by Melody Sinclair
Louise walked into Target in her footie pajamas, hair a rat’s nest, crusted remnants of pink-eye clinging to her eyelashes, and the smell of fever-sweat wafting off of her body. She wanted it to be a quick trip and had already made plans to use the self-checkout, pushing down the feeling of disappointment in herself for crossing that line and becoming the type of person who left their house to run errands in their pajamas. Rabbit pajamas, she reminded herself as she caught a glimpse of her reflection in the sliding glass doors—grey body, white belly, and a cottontail bobbing on her ass. The red, cherry-flavored cough syrup she’d spilled down her chest made it look like she’d been stabbed and left to die.
She was annoyed by her current appearance, which was unraveling the sexy persona she’d worked so hard to curate since joining the dating website a few years back. Like attracts like, and her pointed-toed stilettos, bone-stiff tailored suits, and designer purses holding pepper spray should have attracted the successful businessman of Louise’s dreams. She hated the idea of what her current sick-bed-chic could be attracting.
Squinting against the brightness of the fluorescent lights, Louise slinked through the less-traveled aisles stocked with elderly incontinence products and fiber powders. A clear voice announced over the speakers, “Associate needed in sporting goods. Repeat, associate needed in sporting goods.” Louise paused beside a rack of maternity dresses and savored the vitality of the voice. She touched her cracked lips and repeated aloud, “sporting goods,” flinching at the sound before choking on flehm.
Louise hunted the rows of shelves until she located the women’s feminine product aisle. She squinted at two types of over-the-counter yeast infection creams. The itching and burning were nasty side-effects of her last intense round of antibiotics for pneumonia and pink eye. This all started at the Holiday party. She shouldn’t have kissed William from accounting, with his lingering cough and watery eyes, but she’d felt desperate for physical contact.
She yanked at the hot crotch of her pajamas, twisting and scratching. “Louise, honey. Is that you?” said a blurry woman from the end of the aisle.
Louise squatted behind her cart, frozen with fear, but stood when she recognized the voice as her elderly downstairs neighbor. “Mrs. Wentz?” Louise whispered.
“You look wrecked.” Mrs. Wentz wheeled her cart close and rested her cold hand on Louise’s forehead. Louise inhaled Mrs. Wentz’s old-lady smell, equal parts feline, Chanel No. 5, and Virginia Slims. “You’re burning up. Who’s taking care of you? Your friends? Family in town?”
“I’m getting better.” Louise closed her eyes and leaned into the touch.
Mrs. Wentz huffed her displeasure, a noise unique to grandmotherly-types. She removed an ancient hard candy from her purse and pushed it between Louise’s lips before picking at the knots in Louise’s hair with a small metal comb from her overstuffed purse. Feeling saved, Louise closed her eyes, forgetting they were in the middle of Target. Tears seeped through her crusted lashes as she thought of homemade chicken noodle soup, a cool washcloth on her forehead, and regularly timed medicine.
“You still on those dating sites you were telling me about?”
Louise cracked an eye and caught Mrs. Wentz looking at the creams in Louise’s hands. “Haven’t dated for weeks. Barely been able to feed myself, been so sick.”
“Good. Those sites are full of scammers and thieves. You need to careful. Michael! Over here,” Mrs. Wentz shouted, waving her comb in the air. “My son,” she whispered. “He’s newly single, and I want you to meet him.”
Michael, lean and lovely, seemed to float down the aisle before Louise could argue. He smelled of soap and health.
Sweat slicked between Louise’s breasts, and she tried to stand straight and smile, but a stench wafted from her rabbit pajamas. She gripped the yeast infection creams with both hands like a bouquet, trying to hide the cough syrup stain at her neck. Louise calculated the number of times she’d been in this Target showered and fashionable, her hair wavy and glossed, her lips stained red, and her teeth brushed white. Not once during those outings did The Universe send her a potential mate.
She threw the vagina cream bouquet and leaned on the cart for support. Michael rubbed the sleeve of her pajamas between his thumb and forefinger.
