boot girls

If the town receives any visitors, they are either accidents or believers in retail therapy. This means there are no unusual days. I am servicing both a hunter from the smoky mountains and the creative director of a Korean-American gastropub - toothless and tooth-gemmed; my coworker is redoing her hair ribbons.  While I ring them up, they chuckle their way around how sinister this town is, with its shacks and fat square temples to capitalism. They make the obvious jokes, and I laugh as if I’d never heard any of it before.

Like every small town, like every bad play, every person here is known for two things. I am Mary, the boot girl who can do card tricks. I work with Carrie, the other boot girl (I was here first, though neither of us have ever been anywhere else) with the visible lime green thong. The setting: a store in DD, Texas, nicknamed Dior and Despondence by those who would know. We take the lost birds of I-10 into our store, fix them up with maps or fine leather, and release them. Though we try our best, they leave with as many questions as when they enter, I can see it in their walk. They get in their cars and think, “Who are the boot girls? What kind of beauty was that - how do we describe why we stared? And what do they do all day among the little embroidered towers, a tiny couture town?”

Some days, I wanted to shake them, shatter their image, their hazy visions of prairie romance. “I don’t know - I microwave something around noon and then eat it? Think about whether or not I have a remarkable mind? Listen to Carrie offhandedly mention the terrors of her husband while I look at shit on Zillow?” But most days, I’m delighted to let them be. The thrill of them imagining me walks lazy circles across my chest. They are in their car, looking out the window - maybe the clouds remind them of my teeth. They’ve never heard of my card tricks, and I love them for it. It’s an odd hobby; it’s the only real pastime. Both of us, sitting in our separate places, desperately believing in each other, wondering if it will change something someday.

Carrie started admitting things to me about three months in. In a low voice, so when I misheard it she could act offended and not repeat it. Still, I’ve put together what I can: it’s a patchwork woman’s tragedy, a tapestry on which I tread carefully. I’ve learned that we don’t talk about cars or fathers or Montana, but we do talk about men. Those men should have strong hands and those hands should be around our necks and we should like it we should love it we should beg for it and when we get it we should show them how much we like it. This is what the tapestry says, or what Carrie says the tapestry says. She’s like a preacher to me. 

Before the admissions, there was preening in the mirror, snide silence, and the occasional critique of my stitching. Were it not for the actual labor, the vacuum would have flattened me. There were attempts on my part, believe me - the polite questions, then the creative ones. I was lucky if the response was polysyllabic. Once, I asked her what her favorite color was, and without a pause, she told me it was glitter. It would be another six weeks before I realized she wasn’t mocking me.

To tide me (or perhaps due to the size of the shop), she let me overhear things. She had an affectionate parrot who she very nearly injured with a craft project about once a week; she would cry on the phone with the vet, trembling, tender, doe-eyed. I don’t want to admit how closely I listened. It was after one such phone call that the first real sentence came. Sniffling, she told me she liked veins. A river down the wrist disappearing into the fingers - she liked to see where all the life went and exactly how it got there. I told her about how I liked muscles that hid under skin and revealed themselves in times of need. “That’s why I like the YMCA a few miles down, there are always boys to warm the water up for me.” That’s how I ended my confession, my lame attempt at conspiratorial womanhood. She laughed.

I found it almost worse once she started admitting. I’d vibrate in anticipation of news or confirmation of things I thought I knew. The occasional surprise kept me captive. There was just enough wisdom in her for me to worship, enough contradiction for me to do it in secret. I tried to explain it to my mother once, and as I laid out the details, I watched her face change. She’s always one to fear the worst, so when it seemed like I was noticing too much, I suspect she envisioned a corkboard and red yarn, magazine ransom notes and some poor girl screaming her last words. But I have hobbies and moderation, and there are no poor girls around here, at least none poorer than the rest of us. I don’t tell her this - meeting my mother at her assumptions is one of the many ways you can accidentally confirm them. Her worries are not there to be cooled. On the bright side, they freshen my knowledge of normalcy, and I like to think they keep her mind active. What I learned this time: I shouldn’t talk about people like that anymore.

But I had to talk to someone, so I kept talking to Carrie. I imagine at some point she must have started returning the questions because she was stuffing boxes with striped tissue, and I wasn’t surprised when she asked me what the worst thing that ever happened to me was. I told her, and she said it didn’t count. I said it made me pretty unhappy. She said that it wasn’t a definitive event and it didn’t necessarily happen to me, just to my brother. And I said, fine, what’s yours, and she said something, I imagine, but sometimes when the light came in just right, her cheekbones glowed like an angel’s, and I wondered how many angels could fit on the edge of her cheek, hundreds of pinheads across, and when I stopped trying to do the math I tuned back into her saying that it didn’t matter because all the worst things that happened to her led to the best things she had in life. She said she was stumbling catatonic across a parking lot, having just buried her last parrot. She made it to her car, and behind the back wheel, there was a long box, and inside that box was a lifetime’s supply of hot glue. Two weeks later, I’d catch the end of a call in which she figured out she made her new parrot lame in one leg with that glue. I wonder if this time the vet will be getting rid of Liquitex. I think Carrie could do revelatory things with paint.

