‘Fuck you.’  Michelle left the break room and wandered towards the perfume stand. It was Calvin Klein today. Yesterday, it was some sort of celebrity fragrance. Lady Gaga or something. It was called ‘Stardust’ and was inspired by a fruit blossom, but Michelle thought it smelled like soured cat shit.

One in a Million

Michelle put her jeans on. They were black but not goth. Work clothes. The white button-up top, the one without the smear on the sleeve from a misplaced foundation powder, gave little hassle when slipped over her skin. She didn’t quite like the shirt, but it hugged her in the right spots, and that went a long way to getting customers. Shoes and socks soon followed suit. Michelle grabbed her keys off an old cardboard box that doubled as a mail holder and end table. Without so much as a glance back at her forgotten bag lunch, Michelle turned her key in the door and made her way to the early morning city below.

            Her walk to the subway wasn’t without notice.

            ‘Dollar…got a dollar? I’m trying to get back to…’ the kid said. His clothes saw better days but were none worse than what Michelle was wearing.

            ‘No thank you.’ Michelle said walking through the teen.

            The teen turned his pockmarked face towards Michelle. He ran one hand through his matted brown hair. The other one picked nervously at a spot on his face. ‘Dollar….got a dollar?’ he asked to nobody.

            ‘Fucking whore!’ screamed the next transient. Michelle couldn’t guess which was worse, the smell from the man’s shit-soaked pants or that he called her a fucking whore each and every time she went to work.

            It became a ritual for her. The pock-marked one asking for a dollar to get back to a home that only existed in his broken mind and the smelly one yelling at her from shit-stained pants. The words ran off her; she had far too much practice with her dad to let a nameless freak bother her.

            But still, no matter how inoculated she was to the taunt, she had her pride. One day, yes, one day, she would fire back. Maybe throw a bunch of change at him and watch him scower on the ground like a cockroach after the shit she wouldn’t even leave a bad barista. She would laugh then. Laugh at the misfit in his torn greasy coat that matched his grey and dreadlocked hair. A bird’s nest. That’s what his hair reminded Michelle of.  A bird’s nest filled with filth and shit. The warble that came out of the man’s mouth, just a call of a deteriorating blue jay.

            No. A blue jay was far too good of a creature for that animal. A pigeon. Yes, a diseased shit-eating pigeon. Vile and hate-filled.

            The thoughts took her past the subway entrance where she mindlessly waved her pass across the reader. They travelled with her to her seat, one next to a child riding with his mother. The kid was in some sort of school outfit. Small jacket and tie. She hoped it was a school outfit. Her mother used to dress her that way for school. She, too, wanted a boy.

            Her stop. She got off her seat and watched it fold back down under the weight of a fat man. He was wearing a suit too, but not a schoolboy one. This one said he had money. Money that he probably shovelled into his mouth or up his nose. Michelle knew types like that.

            Two lines, one security checkpoint, one scanner, and a small pat-down later, she made her way to the Los Angeles Airport’s duty-free zone. Macy’s. That’s what the sign said. Fucking Macy’s. Michelle let a small sigh out as she pulled the door open. She made her way to the employee break room to deposit her jacket and grab a swift cup of instant coffee.

            ‘Forgot again, didn’t you?’ Mark said.

            ‘I didn’t even pack a lunch last night.’ Michelle lied. She packed a lunch. She packed four of them.

            ‘Rough night?’

            ‘Bowie died.’ Michelle said.

            ‘Oh, sorry to hear.’ Mark gave the response a bit robotic, much like one would say God Bless you! when a sneezer came ‘round.

            Michelle didn’t respond. She threw her instant cup into the trash and looked at her lipstick in the reflection of the fridge.

            ‘He was a singer, right?’ Mark said.

            ‘Mark?’ Michelle asked.

            ‘Yes?’

            ‘Fuck you.’  Michelle left the break room and wandered towards the perfume stand. It was Calvin Klein today. Yesterday, it was some sort of celebrity fragrance. Lady Gaga or something. It was called ‘Stardust’ and was inspired by a fruit blossom, but Michelle thought it smelled like soured cat shit.

            ‘New CK4A! I can’t believe we get this before the other stores!’ It was a high-pitched voice, like a child who just couldn’t get through puberty.  It was the voice of Michelle’s counterpart, Mary.

