The Mannequin (1934)

Carla Crujido
From The Strange Beautiful (Chin Music Press, 2023)

“Perfect,” the window dresser says as she slips the shoes onto the mannequin’s delicately arched feet. She ties the laces into tiny bows, slides the box stamped Made in Italy for the Crescent Department Store across the floor, and checks her watch. It’s nearly seven. Tomorrow, she will take the mannequin down to its new home in the Dress Salon; tonight, she’s late for dinner with Angela, the Italian beauty from Cosmetics. She turns off the overhead lights and closes the door to the workroom.

As soon as the window dresser walks out the door, a jolt zigzags from the arch of the mannequin’s left foot to her right, then lightnings up her body where it ends at the tip of her nose with a sneeze.

“Excuse me,” the mannequin says to no one. She takes a tentative step forward, wobbles slightly on the curved heels of her shoes, leans forward, and peers at herself in the mirror. In the waning half-light of the room, it’s hard to make out the details of her reflection, but what she sees she likes: dark hair, braided and coiled at her ears; gray, almond-shaped eyes; high, sculpted cheekbones; a narrow nose; a serious mouth. She is small-breasted and narrow-hipped. Modern.

She finds a pencil and pad of paper on the work table, wants to leave the window dresser a note so she does not worry. Thank you for the shoes, she writes. She stops, taps the pencil against her upper lip, looks around the room, and sees an empty crate, on the end a single word in bold black. This she takes as her name and signs the note with a flourish—Manikin.

The next morning, when the window dresser arrives in the workroom, the first thing she notices is the empty space. Who could have taken her mannequin at this early hour? Hers! She bets it was her coworker, Martin, or as she calls him—the department do-gooder. There was a rumor (that she did not start, but loved to spread) that he had a hand in his predecessor’s quick departure the season before she started working at the store, and she believes it. He is so perfect, so fake. Never a hair out of place, his clothes always impeccable. He reminds her of a matinee idol. She hates going to the movies (such a waste of time) and she hates Martin. If not Martin, maybe it was Sal. The one who reminds her of Angela, with his coffee-brown hair and eyes. A face from a country with a sea and endless sunshine; a body built by manual labor that creates waves of whispers from the salesgirls, and the men, on all six floors. He calls her baby, and wants to unpack the crates he delivers to her from the warehouse, wants to help her assemble the mannequins and move them around the store. Sometimes she lets him, just to watch the way his muscles move. If she liked men, she would choose one like him. A specimen, she thinks, and then laughs at the thought.

She sets her lunch pail and thermos on the worktable and notices a note written in perfect cursive. She is alone on the floor, alone in the store except for the night watchman downstairs. No one at this hour hears her scream. She leaves the store without explanation—she does not return.

The window dresser was wrong about being the only other person in the Crescent, besides the night watchman. Manikin is still trying to find a way out of the store. After she leaves the workroom, she takes the employee staircase down to the sixth floor, and then the elevator to the first. When she sees the watchman dozing by the employee entrance, she gets back in the elevator and goes to the second floor. In Luggage, she selects an ivory suitcase and then moves through the dimly lit store, filling the case with things she will need for her new life: slips and panties, garters and silk stockings, dresses and blouses and skirts. She sits in a chair until the sun rises and spills across the floor. The clock above reads half past seven, two more hours until the store opens and she can make her escape.

At nine o’clock, she goes back downstairs. She checks on the watchman, who is now awake and still at his post by the employee entrance. She sneaks over to Cosmetics, and regards her reflection in the morning light. Runs her fingers over the remnants of plaster in the dip of her throat, between her breasts, the nape of her neck. She plucks a compact of powder from the top of the case to camouflage the uneven spots, a tin of mascara to draw people’s eyes to her own. As she kneels to pull lipstick from the bottom shelf, she hears the plaster crackle in the crooks of her elbows and knees, and then a swell of voices. The employees are arriving. She moves toward the Hat Bar, dons a cloche, and pretends to be what she was only hours before—a mannequin.

