooth, young face the way it is?”
He pulls away from me taking the mirror with him. “But what? I've written everything you asked for into the contract. What's there to think about?” He was soap opera handsome. The kind of man, if you could call him a man, that probably knows his way around a woman's body. His dark hair was perfectly coiffed to look carelessly tousled, and his eyes, his eyes were my favorite. They don't look at me, they look into me. It was the first thing I noticed when I walked in and faced the man behind the voice on the phone. They were cold eyes and yet, I didn't want them to stop looking at me.
“Forever. It's such a long time, I guess. It might be more than I bargained for, you know?”
He furrows his brow at my hesitation and I can tell his patience is waning. My chilled spine and burning palm send sensory alarms to my brain that all seem to yell run! But I cannot. Or, more accurately, will not. Part of me still wants to be here and sign the contract. It was me, after all, that sought him out. “Forever, my dear, is everything it promises to be and more.”
I take the hand mirror that he now slides over to me and hold it up in front of me. I do like my face. Very symmetrical, a painter on the streets of Manhattan told me once. After Tangiers I went to New York City to visit the son of a diplomat I met while staying in the Fernandez house. David. He was attending film school and invited me to crash with him before the term began. One night after a large seafood dinner in Little Italy, a middle-aged man stopped us as we turned onto Spring Street and he fixed his eyes on my face. He was carrying an over-sized blank canvas and an art case in one hand, and a computer bag in the other. His features were soft but dark, and I remember that it occurred to me David could be this man's son. He was what David might look like at age 50.
“Young lady, you’re beautiful!” he said. “Your face…it’s very symmetrical. Your fella is very lucky.” And just like that kept walking along Spring Street.
“That was odd,” David muttered.
“What? Don’t you think I’m beautiful?”
“Oh no, I’m not falling for that classic trap.”
“No look at me. Am I beautiful?” I made him stop walking and look at me like the middle-aged man looked at me.
“Yeah. I want to know.”
“If I were casting a movie, honestly, you'd get the role of the best friend and confidant.”
“Are you for real right now?”
“What? That's not a bad thing! Sometimes we just want the girl next door. The one that's more accessible. The leading lady has too many suitors, you know? It's easier to go after her friend. The chances are better.”
I nodded after every sentence, quietly constructing a to-do list in my head of everything I needed to repack once we got back to his apartment. David took my hand and smiled, gently pulling me in the direction of his building. “Are we good?”
“Yeah. We're fine.” I thought it easier to leave in the morning after we'd had sex one more time and he'd gone to register for classes. I didn't bother to leave a note.
*smooches...dipping my toes in the genres*
this is another baby that keeps getting turned down ::double frowny face::
Erasing Cedrick by Raquel I. Penzo is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.