As soon as I approach the counter, the teenaged hipster girl half-crouches behind the cash register.
I point to my head and mime like I am washing my hair. That’s when the girl starts to shake real hard, and then her eyes roll way back, as if I’d just clocked her in the face. She collapses into a heap, all pale, skinny limbs and a polyester, neon romper. Really? That’s what the kids are wearing these days?
I lean over the counter to ask again about the hair products, but the useless waste of a cashier is out cold. Fine. I’ll find it my damn self.
As I make my way down the aisle with all the antiperspirants and deodorants, I am loping along even slower than usual — in part because I am looking for a new product to replace my Lady SmellGood roll-on. I have yet to find something that will keep my pits dry and cover the stench of rotting, reanimated flesh. Also, this is my first time wearing my new Jimmy Shoo stiletto ankle-boots, and they are killer. Seriously. My left foot is starting to ooze out over the top of the soft, whiskey-colored suede. Ugh. That’ll leave a stain.
I spy a stock boy in a blue Waldrugs apron over by the condom aisle. It would really be fantastic if he could just point me in the direction of the hair conditioner, because Fred’s waiting outside in the Beemer and he gets super pissed when I spend too much time shopping instead of grabbing some food.
I shift into high gear to get to the stock boy quickly — totally difficult in these heels, I should add — but he’s already pulling one of those paralyzed-with-terror moves. As I get closer, the boy stretches his arms toward me, holding two bottles of lube together so that they form the shape of a cross. I swear, it is impossible to find good customer service these days.
I do my hair-washing mime thing again, and the poor guy’s lips disappear into pale grey lines. It’s actually a good look for him. It sets off the marine blue of his apron.
“Raaaiin,” I say. “Satin Raaaiin,” and my voice comes out husky and low.
The boy’s eyes get wide, and he looks confused. “What?”
I clear my throat, “I know, I know. Satin Rain is totally cheap, but it’s actually the very best conditioner.”
He reluctantly points to aisle 5, like he doesn’t want to help me, but he doesn’t want me to stick around either.
“Awesome. And the sunless tanner?”
His index finger trembles as he motions to Aisle 8.
“Thanks, you’re a doll.”
When I walk away, every step is accompanied by a squish and a slurp, and I can feel the hot, thick liquid puddle around my toes. Ew. Pus in boots again. I swear, I’ve been plagued by stupid bunions ever since the apocalypse, and I can’t seem to shake them. I fear my days of high heels might be over, but I cringe at the thought of sensible footwear. Can you even imagine me in Breezy Spirits? Nasty.
I grab a bottle of tanner, the spray-on kind because it looks more natural, and the enormous bulk bottle of hair conditioner. That’s the thing about being undead — it is the worst possible thing for your hair. Split ends like nobody’s business.
Then I pick up a couple of new pink loofahs from a long display of bath poufs. You would not believe how quickly I go through loofahs these days. Lately my skin tends to peel off in sheets, like the most major sunburn ever, so my loofahs get all clogged with scabs and gunk and bits of flesh. Imagine putting a cheese grater to an uncooked meatball. Super gross. And the more I exfoliate, the worse it gets. A couple weeks ago I was using this top-of-the-line Tahitian vanilla sugar scrub and a hunk of my neck fell off. That clogs the shower drain, let me tell you.
I’m headed to the front of the store when a quivering tower of potato chips stops me dead in my tracks. The bags are shaking, like we’re standing on top of the San Andreas Fault or something. I peek behind the shelves, and sure enough, there’s an old lady hunkered behind the display. The way she’s curled up, she looks like a pink salad shrimp on her wheelchair, and her body shudders with full-body tremors. The smell of panic and piss coils out of her pores and fills the air around her.
When I crouch down to talk, it is to offer words of comfort. “Hey, it’s all right,” I put my hand on her tiny, sparrow arm. Even through the fat fabric of her purple fleece, my fingers feel the blood pulsing hot and vibrant in her veins. “I won’t hurt you.”
She turns her head to look at me. Her eyes search mine, and between us I feel the bridge that spans humanity and un-humanity. Here is a woman who can see beyond the surface of my decomposing flesh. She understands what it’s like to disappear, piece by piece, trudging slowly to the grave. She knows that everything fades. She gets me.
The woman coughs and then wheezes, “You … disgust me.”
My impulse is pure rage, and I push her. Hard. I don’t even think about it, and it’s already done. The movement causes the food tower to topple. Potato chips scatter across the waxy white floor. With a fierce growl that surprises even myself, I pummel the woman again, and her wheelchair careens with a sick thud into a box of Wet ‘N’ Snazzy lip glosses.
“Get a life, you bag of bones,” I say. “Like I want meals on wheels anyway.”
I leave the woman splayed against the shelves of makeup. Let her rot there, see if I care.
By now the girl behind the register has come to, but when I try to pay she just waves me off. I put my hand inside my Fucci bag to toss at least a ten-spot her way, and the crazy girl screams like she’s trying to make wine glasses shatter. Drama queen. I take three deep breaths and mentally repeat the mantra that was given to me by my life coach in Beverly Hills: “ABC. Always be calm. ABC. Always be calm. ABC ..”
The cashier continues to squeal — how can such a little thing make so much noise? — and I’m starting to feel the sharp knife blade of a migraine. I need to get out of there.
“Can I just grab one of these …?” I reach over toward the breath mints, and the girl shoves a box of candy my way.
“Take it! Take it all!”
“Uh, LifeRescuers? Seriously?” I say, grabbing a plastic box of curiously strong mints instead. “Don’t be stupid.”
Outside Fred revs the engine as I get close to the car. I slip into the leather bucket seat. It’s a warm night, and the windows are down.
“What’d you get?” Fred says, and he looks at me with a hunger both nutritional and carnal.
“Um, just conditioner and stuff,” I say. “Nothing else really looked appetizing.”
“I don’t know why I even let you try,” Fred says as he shifts the car into reverse. “Whatever. Let’s get some fast food.”
He points the car toward the high school track, where the cross country team trains late. As he drives, I fix my lipstick in the rearview and moisten my cheeks with instant tan. I tug my hair back and tie it with a pretty ribbon. I don’t even mind when my finger snags the top of my ear and a piece of cartilage lands in my lap. I just toss it out the window when Fred isn’t looking.
I catch my reflection again in the mirror and smile at what I see. There’s no reason a woman can’t have both beauty and brains.