Jennifer of the Glades stood at the precipice, watching the waves crash into the granite boulders below. If he did not come to meet her, Jennifer would jump.
She could see her own lithe body falling to its crushing demise, tatters of white lace and satin floating on the foamy curls of the raging waters below; her golden locks drifting sleepily above her like flames as she sank into the blue grave alone.
A light touch on the white skin of Jennifer’s bare shoulder, a hint of breath at the edge of her ear…He had come.
Turning into him, his strong hands crawled into her loose tresses, pulling her close and useless in his arms. One hand, calloused from the ride and from the hunt, found its way to the small of her back, where he pressed, bringing her into his warmth.
His lips discovered hers without hesitation, his kiss hard, deep and passionate. It was a kiss that needed her, ached for her, searched for her on dreamless nights when she lie awake listening to the owls, wondering if this thing called love could truly exist.
Breathless together, her bosom heaving against him, his bold, unshaven jaw caressed her as he leaned into her and whispered…
“This isn’t a library.”
Jennifer jumped. “What?”
Her gaze searched for the piercing eyes of her lover, but found instead, the tired eyes of Jeff Kemper, Assistant Manager.
“This isn’t a library,” he repeated, nodding his head toward this month’s issue of Cosmo that Jenn was slowly wrinkling in one sweaty palm.
Head down, locks of grease falling over her own tired eyes, Jenn straightened the cover and returned the magazine to its place on the shelf, jealous that even this inanimate piece of recycling had a proper place where it belonged.
She shuffled down the Aisle of Paradise with Jeff Kemper, Assistant Manager, close behind, monitoring her every step, making sure nothing went from the shelves to her pockets.
To the right, magazines full of glossy, rich women who could afford to be beautiful, who lounged on sofas and stood on balconies with perfect hair and perfect faces that were always looking away to some distant place more fantastic than the place they were standing. To the right, men dressed in fine suits, shirtless, with bare hairless chests exposed shamelessly, thoughtfully glaring at the cameras while they relaxed against bars or trees.
To the left, a plethora of colors, sweet smelling plastic that reminded her of candies and jelly shoes and hairspray. Pink blushes, brown eyeliners, silver eye-shadows, maroon lipsticks and sparkly lip gloss, lined racks up and down. To the left, compacts of powder in every shade of brown, tan, cream, and beige , perfumes with wistful names like Amazonian Breezes and Midnight Musk, brushes of every size, and enough nail polish to paint an ocean full of girls with manicures and pedicures.
Jennifer let her fingers trail across the packaging, plastic blisters and imprinted cardboard, taking in the last few breaths of the sweet smell of new. Fresh ink on paper. She lingered for only an instant, reminding herself that despite her desires, her hopes, this life – these things were unattainable. The Aisle of Paradise was just as far away as Hawaii or Siberia.
She felt Jeff Kemper, Assistant Manager, eyeing her like a physical force as he practically pushed her out of Carl’s Drug Store. She had long ago learned it wasn’t worth her energy to cop an attitude or fight about it. She remembered saying a hundred times, I’m a patron, I’m allowed to be here just like anyone else. But that didn’t necessarily apply to dirty, broke 15-year-olds whose father had a reputation for thieving from all the local businesses.
So instead of arguing, Jennifer pushed through the glass door and stepped out into reality. She performed her daily (and sometimes hourly) ritual of jabbing her finger into the change dispenser on the payphone and the newspaper boxes – nothing today. Then she pushed the sand around in the ashtray by the door, identifying the biggest butts – one Camel, two Winstons, and a Maverick – which she would take home to Skanky Frankie, the man she deplored to call her father.
She smoked both of the Winstons as she walked down the tracks to the shantytown, watching the sun set on the western horizon. Today, she passed the old railroad crossing, just before the trestle, where she would turn north and make her way to the shed she called home. Today, Jennifer did something she had never done before – she crossed the trestle over the river, and her feet found new steps out of her old life.