Skywriting at Night

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Chapter 13

     An hour later Jet sat on a bench across the street from Old Man Cordin’s Jewelry Store, absently leafing through a copy of the Weekly World Scene someone had politely left for him. It was bad enough people thought you had to like your relatives—which didn’t make sense to Jet since they were, after all, nothing more than people you’re forced to be in contact with regardless of whether you like them or not—but friends are supposed to be different. With friends you can choose whether to see them a little, a lot, or never again. Unless, of course, you’re twelve years old and they live in your neighborhood. Then, like them or not, they’re your friends.

     Had Jet been paying more attention to the copy of the Weekly World Scene he held in his hands, and less on how much we wished his brother would vanish off the face of the earth, he would have noticed a two paragraph article buried on page 34, right next to an ad for "Miracle Pop—the only cola blessed by Benedictine monks":

SHOPPERS LEFT HOLDING THE BAG
     Unsuspecting patrons of a grocery store were up in arms after a super sleazy shopping snub. After paying dearly for their Wheaties, the food foragers were told the mis-management wouldn't supply them with grocery bags. Instructed to load up their arms and toss hubby's dinner in the back seat of the car like yesterday's trash, the usually placid produce purchasers demanded boxes and trash bags, only to be told "No dice".
They didn’t have any. The night before, a robber with a sense of humor—or a paper bag fetish—broke in and stole them all. The sorry sack stealer left thousands of dollars and every loaf of bread in the place, preferring brown grocery bags to red peppers and greenbacks. Is this any way to bring home the bacon?

     As it was, his attention was diverted not by the article but by Old Man Cordin, who was doing a balancing act in the front window of his store. He’d been showing a brand new shipment of jewelry to Jem Marconi, whose son Ralph had just been hiding in the closet with Job. A new shipment of jewelry was as exciting for Jem as it was for Cordin, though for quite a different reason. For Cordin, getting a package of jewelry in the mail was like Christmas—he got to open lots of little envelopes and wrappers, each containing another glittering, sparkling present. But even better, he could turn around and sell these Christmas presents without having to explain to Aunt Martha why the armadillo urn she gave him was nowhere to be seen when she came for a visit.

     Jem, on the other hand, just liked jewelry. She'd been coming into Cordin's store at least twice a week for years, always making the jeweler show her each new item that had come in since her last visit. Jem made it her business to know Cordin's inventory inside and out. Yet in all those visits she had yet to purchase anything

     . "Is this a ukulele?" she asked, pointing to a charm in the front window.

     "I believe it's a guitar. But it’s not new."

     "It looks like a ukulele to me," she said. "It's small enough to be one."

     "Let me check," Old Man Cordin said as he leaned into the front window to retrieve it.

     He was so intent on not disturbing the cluttered display with his hand that he forgot about his new shoes with their too-slick, unscuffed soles. His left foot started sliding out from under him. Afraid he was about to completely lose his footing and crash through the front window, he let himself tumble into the display, sprawling across the jewelry which appeared to be haphazardly placed but was in fact the result of hours of careful, though misguided, thought. When he climbed out of the window, embarrassed but unhurt, it looked like a tornado had set down in his display. Actually it looked better than before.

     "Here it is, Mrs. Marconi," he said, dusting himself off and trying not to look shaken in spite of his twitching calf muscles.

     "Hmmm, you were right," Jem muttered to herself. "It is a guitar."

     When Old Man Cordin slipped in the window he’d instinctively thrown his hands out to break his fall. As his left hand slid down the glass, his onyx pinky ring—which he bought at Rice's Jewelry Store because they sold a better class of merchandise—scraped along the old flaky paint on the front window. Three more letters had been eliminated, so the sign now read:

     Cordin's Jewelry
     Watches * Rings * Go d Bought and Sold
     Precious and Semi-P  ious Jew  s

     Had Jackson Robert seen this change he would have thought it was aimed at him, for contrary to what anyone else thought, he still liked to consider himself a semi-pious Jew. Erta, on the other hand, would have thought this was rather generous, since according to the teachings of the Quite Reverend John Joseph Matthew Paul III, Jews were indeed the Chosen People, chosen only to be Jews—nothing more, nothing less—so being semi-pious was about as far as their delusional religion could allow them to go in the heavenly scheme of things. Had Job seen the sign he would have ignored it, instead wondering how much the Timex self-winding watch sitting on top of the clutter cost and why he hadn't gotten one for his last birthday, since he'd repeatedly asked for it. And Jet? He figured half a pious was probably better than no pious at all.

