the Word: Stamp
Her face wore the stamp of despair. Brian could see it through the makeup, behind the smile, the glossy lips, the shining hair. The eyes, a desperate blue. She knew she wasn’t up for this place, the Skyroom, a building that was once a bank, now the hot downtown hotel with the rooftop terrace. The girl was small town pretty, not big city bombshell. Her dress was too short, her heels too high, and she looked hunted, leaning against the bar, sipping a sugary drink from a stemmed glass. No one had told her, drink a grownup drink, for god’s sake, have a martini, a scotch and soda. A dress that short looked like hell with six inch heels. She looked like she wanted to cover her legs, she kept pulling at the hem of the skirt, and lifting the strapless top, but she stood very very straight and glanced around the bar over the sticky rim of her glass, to see if anyone noticed her. He had. He was drinking Glenfiddich, spoonful of water. He wore no socks with his ltalian loafers. His despair was far better concealed. He knew the crowd.
He moved in next to her. She smelled of something from his Midwestern childhood–Charlie? Those were the years the girls wore Charlie. He ran through opening lines like a dealer through a pack of cards, and rejected them all. Her name would be Heather, or Danielle. She had heard of this place, the Skyroom, where she worked, in one of the big buildings. A receptionist, Heather, or Danielle. “That’s Jupiter,” he said, pointing to the fat boy in the sky.
She frowned, then followed his gaze, his arm, his finger, the star.
“The other planets are behind the sun now.”
She cocked her head to one side, tucked a strand of sugar blonde hair behind a small, shell-shaped ear, where an overlarge hoop dangled, it looked like it was waiting to be set on fire for the tiger to jump through. The hoop, the skirt, the heels. Playing dress-up. Her hope layered over her despair like an abstract expressionist painting. But none of the exuberance, the sense of play of those paintings.
Girls used to be so full of life, when he was as young as this. Now they were just imitating something. She had no sense of her youth, her precious youth, flying, falling. She still didn’t know what he was talking about. It made him want to cry.
He remembered how Carl Sagan walked across a cosmic calendar, describing how, if the Big Bang occurred on the first day of January, man had only appeared on Christmas Eve, and human consciousness only in the last hour of the last day.
On nights like this, he felt the vastness of the clear sky over the rooftop pool, the insignificance, the full insignificance, of himself and this girl, all the people in the world. Coming and going in the space of a star’s heartbeat.
“I’m a Pisces.” the girl smiled, her lips shining, and her eyebrows arched, like two sweet little fish, jumping.
Finding her place in the cosmos, so easily. And if he wanted to pick her up, he would respond in kind, compare stars and palms and trade slogans, but talking to her was worse than not talking.
“Here’s to interstellar space,” he said. “To Orion’s sword, and the nursery of stars. To the inevitable descent of the yellow dwarves.”
She looked perplexed, but touched the sticky rim of her glass to his anyway. “I’m Heather.”
“Carl,” he finally replied.
Part of a weekly series of short short stories based on a writing exercise, The Word. “Inspired by a simple word, chosen at random, write a two-page double-spaced story, using the Word at least once.”
Next week’s word is: MAP