by Laine Perry
My friend Graham works in a photo shop in Appleton, Wisconsin. I asked him what it's like in there in the shop and he told me the following story:
This customer comes in yesterday and she's old...old, pickled, looks to be dead but propped up and wheeled out on invisible strings.
A little push here, a gentle pull there, these bouts of straightening out come at odd moments and somehow move her lips at the same time as they are moving her quickly de-calcifying frame. She is dressed in an attracive ivory and gold suit. She inhabits her clothes like a paper doll. Her hair is perfectly coifed. Her lips are the only three dimensional piece of her. They look stuck on and waxy; a red poppy planted in a field of wheat soldiering bravely against a large, oddly shaped freckle as if the mouth was heckling the punctuation of her flat nose.
She's with a parrot. His blue feathers have faded to a dull gray. Only the tips tell the story of a former glory. His feathers blend in with the customer's hair. This is the reason I didn't notice him at first. He watches every move she and I make. He's riding her shoulder and his weight causes her shoulder to dip which causes her hip to jut which requires a long lean on my counter. Her spindly, chafed fingers fan out across the glass leaving a smudge in the shape of a lily.
She has come to buy Christmas gifts and prefers to shop from our trash table, which is designated by a cardboard "Sale!" sign made by the proprietor in 1987. The items on the table are likely broken, or irrelevant. Still, the customer chooses ten or so gifts, a cracked, infrared filter, a camera bag designed to hold a Kodak insta-matic, a couple of rolls of expired pan-x film...
She pays in cash all the while consulting with her parrot regarding whom will receive what.
I walk the packages out to the Cadillac. The car is a mint green, with an ivory soft top in perfect condition. There isn't a rip, tear, dent or smudge on the car. It's perfect. It's glorious. I open the door for the customer and her parrot, newly impressed with the pair. The seat is covered in a soft ivory leather.
It's covered in bird shit. I place the packages on the floor in the back. I look to see if she's looking at me as I look at the shit on the seat.
"Happy Holidays," I tell her. She nods her head as I close her door. She and the parrot have resumed their conversation about the relatives. I am an incidental element in an otherwise known and perfectly understandable world.