I catch her in the bathroom mirror, after a double shift. Her face a glossy pearl through the fog of shower glass. She’s prettier than me, meaner than me. Seems taller than me. She asks, what is the use? After I wash my tired face, she’s gone.
At the movies, in the dark, she itches my skin when I’m on a date. She crouches at my knees, watching me watch, tidies my sleeves so I don’t get any popcorn in them. Cradles my hair where it curves below my ear. Smooths it. With the magnifying glass, she studies for wrinkles in my dress, ready for a tsk tsk tsk—her favorite expression. She’s just waiting for me to laugh so she can clasp her hand over my mouth. I remember what it’s like being a child again, watching TV on the living room floor, mouth open in wonder. I slide into that self. She flies away.
In an interview for a new job, an office job, she’s the interviewer. She tells me the salary will be life changing, that I may even be able to afford a house now, and I could help my parents with those health bills that keep coming in. I could finally be of use. Her hair is slicked back in a long ponytail and she wears fuchsia nail polish smooth as glass. I tell her I have to work through Christmas at the restaurant. I pick up my borrowed laptop bag and say thank you.
Late Christmas Eve, after cleaning up all the tables, I sit at a booth at the window and watch two or three cars drive by. I wish it would snow. The ring chimes as a woman enters. She is tall, pretty, and has a kind face with fresh tears. “Are you–?” she says. I smile and nod. I offer her a seat at my booth and place a hot cup of coffee and a glass of water before her.
She is so tired. I lean in to listen.