The cold case at the Fabco was a glass coffin, custom made to hold the corpses of poisoned princesses as they lay in state, five or six end to end, the difference depending on how tall they’d been in life.
But a search of common knowledge discovered a fairytale market suffering and electrical contracting booming, so, naturally, the long, cold, window-walled box had found its purposeful home at the supermarket.
She thought about this while counting out her money. She thought quickly because there were only a few coins to count.
Her posture poked out her shoulders like elbows in the wrong place when she drew up to protect something small, or to put into a secretly chambered ring a poison pill, or to take one out.
The compressor hummed. Its hot air blew on her feet. Its frigid air vapored up to gather in her arms. Warm feet, she had, and a frostbitten heart. A mechanical irony. Followed closely by the price of frankfurters. But that was social irony and she was bobbling after a supperless night, an unbreakfasted morning and noontime. Social comedy weighs heavy on emptiness, so she dropped it.
She left the coffined cases and found the Ramen. Four for a dollar for the add-hot-water kind. She bought three, and after her fair share of the taxes that pay for roads, schools, county hospitals, cleanliness inspectors at slaughter houses, and the salaries of firemen, she took home thirteen cents. Four days more bought in a simple in and out minute at the flipping Fabco and plenty of time to come across more money for day five. That was nearly another week. Week days, so they counted more.
Sitting in her apartment room that afternoon over the steam curling off the greenly broth swimming high in its Styrofoam cup, she pictured the dead princesses, their foreclosed resting place, their tiny percentage of public money going to feed their estate—which probably included their murderer, their dresses fading, hair ribbons unwinding, bodies growing thinner than hers by far, and she hoped, with the muster of the army of her appetite, that wherever they had finally gone to sleep down eternity, they didn’t dream of anything so mundane as hunger.
I wasn’t some messed up teen trying to earn beer money. I was almost thirty, at a weird place in life, and I was on my knees scrubbing the floor of an apartment laundry room with a chemical agent the inhalation of which, the bottle clearly stated in toxically red letters, had been “associated with certain types of brain tumors.” It was a gossamer thin threat when stood up beside the prospect of starvation or homelessness or moving in with relatives. I had taken this job as a last harbor before the abyss, but there was a hook that made the job work on me, reciprocally cast. I had this idea that I was soft, that I deserved on some padded and flabby level of my soul to spend my life pumicing oven soot, bleaching toilet rust and living on the twelve bucks a week I had left after rent and utility bills. This kind of degradation has its breaking point, but to work and live poor, you have to have a high threshold of tenacity, so I lasted longer than was reasonable even while it ate me alive.
After hours and hours locked in the laundry room, pouring the red-labeled chemical agent onto the floor in seeping puddles, scrubbing the puddles into thickening swirls, and then scraping the filthy swirls up with a trowel, the fumes overcame me—at some point all the little disappearing bubbles of cruddy shellac began to resemble a gallery of oblique eyes in cartoon faces, blinking and searching as they dissolved. I could not leave without going back to the office to ask for the key to get back in again. Since this was forbidden, I stayed, as did the bubbling crowds that had come to join me. The higher I got on the smell, the less I noticed strangeness. I swirled them. I named them. I separated the sexes and brought them back together. I allowed them their wars and annihilated the victors in a perversely joyful justice. They animated evolution in resistance to my knife.
Roiling around in a pre-Homeric, glorified chorus of oh-what-are-you-doing-with-your-life, the faces of muck were warning, lamenting, directing some nonspecific act of high drama. I kept cutting them off, wiping them out in floor-faced acts of genocide or I would pool the poison over them and they would macerate like old fruit on fast forward only to reappear again under my shin bones with a deep socketed, slow staring fixation. I heard them say my name, all of them, jawing and tonguing together, realizing my godhead and offering me the crown, the achievement of the creator. All were intent upon my Jehovah. I ran, which was a godly act.
Revised from first publication (Originally “Girl on a Floor” by Shelly K Weathers in 400 Words, 15 July 2007).