I’m not what you call a danger-loving guy; never was. Not into rock climbing or up for water skiing. Spelunking down some caves in Texas? No, thank you. And steak and potatoes was always good enough for me, nothing too Indian or too Thai. Still, there are always instances in a man’s life when the power of imagination runs short and reality takes a big, juicy bite from your behind.
Point in fact: they always said she was danger, her with the hourglass pupils, a bad influence. I heard that spiel a thousand times. “The devil is inside her,” they would say. Or, “That’s no woman, that’s a succubus”. And yet there I was, doing what I never could have imagined I would do: dating her. Not like I had much choice, anyway; I’m not the shiniest stud in the stable, know what I mean? When opportunity knocks, you lay down the red carpet; say yes, master; and oh, please.
I met her at the parking lot (I work for a software firm, you see; great benefits, vertical growth opportunities, and free parking). I remember seeing her climb down from her 1967 El Dorado and thinking that was no womanly vehicle at all. Prejudice is sticky, I know. But the rest of her? Oh, boy, was that womanly! Her legs were thin and long, two mauve pillars of perfection. She wore her hair up in a tight bun that crowned an elongated face worthy of a Roman goddess. In between, a slender body tucked in a pristine black suit kept both ends marvelously coordinated. In my head her name was Sublime, and I never stopped calling her that.
We reached the main gate together and I kept my head down as to prevent my clumsiness from interfering with her poise. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I had chosen to remain behind instead of trying to sneak past her. She would have probably found a different toy to play with. But as it happened, she used her harmonious voice to beckon me.
“Excuse me,” she said, looking lost. Her voice had a coy, almost childlike quality to it that made it impossible for anyone to ignore it. “Could you please tell me where SPS is? I’m sort of new.”
I met her gaze and her skittish smile completed the job of getting me hooked on her.
“Yes, ma’am. I happen to work there myself,” I said, feeling redundant and fidgeting my briefcase.
“That’s wonderful,” she exclaimed and lit up like a Christmas tree. She gave me her name then, but as I told you, to me, it didn’t matter.
“Actually, I usually get coffee before heading down there,” I ventured, boldness coming out from who knows where. “I could give you the grand tour and then treat you. You know, a welcome present.”
I was putting all eggs in one basket, yessir.
She looked at me with a quizzical frown, and sized me up and down as if trying to determine if I was a pervert.
“Sounds like a plan!” she yipped in that acute voice of hers and that was it.
To be honest I had everything served on a dinner platter, so don’t give me much Don Juan credit. She turned out to be more than forthcoming, grabbing me by the arm as we walked through the hallways. I would point out some inane feature of our venerable building and she would show unusual excitement, no matter how dull the landmark. Almost at the end of the expedition, while I remarked on the non-gourmet quality of the coffee there and held my cup to my lips to blow on it and cool it down, she tiptoed, put her face right on the other edge of the styrofoam container and inhaled deeply.
“It smells delicious,” she said, her hourglass eyes just inches away from my very mundane hazel orbs.
That was pretty much the beginning of it all.
Now, you’re probably running through your mind the idea that she was a quick gal, a fill de joie, if you’re feeling fancy (I’m not one for crassness, sorry). And, in continuing with the streak of honesty that I intend to convey, I tell you in the clearest of terms: yes she was and no she wasn’t.
She was not a woman of easy virtue, as I began realizing down the road. She was, rather, an easy to please lady. She loved plain food, she was a sucker for B movies, and she complained about pretty much nothing. Perhaps that’s what I cherished the most about her: she allowed me to be myself and to enchant her with very little effort. And once she picked me (which I believe took place at the time of that initial assessment by the sliding doors) she never had eyes for anyone else. Not for the jocks that drowned the local pub with their boisterous banter and their bulging muscles, not for the higher ups at the company and their talk of revenue and houses in The Hamptons. She was mine and I was hers, completely.
Now, about the part where she was indeed what you think she was, well, we’ll get to that later.
But allow me to go back on the topic of the eyes and her mallow-like skin tint. I will consider it a normal thing for you to question the ability of an entire town to ignore someone bearing such blatant anomalies. The truth of the matter is, we didn’t ignore them, we just didn’t care that much. We are one of those towns that tread with delicacy (or perhaps nonchalance) across the line that divides the modern and the mind your own business. So while we all found it odd, we never dared ask.