I took a train to the northeast once, and I remember looking at a parking lot where the leaves fell; they were yellow. They were so yellow that I thought butterflies were falling out of the trees and dying. There were thousands of them, huge golden ashes; reality shedding its scales so it could show us the winter it had been working so hard to grow. The last thing each of them would see was a kaleidoscope of corpses that mirrored their own, stunning evidence of their fate. I’m not sure why I’m thinking of this now, with leaves and flowers from a different part of the world snaking across the store. The scent of them has launched an offensive against the Lysol that Carrie and I have been shining the floor with for three days. It’s a saccharine western front, its advances outpacing the day. By the time the black-tie-ers get here, there will be no evidence of us, only gleaming absence. Carrie is still polishing, sighing in the way Barbie would sigh if she had a shitty commute. It goes well with the Shostakovich. I imagine the party-goers wouldn’t agree; they’ll prefer the jasmine.

This party will be full of people who probably hunt other people for sport. This party will be full of people who would write a bad short story about Carrie and I. This party will be full of people, because that’s how parties are. I forget this sometimes. Our boss held a meeting for just the two of us to remind us that these people were giants among men, and when our expressions didn’t change he emphatically said, “Think really big. Like bigger than mountains!”

I have friends like mountains. The ones where if you tear the face off, there will be another one, and if you get rid of all the faces, there’s nothing left. I wish they were the party guests. We wouldn’t have wasted so much fucking Lysol.

Carrie doesn’t care about The Bible, but she thinks I’m going to Hell. I imagine she read that in the stars, or else she got it from something I told her. For instance, I told her that sometimes when I sleep with men, I like to spit in their mouths, and after some quiet she gravely informed me that I was disgusting. Her and I, we were made to receive. I said thinking like that makes me want to put my head in the oven and she said that probably means I wasn’t meant for this planet and there is some truth to that but I have been dealt my hand. It’s a Tuesday and we are playing Go Fish. It’s getting mean somehow; that’s why I told her about the spitting. That didn’t go as planned, and we have five hours left together, so we put down the fish, and I recheck the grammar on her website.

Back before we knew each other, we both tried school far away. My school was better, and I lasted longer, so now I check her spelling and write the emails, when that is what is asked of us. They usually go something like this:

“Thank you so much for reaching out! You are delusional. We will never do an order like this. No one will. I know you are someone’s personal assistant, but you have no more access to God than he rest of us. Have a beautiful day.”

And for a moment, I feel so dense and fiery, like a woman who owns a vest. I do own a vest. I’m sheriff of customers, enforcer of all boot-based policy. I wished someone had walked in during that window, witnessed and made real the long strides and present tense verbs, the apologies clipped at the wings. Then the moment is ash. I remember that I am no one’s personal assistant and I am having cornflakes for dinner and I didn’t dream up anything today. I tell this to Carrie and she says the personal assistants are also having cornflakes for dinner, but because it’s fashionable. I think I am beautiful, but there’s really no way of telling if I’m fashionable.

“So are you doing anything right now?” 

“I was going to see if the plumber is available.”

“Sammy, you know he’s not.”

“But he said to call tomorrow.”

“He’s not coming. I’ll just call my brother.”


(a few beats)

“So then you’re not doing anything.”

“I guess not.”

“Ok can you read this.”

This is not a request.

I move through the item descriptions mechanically, and compliment her imagination when it seems appropriate or far too silent. Her website is neon in every way, but surprisingly chic considering her lack of recent rave experience. For her target audience, the copy is perfect. I find the adjectives nauseating, but this doesn’t bother me today because I’m still thinking about our card game. I’m thinking about fishhooks and numbers and being plucked out somewhere you can breathe.

If I’ve counted correctly, Carrie’s gotten rid of two kids. I know who the fathers are, and that they were both relieved and satisfied with how quietly she’d taken care of it. The first father is Jeremy. He is from somewhere, but is now in Northern Florida. When he gets a new phone number, he texts her so, so violently, caps locked and punctuation loaded. Sometimes I’m worried he is going to show up like he says he will and do what he says he wants to do and I’m so afraid that she wouldn’t be angry, just tired, tired as she’s always been, gum on the bottom of the calendar’s shoe, roadkill flattened across tires, being pulled into the new day in little pieces. I’m worried she wouldn’t say anything about it at all.

Then there’s the other side of it - what about him, after he makes good on things? After he’s emptied himself out? Is a man still a man if he gets everything he wants? I’ve seen no evidence, but Carrie would probably say yes.

The second kid happened this past July; it was her husband’s. He says he is a magician. He owns magician’s things. He’s the only man who ever won her a teddy bear at the touring carnival, so now they have decades together. There was a week of deep quiet I can attribute to the baby in retrospect. In the thick of it, I knew nothing, and I was paralyzed. I thought she might never speak to me again, that I would walk around sweeping up the thread she left behind until we didn’t work together anymore. After eight days, she had a day off and when she came back she said she had new coffee that morning. Everything went back to what it was, something resembling conversation but with more breathing room. It was work. She came in late. She laughed at my jokes. She bought expensive candles from the shop a half mile down the road and I agreed, this time they really would help. She wore her thong. She bent over so people could see it. She made the most beautiful boots I’d ever seen. She barely looked while people fawned over them. She told me God wanted me to fail my driver’s test. She told me she hated me. She told me to kill the spiders. She told me every life is precious, and I believed her, the way I’ve never believed in anything else in my whole life.

Sammy Biglin is honored to be invited and would be delighted to attend. Please let her know if she can bring anything. She’ll be by as soon as she gets off work.
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