BY JAMES D. REED
I’m secretly in love with and often envision stalking the shoe sales clerk. But once she knows I’m deformed, knows my body under this cheap JCPenney Stafford suit is crooked/off-center/warped, that the left side is woefully and intentionally obscured by this suit because that side is different and nearly a part of another being when compared to the right, I am afraid she may know in the future if things go right and as planned (but they never will, not once she discovers my weird lopsided physical atrophic strangeness) — she will know that not only is my right arm an inch longer that the left, but that one ear is noticeably lower than the other (only if studied closely under extremely amorous and erotic examination — of course not possible once the shoe sales clerk has viewed my nude malformations hovering over her supine, willing form which again is something not astrally feasible). And so I am paranoid about our honeymoon which will never happen in a million or, perhaps, even a greater amount of years. She will see close at hand the oddness of my private parts, portions of which are nonsymmetrical and are not entirely operational for such erotic adventures as consigned to a 23-year-old Big & Tall department sales clerk who is neither excessively big or tall. Also, she’ll not help but see my right eye droops as if palsied, although this is deftly camouflaged by dark transition-type glasses I pay a premium for. And on close inspection in a situation where the shoe sales clerk is near enough to kiss me — which, again, impossible once I am exposed as a mutant — it will be revealed that both my eyes hold different hues, focus, and bulbaceousness. Which will just freak her out.
According to the little badge pinned over the adorable breast of her recently on-sale Liz Claiborne pantsuit, her name is Paula DuMonte. Although admittedly it just reads “Paula”. I’ve deduced the DuMonte part quite adroitly by hearing the store walker who has, I think, creepy designs re: Paula, greet her by that surname prefixed by “Ms.”. She’s a sweet girl, quiet and submissive to customers — which is one reason her department manager berates Ms. Paula for not being more aggressive and pumping up the virtues of high-end Propet Cicely Cutout Flats going for like $99.98/pr. Nice eyes she has, too. I got near enough one afternoon by stumbling at her feet feigning clumsiness (not hard to do) and she sort of helped me up off the showroom floor. The eyes, I see for the couple held-breath seconds afforded me, are hazel with a hint of green speckles at the outer edges. Sexy, hexy, exciting me into further fantasies of our life together which will never occur, who am I kidding?
A frequent customer to my department, who waddles in once a month like a bull rhino and who has by now been rewarded my strictest confidence, orders several more pairs of size XXXXL jockey shorts with the specialty sideways (as opposed to the manufactured vertical) opening for his possibly eccentric private member. Which I shudder and embarrass myself for imagining. These undergarments are sewn especially by a contracted seamstress who does work like this on a moment’s notice and doesn’t even look askance at this type of order. I’m thinking maybe she does odd orders for other departments here at WestGate Mall’s JCPenney anchor store. I’m thinking what about three-tiered bras and Velcro lingerie and longjohns with a side-flap and maybe men’s crew socks size 32 quadruple-wide for people perhaps more distorted than me. Which only inflames more self-doubt about any ardent or even mildly arousing adventures with Ms. Paula.
My fear of fears is that Ms. Paula, who seems to see me (so far I hope and believe) as maybe endurably normal, will catch me in the act of what I profess is entirely justifiable shop-lifting. Or as I prefer to call it: shopshifting. Which is where I wait for her to administer to a shopper way across the floor while I surreptitiously prowl the men’s shoes section for a matching set of 9 ½ and also size 10 wingtips, maroon preferred. I switch out one of the 9 ½s and stuff it back into the tissued box along with one of the 10s and then tuck the box containing the other 9 ½ and 10 back on the shelf unseen and take my booty (haha) to Ms. Paula’s register. I will ask her to ring it up with my 15 percent employee discount and hope she is none the wiser re: my switcheroo. Which she nonetheless, with my luck or lack thereof, will discover days or, maybe if I am indeed lucky, even weeks later. Then, alas, Ms. Paula puts two and two together and formulates the idea that my deformities — now made obvious by the defect of my feet — might well extend to ears, arms, eyes and other body parts she in no way would ever want to witness, even within the veil and sanctity of wedded bliss. Which once more I have to repeat will never come to pass.
Might Ms. Paula DuMonte deign merely to accompany me at break time to the food court for a coke or tacos or fruit salad, or whatever? Let alone an actual date/movie/drinks at my place or hers? Would she, knowing these secrets, these horrible flaws? Without a doubt my feverish prayers say: Please dear God yes why not? But it will not come to pass, because Ms. Paula has spurned my awkward and quite feeble encouragements and has been recently dating the floor walker. And so I find my way to the roof of WestGate Mall’s JCPenney anchor store which is, admittedly, a mere 40 feet above the parking lot pavement, but nonetheless just the ticket for my swan dive, my swan song, my final soaring release of unrequited passion.
James D. Reed’s stories have been published in print by Midwestern Gothic, Big Pulp Magazine, Flights, Mystic Signals, and The Nebraska Review, among others; and in many online venues including Fast Forward Festival, Golden Key, 4th Floor, Forever Onward! Review, and Long Story Short. An ad copywriter and graphic artist, Jim and his wife live on a ten acre woodlot near Collinsville, Ohio.