I’m not myself. People say that and mean they’re in a mood. I’m a person and I mean it when I say it. All hosed down and medicated like this? I’m suffocating in simulated normalcy. The haircut and restraints amount to a costume. Feels a little liberating to not be me. I sold them, you know.
Not me’s, silly. I sold costumes. There’s something about costumes, isn’t there? Store-bought or homespun. Face paint or a plastic expression with an elastic band that slips over the ears. A bikini made from leaves. Green long-johns punctuated with question marks. Straw bursting out of seams and sleeves to form a scarecrow in dire need of a Dorothy. Little Draculas and King Arthurs wearing the same brand of tumble-dry-only cape.
I sold him his first cape, you know.
I thought he was there for someone else. He was too big, too broad-shouldered, too bitter in the eyes as he stalked along the racks. Surely he was a bodyguard, there to pick out a costume for some trust fund brat. Or – he was a little old. Maybe he’d ducked out between hostile takeovers to shop for his kids. Despite our military contracts, we did sell to a lot of private sector jackasses. Rich people buy weird things for their kids, especially in October.
He wanted a weird thing in a non-child size. And had to be fireproof.
“Well sir,” I told him. “This is bulletproof.”
A joke. No laughter. No one laughed at my jokes; my cousins said I lacked execution. I looked into his face and he refused to reflect the smirk. He pulled the cape over his tailored elbow. He pulled the material so taut, like he wanted it to fight him. I never even thought of dressing up in my own stuff before he did that. Only went down into the basement, sometimes with a call-girl, for a weekend or two, and...
I took him to the rear chamber and showed off our laser. Such resilient material requires very specialized tools to cut, mend and process. His eyes reflected the beam. His checkbook was out before I powered down the device.
“No sir,” I told him. “The device isn’t for sale. It’s unique.”
But the check wasn’t for the machine. He wanted everything.
“No sir,” I told him. “The store certainly isn’t for sale. And a check couldn’t cover it if it was.”
A joke. No laughter. His check wasn’t for the store. It was for my tip. He had other people, broad-shouldered and bitter in the eyes, to buy companies for him.
I went out to lunch and fantasized over this check. Was this a gag? How badly it would go if something this large bounced in my account? I laid it out on the formica table while eight-year-old wizards emptied fast food pales in preparation for trick-or-treating. How funny it’d be if I signed the check over and slipped it in a goody bag.
Do you know how much can be accomplished in a lunch hour? Apparently a company can be seized, and an entire floor of a building can be emptied. I didn’t even see the moving trucks, though those do blend into cityscapes.
There were no racks left. No cables. No bolts of bendable titanium mesh fabric. I still fantasize over how they got a two-and-a-half-ton laser through a six-by-three-foot door. None of the people who helped me move it in there are still alive. Most of them are in my basement.
I squatted for a while in a rectangle of immaculate linoleum where a shelf had once laid. They took my shelves, too. I admired just how filthy the floor outside my shelf-sheltered rectangle had gotten. It all looks so clean until they take your storefront away.
They left the filth. A box of pens. The purple garbage can. A few jars of flame-retardant face paint, ones I had open for demonstrations. Picking up a jar, I remembered him pulling that fabric across his elbow. A grown man imagining a costume into military-grade materials, and doing so outside of his home. I felt him pulling it taut while I drew two fingers over my cheeks.
Halloween and a check of that size. You can really do whatever you want. You can disregard the warning label and slather yourself in chemical whiteness. You can go home, go to the basement, and put on that tacky bulletproof tuxedo you’ve been working on, and the squirting flower that melts metal, and all that stuff – and you can keep it on when you come back upstairs. Dressed like you want to be, you can go door to door, a magnum in one hand and a pumpkin pail in the other. You might feel too nervous to take your subterranean act abroad, but it’ll pass. It’ll pass when you recognize his cape on the evening news. Then it all bleeds into a long Halloween.