She felt the weight of the woman behind her even before she felt the woman’s hand on her shoulder. “I’m sorry,” the woman said, the white of her uniform contrasting starkly with the rainbow of colors on her face, “but I need to ask you again to shift over a touch.”
Our heroine moved aside, polite as ever, and allowed another woman to take her place. In the back of her mind, however, she made some rude comments about tight spaces and where the rainbow-faced woman could stick her….
“I just don’t know.” Her friend’s voice broke through her reverie, and she turned back to where her friend stood, staring unhappily at herself in the mirror. “I don’t know if I can do this? I just don’t know.”
Her friend turned to face her, and immediately our heroine could see that this problem would not be easy to solve, nor would it be cheap. Her friend put the Q-tip down and grabbed a tissue from the counter to wipe her face. In an effort to help, our heroine looked for more tissues, but quickly realized that only approaching another white uniformed woman would suffice. Pulling herself up, she stepped forward and tapped the rainbow lady on the shoulder, where rainbow was fawning over a fur-coated adolescent girl.
Rainbow looked around blankly for a moment, until she finally saw our heroine before her. Smiling insincerely, the older woman nodded, “Just a minute, sweetheart.” Biting back a retort, our heroine rocked back on her heels and waited, wrapping her somewhat unfashionable wool greatcoat closer about her.
She looked around at her surroundings, at the people rushing to and fro in their effort to find the friends and family members who had disappeared earlier into the heart of the place. Some leaned over the counters, trying to get information. Others simply wandered about, poking their heads into this room and that, their necks craning to see above the craziness. White uniforms and dark uniforms intermingled among the ordinary people, seeming impervious to the worry and stress around them. Those who worked here were only aware of their own.
Still waiting, and getting bored, she decided to check out the place itself. The high ceilings lit with fluorescents, the cement and plaster walls, the utilitarian nature of the space interspersed here and there with color to break the uniformity. Just staring at it all made our heroine feel weak and drained, and she felt sorry for the people who had to come to these places regularly.
“They need more chairs,” said her friend, breaking in again. She looked tired and a little worn, even though they’d only just arrived. The red of her lips looked unhealthy against her skin, and our heroine remembered the purpose of the visit. Another white uniform approached, and she moved to interrupt her. This one also looked scarily made up, as if she’d visited a circus before coming to work. Refusing to be daunted, our heroine jumped in front of her and stated her demand.
Well, not a demand, exactly. More like a whine. Or perhaps a plea for mercy.
“Tissues? Could we have more tissues?” Our heroine’s voice seemed softer than usual, as if this place required a lower tone of voice. The white uniform’s glazed eyes focused for a second, sizing up her opponent. After a slight pause, the woman nodded and replied curtly, “Of course.” A few seconds later, she handed our heroine a small sheaf of tissues.
Happy, our heroine turned back around to find that her friend had in fact found her own tissues already and was back to wiping her face. She looked a little better now. Her friend smiled, and all seemed well. Our heroine stepped closer to help, but the weight was back, feeling even more oppressive than before. Slowly she turned around.
Rainbow leaned over her, her hot breath thick on our heroine’s cheek. “I am sorry, hon,” rainbow said, “but I just need to get in where you’re standing. Do you mind moving away?”
It’s odd how some questions can sound like ultimatums.
Our heroine stepped back again, and narrowly missed getting hit by man in black wheeling a cart of boxes. He sneered and moved on. Our heroine sighed, and looked back to her friend. Her friend’s eyes were narrowing, annoyed at the manner in which they had been treated. Straightening, she walked over and plucked at our heroine’s sleeve.
“Come on,” she said, smiling, “let’s get away from these people. I think we’ll have better luck over there.” She jerked a thumb in the direction of a quieter area of Macy’s. “And, after we find the lipstick, we’ll find you some eye shadow you’ll like.”
Our heroine grinned and followed her heroine.