I stare out the window, a wistful sigh dangling off my chapped lips. From forty-four floors above the ground, the tiny people look like little ants – ants scurrying about in their heels and skirts and suits, ants with their solid-colored briefcases and someplace important to be. Ants with long cigarettes placed just so between their middle and forefinger as they breathe out thick clouds of smoke. Ants who are glorious in their sophistication.
Cal stands on the other side of the room, finishing the buttons on his own suit jacket. In mere minutes he will become one of the tiny ants, dressed up nicely so that he can intimidate his coworkers and stand in front of people in an important meeting and explain a chart full of facts and figures that will help make his company a lot of money. His coworkers will pat him on the back, and then they will go outside to smoke together, their own cigarettes held just so between their fingers, and then he will go home to his wife. I wonder if she is out there now, walking down the street with the other tiny ants. She is probably wearing tall heels so that after Cal finishes at his job she can come to him and greet him with a kiss, and neither one will have to bend down to reach the other. Not like Cal has to do with me. He always has to bend down to kiss me, and he complains often of his neck. His wife probably kisses him with smooth lips that are never chapped. She probably wears red lipstick, the expensive kind. Suddenly I am flooded with a strong desire to wear red lipstick.
“Will you go shopping today?” I ask Cal.
He jerks his head up like a startled baby deer, eyes widening as if only just realizing that I was in the room.
“Shopping?” He says the word like it is foreign on his tongue. “Why do you ask?”
I tell him that I want red lipstick. He looks at me as though I am insane. Maybe I am. No one but he and I will ever see me wear it, but I want to be pretty. I stride over to the
full-length mirror that sits in the corner of the room. I slowly move around in a circle, examining myself. My feet are bare and calloused, the feet of a girl growing up in a poor farm town, a girl who wore the same shoes her mother wore as a little girl. Cal’s feet are smooth. They are hairy and cold when they brush against my legs, but they are feet that have known the warmth of plush carpets in the early morning and the protection of fancy leather shoes with wingtips. I would like shoes with wingtips.
My arms and legs are skinny, and quite ashy. Cal wears a melon flavored body butter that makes his skin shine, and he always smells the way I imagine a tropical island would. Cal, of course, has been to many tropical islands. I cannot say the last time I have left this apartment. I cannot say the next time I ever will. I like sitting in the window. I like to see what the people do outside, even if they are small like ants. They are very beautiful,
very sophisticated ants.
Cal wears a lazy smirk as he walks over and wraps his hands around my waist. I only wear my panties and one of his old, forgotten t-shirts, so his fingers are dangerously close to bare skin. He teases the hem of my shirt and plants a trail of kisses on my neck.
“Whatever you want, babe.”
My skin tingles where his lips have brushed, and I curse the way my heart flutters. Once upon a time I would curse myself because it felt wrong to get pleasure from a man who only kept me around for his own selfish games. Now I curse myself for wanting something I knew I’d have to wait for. Cal has work. The suit and tie and wing-tipped shoes mean no morning fun.
I head back to the window once Cal leaves. Most of my waking hours are spent people-watching. I eat, for Cal always makes sure there is food for me, and I clean myself if the mood hits. Mostly I just watch. I like to have the window open and to sit with one leg dangling over the edge. It pumps my blood, a dizzying rush to think that I am up so high, so precariously balanced on the line between life and death. I did this once when Cal was in the room. He had yelled and then held me close while he cried, and then he yelled some more. I no longer do this when he is in the apartment, but I know that he is not foolish enough to believe that I have stopped. I am always careful. I am not stupid.
I want to open the window today, but it is the middle of December and already freezing in the apartment. The heat does not work very well. I should remind Cal when he returns.
I decide to search through Cal’s closet for an old coat or something to wear. I know he will not mind. He always smiles when he sees me wearing his clothes.
I don’t find a coat. Instead I find something even better.
The bag contains the most beautiful dress I have ever laid eyes on. It is long and purple and made of silk or some such fancy material. I don’t think twice before stripping myself of the shirt and slipping into the gown. I am unable to hold in the gasp as I transform from an ugly duckling into a goddess. The gown has a long slit up the side that makes me feel sexy. A pair of golden heeled sandals give me new height, and the ensemble
is complete with the most wonderful mink coat that has ever existed. I may not have much to compare it to, but I know that these are the clothes worn by people in Heaven. My hair is limp and lifeless, but I can easily imagine a halo of curls around my
head. I purse my lips and meet my reflection in the mirror. All
that I need is red lipstick.
I grab a straw from out of the bathroom cabinet and hold it between my middle and forefingers. I bring it to my lips and pretend to blow out a ring of smoke. I was so beautiful. I was sophisticated.
I was also parading around in clothes that weren’t mine. I reached into the bag to pull out a small card with Cal’s familiar scribble. ‘Happy anniversary,’ it reads. ‘I love you, Elle, and today I’m going to make you feel like a princess. You deserve it.’
Elle must be his wife’s name. I am playing in her clothes. I wonder if she would want them if she knew that they were currently being worn by Cal’s whore. In some ways, I have won. I live with Cal, although I never leave. Brought to this city at eighteen, yet I’ve never really explored it. I have his body. It is a nice body, and it will have to be enough. If I believe that I am happy here, then I will be happy here.
I spin around in Elle’s dress once more. She may have his heart, but tonight, I am the princess.
I am a 24-year old writer of both contemporary and fantasy fiction, currently living in Pennsylvania while I pursue a doctoral degree in clinical psychology. I have had work previously published in the University of Richmond’s The Messenger. I have also previously worked as an editor for VERSE literary journal.