            Mary had a lot going for her. She had looks, a new boyfriend (he’s going to be the next Leo, you’ll see!), a bit of brain, and enough family money to keep her not worried about her post-college career choice (this week it was Marine Biologist for the California Aquarium). She was utterly religious—no sex before marriage (through vaginal means at least). She also took the time to remind Michelle of all this every single day.

            ‘CK4A?’ Michelle asked.

            ‘Like you don’t know! It’s the new gender-fluid scent from Calvin Klein! I am so jealous that you get to bring this to our customers!  Salesgirl of the week, that’s going to be you! It’s automatic! Automatic unless that cold of yours stops you. You sound a bit plugged up, are you okay, hun?’

            Michelle took the display sprayer from Mary and put it behind the counter. ‘I’m fine. Allergies. Yeah…automatic.’

            Mary took Michelle by the arm and pulled her close. ‘You know, I could fix you up with Jason’s friend. I mean, he isn’t going to be as big as Jason is and he has this droopy eye thing going on, but beggars can’t be choosers…’

            ‘Mary?’

            ‘Yeah?’

            ‘Fuck you.’  Michelle broke free of Mary’s grasp and started to head back behind the counter.

            Mary stood there for a beat—just a beat—the rage on her face melted her sainthood. ‘F me? F me? I don’t think so! Here I was trying to reach out to my lessers like Jesus said to and this is what I get? I know you are just upset because Jason used to date you. I won him fair and square!’

            ‘You let him fuck your ass at the Christmas party, you whore! That’s how you won him!’

            ‘How dare you! That’s Jesus’s birthday! I’d never…and to think I was going to pray for you! Oh, and Little Miss Sunshine, your lipstick is smeared. Do you even know how to blot?’ Mary left Michelle’s workstation and beelined to her cosmetics department.

            Michelle took a look in her beauty mirror. ‘Fuck, she’s right.’ Michelle took a tissue from behind the counter and tried to blot, but the lipstick merely smeared more. In anger, she took it all off. By the end, it looked like she drank Kool-Aid. In the distance, she could hear Mary’s high-pitched impression, ‘Hey, Kool-Aid Man!’  A distinct ‘Oh yeah!’ mocking could be heard from Mark as he walked by Michelle on his way to the Men’s shoe department.

            Michelle tried to ignore them. She ignored Jenson in the 3rd grade for calling her Pigchelle, and she can ignore her co-workers. Besides, there were only eight more hours of work left. She had the newest and hottest fragrance from Calvin Klein—a unisex one at that. Maybe she will really make that salesgirl of the week prize that Mary teased and often won.

            Her first customer, a woman in her early 50s, semi bald and wearing a wig a bit too Little Richard for her, came up through the store.  Michelle sprayed her.  ‘My lord! You about maced me! You little cracker! Where is your manager?’ The woman stormed off.  Her hair bobbing behind her.

            The rest of Michelle’s customers were not as friendly as the first one. She had fake sales, ‘That smells great! What is it?’ ‘CK4A.’ ‘Oh Em Gee! I must have it! How much?’ ‘Just 48$ a bottle if you…’ ‘That was sarcasm! I wouldn’t wear this it if were free!’ to ones that barely made sense, ‘CK4A? Does it come in that eau stuff?’ ‘Oh, you want the toilet water…’ ‘Toilet water? I knew you were just a dog!’ to the mean spirited ‘CK4A?’ ‘You suck cock for ass?’ to the vicious ‘Get that shit out of my face!’ to the litigious ‘My eyes! She sprayed it in my eyes! I’m going to sue!’ to the superstitious ‘Now spray it three times on my left arm.’ ‘Okay, that’s both arms and your chest. Are you sure you don’t want to buy it?’ ‘No, baby, I’m too old for perfume.’ to the cheapskates, ‘This is exactly what I want! Give me another spritz!’ ‘So, you want one? It’s only…’ ‘Oh, Lordie, no! But I’ll see you tomorrow!’ to the really weird conspiracy theorists, ‘What was that?’ ‘CK4A, do you like it?’ ‘Would you like someone spraying you with a chemical enhanced tracking agent! Now Obama knows exactly where I live!’ to the vocal threaters ‘Bitch, if you spray that at me one more time, I will bust your face! Your face, bitch!’.

Lunchtime. A small, yet over-priced, snack at McDonald’s. The apostrophe was graffiti’d, but it didn’t make sense to Michelle.  Wrapper away. Straw slurped. Trash in bin. Back to work.

