Constantia and Paulette at the Mall
“It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them.”–Ralph Waldo Emerson
There was no real need to shop, or rather, it was so deep in the bone that it was instinctual; two women cooped up in the mechanistic world needed to satisfy the call of the wild, and for many, as for these two, it was less a summons to a midnight sojourn in the woodlands than an invitation to practice the ancient female art of hunting and gathering. It was primal; it was survival instinct. Constantia and Paulette told themselves they just wanted to get out of the house, though the putative goal for Constantia was to find something sexy to wear to Fred’s party.
“Are you coming? Saturday night? Please say you’ll come with me.”
“I can’t say I see it,” Paulette said, pulling out a black Lycra top that looked, on the hanger, to be made for the pre-teen set. Paulette was tall and angular, muscular from loading delivery trucks and from intense, body builder workouts. She was frowning at the top, which was the black, body-conscious fit she wanted, though the rhinestones ringing the collar were a real negative. She put it back, shuffling through the rest of the smalls on the rack.
“You know…What do you see in him?”
Constantia, further up the aisle, was restless. She wasn’t even looking at the clothes any more. “I don’t like anything here.”
“He’s kind of annoying, the way he goes on with all that bullshit,” Paulette said, offering Constantia a stick of gum, cinnamon, but her friend shook her head no.
“Let’s go to Kaufman’s.”
Paulette followed her, not really intent on anything shopping-wise, other than checking out the people around her. People were the newspaper she subscribed to.
“There’s something, I don’t know how to describe it, the way he seems to pay attention maybe?”
“Yeah, well, if he listens to you, that’s something, I guess. Sure as hell aren’t going to see that every day unless you want to talk to guys about the Steelers or their dicks. The endless bullshit…”
“The way I look at it,” Constantia said, pausing to decide if she wanted an Orange Julius, and then thinking better of it. “It’s like fancy handwriting, like the big John Hancock on the Declaration of Independence. The message is still ‘John Hancock,’ whether you text it or do the whole swirly name-thing. You just have to listen for it.”
“What a pain in the ass.”
Paulette turned for a second look at a short Asian man with rakishly gelled hair and a soul patch, though what had first caught her eye was the python tattoo that emerged from the sleeve of his black T-shirt and wound down his left arm.
“It’s no different than taking a pulse—sometimes it’s slow, fast, thready, erratic, but a heartbeat is still a heartbeat,” Constantia said, surreptitiously checking out the guy Palette was watching. They were at Kauffman’s and she swung them by her momentum around the cosmetics counter and back towards the clothes.
She pulled a white blouse from one of the racks of new arrivals that stood on the aisle. The fabric was gossamer, somewhat transparent, with a low scoop neck and long sleeves that ended in bell-like ruffles. It was long, more like a tunic. She held it up in front of herself and turned toward Paulette, who was checking out skinny jeans that looked like they were made of plastic, her fingers absently kneading the fabric.
“That looks like you. What would you wear it with?”
A sales woman approached. She looked well over fifty with caked on makeup to hide wrinkles, her dark straight hair in a razor-cut asymmetric style. “Do you girls need any help?”
The word “girls” caused Paulette to curl her lip, and before she said what she was thinking, Constantia thanked the woman and said they were fine.
Paulette stared after the saleswoman as she retreated a short distance to fuss with a mannequin that did not need any attention. “You’d think in a place like this she’d learn to do her makeup better.”
“Her eyeliner was nice; it was navy blue.”
“I saw that.” Paulette was studying the blouse as Constantia scanned the nearby racks. “A short skirt maybe? Your denim mini and the Ugg boots.”
Constantia hummed a sound of doubt. She walked to a display of calf length slacks; they were supposed to be good on short women.
“What about leggings?” Paulette held up a cotton and spandex pair in black. “With ballet flats.”
“My bronze ones,” Constantia agreed, joining Paulette in searching out her size. She emerged with white ones in medium. “I want to try these on. You mind waiting? I want your opinion.”
Paulette nodded. She had grabbed up a black pair, small, and held them up to check out the length on her long legs. “Maybe with boots.”
“They don’t have to hit your ankle. They’re showing them shorter, with tunics and flats.”
“Not exactly my style,” Paulette said, folding the pants over her arm. “I’ll wait. Go on.”
“You don’t want to try them?”
“No, I know how they’ll be. They’re fine. Go on.”
Constantia was gone about five minutes before she emerged from the dressing room, barefoot.
Paulette laughed. “You look like your First Communion.”
“Ha ha.” She looked down at herself, turned a little to make the blouse, full under the bust, float and billow around her waist. “I like it.”
“It’s nice. Really. It’s you.”
Constantia look up with a little pout. She still figured Paulette didn’t like it, but who cares? It was exactly what she wanted. She ducked back into the dressing room to find her own comfy fleece pullover and jeans.
As they walked together to the counter to make their purchases, Constantia glanced at her cell phone and then put it away again. “Want to grab some dinner?”
“He is good-looking in a sort of 50s French movie star sort of way,” Paulette admitted, snapping her gum.
Constantia laughed, handing her credit card to the woman who’d waited on them earlier.
“So you found everything you wanted?”
“Oh, yeah. Perfect.” She turned to Paulette. “Too bad Ike’s not more your type.”
“Oh, I don’t know. He’s all right. He has no idea what he wants though, that kind of hyper-cool naïve type. They can be fun to toy with.”
The sales lady glanced at her cautiously. Constantia pulled her bag across the counter and thanked her; now busily ringing out Paulette’s purchase, she made no further attempt at small talk.
Safely skirting Cosmetics on their way back into the Mall, they both burst out laughing, Constantia covering her mouth and Paulette leaning into her laughter, her bangs falling into her eyes.
“Well,” she choked out. “They are! You fuck those boys; they don’t know what hit ‘em.”
“You make out like he’s a little twerp.”
“Well, he is! But it’s mainly just to mess with him. I think he’s afraid of me. And you know what that means…”
“Umm?” Constantia pointed toward a shoe store across the way, and they turned in unison, weaving between the strollers, teenagers and elderly couples.
“Oh, come on. He’s so hot for me, he’s scared to death. Probably thinks he can’t handle it, whatever he thinks that might be.”
“Ike didn’t give any sign that he’s attracted to you at all. I seem to recall he was fairly insulting.”
“Yeah,” said Paulette, already bored by the shop window and scanning the crowd again. “That’s all the subconscious bullshit trying to protect him from a desire he’s afraid to own. Trust me. He may call me a dyke and a ball buster, but he’s only telling me what he wants. If there was no interest, there’d be nothing to say at all.”
Thank God, thought Constantia, Fred is just there. He seemed to be pretty much what he seemed to be. She was no good at playing detective on guys’ weird brains.
Like what you are reading? You can find chapters 1-9 here.