When everyone has gone upstairs to clock in, she picks up the suitcase and walks quickly toward the door. As she steps outside, she runs into a besuited, bespectacled man. She hits him in the shin with her suitcase.
        “My apologies, sir,” she says. “I didn’t see you.”
        “None the worse for wear, miss,” he says. He looks at the suitcase and then at her.
        “I thought—” he starts. Then extends his hand. “Mr. Paterson. I’m the manager here at the Crescent. You must be Miss Clementine Barman. A surprise I must say.” He shakes her hand so vigorously she is afraid it will come off. “Your telegraph letting us know you were turning down the position was disappointing, but I’m happy you’ve changed your mind.”
        “Sir,” she says, but he interrupts her and continues.
        “If you’ll follow me back inside, I will have my secretary book a room for you at the Davenport Hotel until we can find new living arrangements for you. The apartment we reserved at the Espanola was taken by the new menswear buyer.” He leans forward and pushes the button for the elevator. “We have connections all over the city, I’m sure it won’t take long to find something else.” He keeps up his one-sided conversation as she follows him to his office. During the elevator ride she learns that she—or rather, Clementine Barman—is from Portland, worked for Meier & Frank Department Store, and is the new head buyer of womenswear for the Crescent.

Clementine spends the next two weeks settling into life in Spokane. She eats her breakfast in the hotel’s Delicacy Shop (a cheese Danish and a cup of coffee), a snack in the Coffee Shop (a seltzer and a cheese sandwich), dinner in the Apple Bower (English pea soup and strawberry shortcake). She has her hair washed and set into waves in the Beauty Salon; her nails filed into tapered points and painted with a sheen of polish. A tint, the manicurist calls it. Clementine buys a dozen dark red dahlias at the Flower Shop for the desk in her room; a stack of movie magazines from the Newsstand; a box of chocolates from the Confectionary. On the first night of her new life, she stays up until a yolky light floods her room—the candy box empty, the paper wrappers strewn on the floor, the magazines read.
        “Charge everything to your room,” Mr. Paterson had instructed. He also handed her an envelope filled with cash for incidentals and said, “Go have a bit of fun, dear girl, before your life becomes the store.”
      She walks up and down the streets of the city’s main shopping thoroughfare, and discovers all sorts of new-to-her places: the imported shoes at Schulein’s, the diamonds in the window of Dodson’s, everything paper at Graham’s, and a necklace of other stores that call to her: drugstores and dime stores, soda fountains and candy shops.

The second week, she moves into a furnished luxury apartment at Mt. Vernon. The building is Colonial, pillared, three- storied. Her apartment is up thirteen steps, through two sets of double doors, and after one gilded birdcage elevator ride to the third floor.
    “Fancy,” she says to the manager, as she takes in the oak finishes and built-in sideboard filled with crystal and porcelain, the contrasting modern furniture. All Danish.
        “Lucky me,” she says.
        “I’d say,” he says, as he hands her the keys to the apartment.

After he leaves, she walks from room to room. There are six. The vanity and moon-round mirror in one of the bedrooms invites her in. She sits on the velveteen cushion of the brass stool and studies her reflection, runs her fingers over the remaining bits of plaster in the dip of her throat, the nape of her neck. How did she go from a mannequin to this? A real woman, with a real life.