But I did. Once.
“Oh, that?” she said while bending over to retrieve a Coca-Cola from the vending machine. “I’m an alien.”
“Really? What country?”
Don’t believe the stereotypes. Some of us nerds might have the smarts when it comes to all things tech, but not all of us have the kinks. The freak. I just didn’t compute that way as quickly as others. And as I told you, not the sharpest knife in the rack.
“That kind of alien,” I said, embarrassed, after seeing her questioning raised eyebrow.
“I’ll tell you over dinner tonight, sweetpants,” she said, and blew me a kiss. “Now, get me that query module I’ve been asking you for eons.”
She sauntered away like she only could and I was about to step out of the snack room as well when my boss, Mr. Stiltman, put a hand on my shoulder and stopped me. If you knew Mr. Stiltman, with his broad back, stern jaw, and a head that, at sixty, was still full of hair, you’d know there’s no way to ignore such a towering presence.
“Are you sure you’re doing the right thing, son?” he asked, face full of concern.
The modus operandi of the town was to do things by the book, always. You are friendly, you are nice, and you keep everything cordial. Behind closed doors, however, the critiques took a viper nest turn and they usually encompassed everything that appeared questionable under the community’s corked up moral code. Mr. Stiltman caught me in a place not quite private nor public, so admonitions had to be veiled.
“I’m sure you have plenty of other choices,” he added.
“That’s the thing about choices, boss,” I replied. “When you’re happy with the one you took, why make another?”
I turned my back to him and fled.
Anyway, her real story was this, no aliens: there was a vaudevillian gene running through her family on her mother’s side; made their skin funny and their eyes strange. The thing tended to skip three or four generations, but when it stroke, social interactions usually resulted in human barbecue or ground meat, stone-o-matic style, as recorded by history, so they kept mostly to themselves. She had felt secure now, in these novel times. Her mother had been mortified, as was expected, but she had believed in the independence of the women of today. Plus, having been home-schooled and board-certified, she was theoretically ready to whatever the real world could throw her way, and that was her ticket out of anonymity. I ate the whole plate up, of course. A little lunch straight from Minnessota.
“Wow,” I said between sips of Chardonnay, the only type of wine I knew how to order.
“I know!” she replied. “Makes you think twice, huh? Whether you want to pop some seedlings with me or not.” Then she continued eating chicken wings. Nothing more was said on the matter.
As you might have guessed, that conversation led to me seeing her under a different light. The ‘s’ kind of light. Would it happen? When would it happen? And the answer to those questions turned out to be both prompt and devastating.
It was a Friday evening and we had just sat through a screening of “The Field of Assassin Flowers”, a quirky and gory flick with a roster of unknown actors and actresses that, suspiciously, all had flowery surnames: Rosamund, Blanchefleur, May, Heather. We walked down Main Street, discussing our unlikely tastes in cinema.
“It is what it is, hugsy-wugsy,” she said. “You have to take it all in, the good, the bad, and the Me.”
She jumped at me with her arms wide open, an eager grasshopper clad in furry boots and pink earmuffs. I kissed her in earnest, for I knew no other way to do it. When we finally unlatched, she looked at me with those uniquely shaped eyes and I felt my soul melt.
“Should we go back to your place?” she asked in a silky voice. “For a change.”
I said yes, anticipating it.
You might not think much of my house, tucked in a non-descript corner of a forgettable neighborhood. It’s a house: a few steps, a small porch, green clapboard siding, and a bare-bones interior.
“It’s so,” she said, biting her lip trying to come up with the least offensive word. “Orderly.”
I’m neat and sparse, what can I say.
We sat on the couch (the only thing that adorned the living room besides the TV and the TV stand), and started making out immediately.
“You’re unique,” she said, making a pause in our smooching session. “I want you to know that.”
That felt somewhat ominous at the time. I should learn how to be a better signal-reader.
“You’re unique as well,” I said. “Never met someone like you.”
“And you never will.”
Now, the following is an account of the events as I saw them. I doubt someone looking at us through the porch window would have seen anything other than two lovers in heat.
Her eyes grew, the hourglasses becoming two gigantic windows into a velvety darkness dotted with millions of bright pinheads of light. As I kept staring into that void, the edge of my vision became luminous, a blinding mix of orange, blue, and purple, in constant motion. It then contracted at blinding speed and the motion lurched me through an endless tunnel of swirls, swatches, and shapes.