     * * * * * *

     "I’d better be heading home," Jet thought as he walked down the street in front of J&A Clothiers, a small shop which sold men's clothing on the left side and women's clothing on the right. It was getting dark and he was afraid that if he didn’t get home soon no one would miss him.

     A woman was locking the door to the shop, a ruggedly pretty woman wearing a touch too much makeup who seemed to be having trouble walking in her three-inch high heels. She smiled sweetly at Jet as she walked away, taking long strides. After several wobbly steps, her heel caught in a crack in the sidewalk, her ankle turning inward as she almost fell to the ground.

     "You okay?" Jet asked as he rushed over to help her.

     "I'll be fine," she said, her voice low and husky. "But thank you."

     She looked familiar, though Jet couldn’t figure out where he knew her from. She stood, dusted herself off, and walked away, hips swinging, still slightly wobbly in her heels. As she turned and looked back at him, an image flashed through Jet’s mind: it was Tripoli, his mailman. In yet another uniform.

     Tripoli had recently begun moonlighting at J&A Clothiers. This was the perfect job for him—even more perfect than delivering the mail—for at J&A he could come in dressed like a man and, after closing out the register, walk to the other side of the store and buy some women’s clothes for the trip home. There was always something in the store he wanted.

     As Jet turned to walk away he noticed the door to the store was open just a crack. In his hurry to get away, Tripoli had forgotten to lock it.

     If there’s one thing Jet doesn’t need it’s a written invitation.

     Looking up and down Broad Street to make sure it was as deserted as usual for this time of night—he may be curious but he’s not stupid—Jet opened the door and walked in. He crept through the store on the balls of his feet, ready to spring backwards and race out at the first sign of danger. "I have the cloak of invisibility and the magic shoes of silence," he thought. "I can go anywhere I want and do whatever I want and no one can see or hear me."

     Suddenly he froze, his heart pounding as he looked through the shadowy doorway into the back room. There was a woman standing there! So Tripoli hadn’t been the last one to leave after all! No wonder the front door was still unlocked! He knew she could hear his heart, its pounding beat reverberating through the store. Please! Don’t let the cloak of invisibility fail me now!.

     The woman stood perfectly still. Jet stood perfectly still. He took a hesitant baby step towards her. She didn’t move.

     "Something’s not right," Jet thought. "She’s standing a little too still."

     He let out his breath and laughed. That was no woman, that was a mannequin! And a fine specimen of womanhood she was: perfectly shaped upturned breasts, a slim delicate waist, smooth hips the exact size as its bust, a bald head, one hand lopped off at the wrist, and a leg with a one-inch wide crack running from mid-thigh to nicely turned ankle.

     "You shouldn’t scare me like that," he said. "You know what it does to me."

     He took one of her hands in his and gently slid his arm around her waist. Smiling, he leaned her backwards, a graceful dip in a sensual dance. He stared deep in her crystal blue eyes and brought his face near hers. He leaned in for the kill, puckering his lips as he moved ever so slowly toward her perfectly formed ruby red target.

     "You cannot resist me, so don't even try," he said, closing his eyes in preparation of the grand finale. "Some things are just meant to be, my darling. That is the way of life."

     His mouth trembled as his lips drew close. This was it. His first real kiss.

     Suddenly a cracking sound broke the romantic silence as the mannequin's head fell off and rolled across the floor, banging noisily against a metal trash can and ending up face down in a puddle of brown water that had leaked out of the hot water heater.

     Jet stood the mannequin up and looked through the darkened doorway into the store. The mannequin's identical twin was standing against the wall between two racks. And her triplet. And her quadruplet. Except, of course, that they were fully clothed and had all their body parts intact.

     Circumstance writes open invitations.

Chapter 14 ]



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  Skywriting at Night - a novel by Mad Dog

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