On her second day of work, Clementine is waved over to a cafeteria table by a woman she recognizes from the Cosmetics department.
        “Join us,” the woman says.
         Clementine sets down her tray and introduces herself.
      “Angela,” the woman says. Angela is a mesmerizing swell of  lips and hips and breasts and hair—a Verdi opera of a woman.
        “And this,” she says, pointing in turn to each woman at the table, “is Katherine, Opal, Marie, and Bettina.”
        “You all look like starlets,” says Clementine.
        “Not in the morning, we don’t,” Angela laughs.
        “Speak for yourself,” says Bettina as she pushes a wave of hair out of her eyes.
        “Opal is telling us about her spring nuptials,” says Angela. Clementine listens as Opal talks nonstop about her dress, the where and when of her wedding, her future children, dog, house with a white picket fence.
        Angela interrupts Opal. “What about you, Clementine?”
        “I’d like a dog,” she says.
       Bettina takes the interruption to turn her attention to Clementine. “So, what’s your story, morning glory?”
        “Story?” Clementine needles with fear. She has no story to tell. Bettina lights a cigarette, and blows the smoke across the table. “Where did you grow up? What does your father do? Do you have any brothers or sisters? Are you married?” All innocent but impossible to answer questions, except the last one.
        “No, I’ve never—”
        “Met the right one?” Angela finishes. “If you ask me, there is no right one. Men!” she laughs.“An absolute filthy bunch. Except that one,” she says, pointing across the room.
          “Martin!” she calls out. He walks over to the table.
        “Ladies,” he says, his eyes landing on Clementine. When the women notice him not noticing them, they resume their conversation on matters of matrimony.
        Martin puts his hand on Angela’s shoulder and asks, “Have you heard from Kate?”
    “Medical Lake,” she says. Angela turns to Clementine. “The sanatorium,” she also says, answering Clementine’s unasked question.
        “How are you holding up?” Martin asks. Clementine sees Angela run her finger over her lips, as if to say quiet.
        “Darling, have you two met?” Angela asks, changing the subject.
     “Not yet,” says Martin and smiles. Clementine notices the way his brown eyes flash green and crinkle at the corners. Angela introduces them. He is movie-star handsome: dark brilliantined hair, dark eyes, a thin mustache. He is dashing, debonaire. Tall, but not too tall; slim, but not too slim. He extends his hand. Clementine takes it and feels lightning jolt through her. The same feeling she had the night she came to life.
        “Clementine,” he says.
        “Martin,” she says. She holds onto his hand until she hears Bettina laugh and say,            
        “Ridiculous.” Embarrassed, Clementine pulls her hand back, upsets her cup. Coffee splashes onto the front of her dress. Embarrassed anew, she excuses herself, picks up her tray, and walks hurriedly away from the table.
        “Who is that enchanting creature?” she hears Martin say.
        “That, my dear, is your future wife.” Angela’s velvet laugh follows
Clementine out of the cafeteria and down the hall.

After lunch, she realizes she must create a history for herself and fast. There is only one way to do it. She buzzes her secretary and asks her to buy a round-trip train ticket to Portland. “Make sure it’s on the Columbia River Express,” says Clementine.

On Saturday morning, Clementine packs an overnight case and catches the 7:15 out of the station. She opens the magazine she bought at the newsstand and absentmindedly flips through the pages until she arrives at an article titled, “How to Behave Like a Lady.” She reads it once and then again. It is filled with an exhausting list of do nots. Ladies do not talk too loudly or too much. Ladies do not drink from a bottle. Ladies do not drink beer. Ladies do not drink too much. Ladies do not swear. Ladies do not wear bright red lipstick. Ladies do not apply lipstick in public. Ladies do not chew gum (lest they look like a cow chewing cud). Ladies do not discuss religion or politics (or any subject that might offend). Ladies do not speak of private matters publicly. Ladies do not reveal their secrets. The do nots match the rhythmic chug of the train: ladies do not, ladies do not, ladies do not. There are so many rules, how can she remember all of them? Will being a woman ever get easier? she wonders. She tosses the magazine aside and stares out the window for the rest of the trip. The train passes through flaxen fields of wheat, over and along the wild Columbia River, with its basalt walls climbing up and away from the shoreline. She sees a highway trace the tree line, stands of pine so thick she can’t see between them, the shock of a waterfall cleaving the scene in two, and then, a crown of a building atop a hill. Her train veers south. Finally, she arrives at Portland’s Union Station. The porter accompanies her to the taxi stand and asks her where she is going. She only knows one place in this city.

    “Meier & Frank,” she says.

The taxi deposits her in front of the sky-scraping, sugar-white shopping emporium. She stands on the sidewalk and admires the grandeur of it. Her coworker, Sigrid, told her that Clark Gable once worked here selling ties. Ties! Imagine walking into the store and being waited on by the future movie star.

    “Move it, dolly!” a man says as he pushes past her.