Only not quite endless. The movement stopped and, as a parachute unfolds from a single point of nothingness, I looked at myself, in my living room, sitting on a version of the very same couch I believed to have been sitting on, only incredibly cruddier. My emaciated left arm, veins shot to high heaven, was propped atop of a huge plush bear whose eyes had been gouged out. And stuck in the belly of the bear, a spent hypodermic needle. My eyes—my other eyes—were shut, oblivious to the filth and the disgrace around me. Him.
“What a tasty aperitif,” said Sublime’s voice, its origin undetermined.
The scene was gone in an instant and I felt, with the certainty that you have when you suddenly lose an organ (I was a kidney donor, so I know), that it had not only disappeared from sight, obscured and unseen, but that it had gone forever, consumed by an otherworldly maw.
Blackness, then the tunnel again. I felt myself—whoever myself was at that moment—being propelled forward and crashing against a new slice-of-life.
It was me, alright, this time a more haggard but fuller alternate, if that is possible. I soon noticed the reason for the paradox. Three small kids, probably aged four, six, and eight, filtered into the room eating, complaining and engaged in a silence strike, in that order. Behind them, a woman I probably knew but had not yet met issued commands that most likely went unheard. My other self was smiling as only parents can do under such circumstances.
“What is this?” I said, finding at last my proper voice.
“It’s you, hunny bun,” she replied. “And the bunsters! Resemblance is uncanny, I must say.”
“How is this possible?” I asked. “Why am I seeing something that is not?”
“Oh, and that is precisely why, babe. Because it’s possible.”
She ate me and my family.
In retrospective, this is what I understood: she was an alien, after all. Or something, I’m not sure. What I knew is that she fed on possibilities. She was, as I promised I would reveal, a harlot of choices.
Have you ever heard the notion that says every choice you make leads to the birth of a new universe? That pretty much is true, from what I could experience. Infinite universes? Maybe, but not the kind of infinite you’re thinking of. For example, I doubt I would have seen myself, had the progression of alternate worlds remained unfolding in front of me, as the next President of the United States. But there are infinite choices and infinite worlds, you say. Why not? Think set theory. A subset of an infinite set could still, by definition, be infinite, yet leave out elements of the original one. There are simply not enough choices in a man or a woman’s lifetime to lead to every imaginable result. But you keep on chasing your dreams, champ. Who knows.
As to why did the parade end? Well, as with most things in my own life, the answer is sort of insipid.
Perhaps she was used to restrain her victims more thoroughly and she believed meek old me did not deserve even that, but when I found the second tapestry consumed I floundered to reconnect with my own arms and hands. I wanted her to stop. Like a gardener slipping into a pair of gloves, I found my limbs, still embracing that known, but now foreign body and, gathering strength, I pushed her aside. The blackness, the tunnel, and the vast universe receded at the speed of light and I got to see, for the last time, those hourglass pupils, reverting to their normal size. Not my intention, I promise, but her head smashed against the TV stand and a purplish goo started emerging from a gash in her scalp. She looked at me pleadingly, like a deer just struck down by rifle fire. Then a blinding light flooded the living room and she disappeared, leaving behind only a layer of purple dust on my carpet.
That’s pretty much it. The police did its work, albeit not with much enthusiasm. No one had reported her missing—not even me as you can imagine—but her disappearance was noted. They conducted a few inquiries, but who can blame them for not putting too much muscle behind the proceedings? The witch had gone and good riddance. The town went back to its happy state of not quite being modern and not entirely minding its own business.
As for me, well. I was now sure I wasn’t becoming a junkie. At least not a heroine junkie. I also knew that I would never marry that woman (who, later I would find, was Tracy, the butcher’s daughter) and that those three kids, cute as they might have been, would never exist. Those lines were not blurred, but permanently deleted. I’m not sad about those losses; I still live a happy life. I code. I eat steak. I watch a TV that sits on a new TV stand. That’s the thing about choices: sometimes it’s better if you don’t rush them and you have plenty.
There is one you can (and should) expedite, though. If you find a woman or a man or a dog with kooky-colored skin and hourglass-shaped eyes, be a darling and end its wretched life. They’re danger (and don’t worry, nobody will notice they’re gone).