            ‘Try our new…’ ‘Piss off!’ ‘How about you, sir?’ ‘I’m a guy! Do I look like some sort of queer to you?’ ‘No, of course not. You dress like shit.’ ‘What was that?’ ‘Nothing.’ ‘You wait until I talk to your manager!’.  Those were the highlights of the 2nd part of her shift. The lows were pretty low.

            One family, the type to take not just one little kid, but two screaming children to a long plane ride, actually let the kids behind the counter. ‘You can’t be here. Go back to your parents.’ ‘Mom! She hit me!’ ‘I did no such thing!’ Michelle ended up giving away an entire stockpile of CK samplers to shut the mother up. The topper, though? Those same white trash kids coming back and knocking all the bottles off the counter displays. The ones they could reach, at least.

            ‘That’s coming out of your paycheck.’ Samantha, her hipster manager, told her whilst looking over her spectacles at Michelle. Michelle started to protest, but she knew there wasn’t any use. There never was. When Jason first dumped her, she protested too, ‘But you can’t leave me! We just got an apartment together!’ ‘Hey, I’m not the bad guy here. I’m sure you’ll find somewhere else to live.’ ‘But you said you loved me!’ ‘That’s when you were pregnant. Thank god for small favors, right?’ ‘Miscarriage. It’s called a miscarriage.’

            ‘Michelle?  Michelle? Earth to Michelle!’ Samantha’s voice tried to snap Michelle back to reality. ‘At least you’ll have a large bonus with all those bottles you sold. Going by the sample packs that moved out today, you must have sold a…’

            ‘Given away.’

            ‘What was that?’ Samantha said, realizing that Michelle had been talking for some time, just not loud enough to be heard.

            ‘Given away, not sold.’

            ‘You gave away all those sample cases? Those were for customers. You know, the ones who pay your wage….’

            ‘But…’

            ‘But nothing! Wait, are you sick? You sound plugged up! Clean this up and collect your paycheck.’

            ‘Our checks are in today?’

            ‘It’s an expression! It means you’re fired. Ugh. Don’t start blubbering now! In fact, don’t clean this up. You’ll just mess it up even more. Just go home!’

            The sniggers from Mary were audible. The wave that Mark gave, one of ‘good-bye’ wasn’t, but Michelle could feel the heat rise to her face all the same. Michelle went to the break room to collect her coat and left towards home. Her eyes were wet, blue sapphires, and stung.

            ‘Dollar…got a dollar?’ the kid said as Michelle kept walking with her eyes down.

            ‘Don’t waste your time! That bitch is too stuck up!’ the smelly one said. ‘Come on, baby! I know you want it! It’s cold out here, come warm me up! See! Nothing. Fucking whore!’

            She entered her apartment door as the last wave of taunts fell in the wind.  The wind was especially fierce tonight. She shivered and shut the door. Her coat was hung near the lunch that she failed to take.  Michelle walked into her bathroom and looked at her face, took a tissue and blew. Chunks came out. With a splash of bottled water, she refreshed herself.

            Her apartment was barren. She had a suitcase, still open, resting alongside her sofa. It was filled with food, clothes, some water, and a few photographs; everything was faded and tattered. Michelle looked up at the night sky and saw the glow of a heathen sun refusing to set.

            The silence became overwhelming, and the TV cut the cold dead fingers of memory away. ‘All 325 people are feared dead.’ ‘Witnesses said the plane just dropped out of the air.’ ‘That’s the second plane catastrophe we’ve seen in the last three hours, Bob. The first being Delta Flight 2405 flying into the…’ ‘This just in, a plane had to perform an emergency landing on the way from LAX to New York…’ ‘Another plane from Los Angeles? Brenda?’ ‘That’s the early report, Bob. First responders are saying that the pilot touched down in Las Vegas after being forced down by, from what we understand, a family of violent…’ ‘Hold that thought, Brenda.  We are going live to a press conference at Los Angeles airport.  Authorities have shut down the airport amid a violent outbreak at Macy’s department stores.  We don’t know if these incidents are linked or not, but we will keep you update.  An eyewitness has reported seeing the CDC quarantine off the perfume counter.  One of the store employees called in a suspicious package that was supposed to be a new fragrance but turned out to be…’

            Michelle turned the TV down and listened to the silence of the night. She picked up her cell phone and texted, ‘It’s done.’ She dropped her phone and leaned out her window. Silence. Then sirens. Screams. Michelle smiled.

Jim Phoenix

El Jefe

About the Author

Real skull. Don't ask. You wouldn't believe it if I told you.

View Articles