“I like your rabbit pajamas; they’re soft,” he said.
“Thanks. I’m Louise,” she said, offering her hand.
Instead of shaking, Michael rested his palm on Louise's head, as Mrs. Wentz had done minutes earlier. "That's some fever," he said.
“My Michael is a doctor,” Mrs. Wentz declared with a strange wiggle of excitement.
“How did you get here with your eyes like that?” Michael asked.
“You shouldn’t drive,” he interrupted. “Mom, pull the car up. I’ll help Louise check out.”
He snaked his arm around her fuzzy waist, resting his hand on her soft white belly, and Louise sagged into his side. He ushered her through the self-checkout and carried her creams to Mrs. Wentz’s idling boat of a car, opening the back door for Louise. She was surprised when Michael slid into the backseat with her, his perfectly imperfect crooked canine tooth glinting in the sun as he buckled Louise’s seatbelt.
"With the two of you in the back, I might get mistaken for an Uber taxi," Mrs. Wentz said. She adjusted her mirrors and locked eyes with Louise in the rearview. "You relax. Did I mention my Michael is a doctor?"
“Mom, stop telling—”
Mrs. Wentz slammed the accelerator so hard that Louise’s head jerked backward. Louise saw Mrs. Wentz convulse, the whites of her eyes flashing as the car screeched against the red concrete balls at the store entrance. The front of the car smashed into a light pole, crumpling, steam hissing from the bent hood.
"Mom?" Michael yelled, seemingly unscathed from the accident. He unbuckled his seatbelt, exited the car and opened the driver’s side door where Mrs. Wentz slumped silently against the steering wheel. "Oh, God, oh, God, oh, God. She isn't breathing!" Michael shouted at Louise.
Louise’s head pounded, and her ears rang. She wished that Michael would calm down and let a thick silence coat the air inside the car.
“Do something!” Michael shouted.
"Start CPR and I'll call 911," Louise said, her voice sounding foreign to her ears. She gathered her scattered yeast infection creams and her phone from the floorboard.
“I don’t know how,” Michael said. His clean smell, so attractive minutes earlier, now overwhelmed the car. Louise cleared her throat and closed her mouth against the chemical taste, the perfume burning her nasal passages.
“You’re the doctor, aren’t you?” she exhaled.
“No! Goddammit, no! She keeps saying that. I work at Walgreens.”
“Are you a pharmacist?” Louise asked, forgetting about the unconscious woman in front of her. “I can see how she might confuse—”
“I’m a cashier,” Michael said, unbuckling Mrs. Wentz’s seatbelt before wringing his hands in panic.
Louise knew she should have felt alarmed at the way Michael was willing to impersonate a doctor, willing to seduce a very sick woman he just met at Target. She ground her fists into her itchy eyes, tying to see the predator in front of her. But she couldn't stop thinking about her online dating profile, her pointed-toed stilettos, bone-stiff suits, and designer purses holding pepper spray that should have attracted the successful businessman of her dreams.
“Do something!” Michael shouted.
Louise dropped her creams and scooted across the back seat, through Michael’s opened door. She elbowed him aside and cradled the old woman’s skeletal form, lowering her to the asphalt beneath the car.
“Call 911,” she shouted at Michael, who sat sobbing against the car’s crunched metal frame.
Louise leaned over Mrs. Wentz’s thin lips, her bunny ears flopping forward into her eyes. “Save her!” Michael demanded. Louise pushed her bunny ears away from her face, sealed her lips over Mrs. Wentz’s, feeling the loose click of her too-big dentures, and delivered the strangest kiss she’d ever given, the intimate kiss of revival.
About the Author
Melody Sinclair studied journalism and worked in marketing and advertising for over a decade. She is in her last semester of the MFA program in Creative Writing at Regis University in Denver, Colorado. Melody has been published at the Donnybrook Writing Academy and 303 Magazine and has won the Denver Women’s Press Club Unknown Writer’s Contest. Melody lives in Highlands Ranch, Colorado with her husband, dog and two kids.