    Clementine picks up her case and walks into the store. It is a wash of ivory and black, metal and glass. It is elegant, refined. She studies the store directory. Fifteen floors and only two hours to cover them. Her first stop, the Coffee Shop on the tenth floor for a cream-cheese sandwich and a cup of coffee; then a peek into the Georgian Room (ladies eating late lunches) and the Men’s Grill (no women allowed). From there she goes quickly from floor to floor, department to department, until she arrives on the third floor: Women’s Apparel. It was here that she worked as a buyer in her make- believe life. She pulls a pocket diary from her clutch and pencils notes for the new old life she has to create for herself. As she moves through each department (Day, Evening, Resort, Bridal, Furs); she studies the displays (wool suits and satin gowns—all trimmed or topped with fur: mink, sable, ermine, fox); peeks at price tags (expensive, but lovely); looks at what the salesgirls are wearing (black afternoon dresses are all the rage); and glances into the eyes of the mannequins, searching for a sparkle of life (she sees nothing).

The closing bell rings as the elevator deposits her back on the main floor. Clementine looks up at the clock hanging above the display cases. It’s almost half past five. She walks to the candy counter, buys a box of Alisky caramels, and asks for directions to the nearest hotel. The woman wraps her purchase and directs her to the Imperial.

    “A four-minute walk,” she says. “A right, a left, and a right. The name is on the stonework above the entrance, you can’t miss it.”

At the hotel, she studies the map she bought at the train station and the city directory borrowed from the front desk. She learns the city’s streets and shops, its neighborhoods and businesses. She outlines the fiction of her past.

By the time she gets back on the train, she has a tale to tell. How her father was a dry goods merchant with a shop in Portland’s commercial district, and it was over plates of noodles at the Republic Cafe that she learned the retail trade from him. How she grew up in a house on 5th and F. How she started working at Meier & Frank as a salesgirl when she graduated from high school, and worked her way up to a womenswear buyer. How Friday nights were spent with her mama and papa and two sisters (both younger), lighting candles and saying prayers over braided bread, and then walking to temple for services after dinner (this she borrowed from a conversation she overheard on the train). How she has never been married, but was once engaged. Even if her history is fabricated, feeling connected to someplace and a string of someones makes her feel less alone in the world.

After Portland, her days pleat into each other: a taxi to work, phone calls to vendors in New York and Chicago, walking the sales floor to see what women are wearing. She spends hours poring over budgets and sales reports. She has lunch with Martin and the Cosmetics clique in the cafeteria, except on Wednesdays, when she goes to the Tea Room to watch the lunchtime fashion show. She attends a circus of afternoon meetings and takes a taxi home to have dinner—alone. She has almost forgotten the beginnings of her new life in this city. It’s only when she feels a tiny crack in the remaining circle of plaster at the nape of her neck that she remembers.

As she fingers the plaster spot, she thinks of the first time a man approached
her on the sales floor and asked her a question that shocked her speechless: “What are you?” he’d asked. The second and third time she was asked, she pretended that she heard her name being called and excused herself. It wasn’t until a woman posed the question in the elevator—and there was no escaping her or it—that she found the nerve to ask a question of her own. “What do you mean?” she asked, her brow furrowed.

    “You’re so exotic,” the woman said, “I was wondering where you are from.”

    “Portland,” Clementine said.

    The lady laughed, “Before that, dear.”

  Clementine remembered the crate she’d arrived in. “Berlin,” she
answered. The woman nodded, satisfied with Clementine’s response. It was after this encounter that Clementine understood people’s inclination to point out another’s differences, whether it was well-intentioned or not.

One Thursday, Martin stops her on her way out the door after work.

    “A matinee on Saturday?” he says.

    “I thought you’d never ask,” she says.

At one o’clock on Saturday afternoon Martin pulls up in a green Franklin convertible, looking silver-screen handsome. The sky is slate and cloud-stitched; the top of the car, Clementine notes thankfully, is up. She leans over the balcony and waves at Martin.

    “Be right down,” she calls. She checks her lipstick in the mirror and smooths the front of her new blue Hattie Carnegie dress. This is the third date of her life, but the first that she is excited about. Her first was with Fred, the menswear buyer, who took her to the Italian Gardens at the Davenport and before they were done with their spaghetti asked if she’d like to get a room upstairs; the second was with Lyle from Sporting Goods, a man who spoke only of his predictions for the 1934 football season, and smelled of a curiously vile combination of cedarwood and Limburger cheese. He took her to Bob’s Chili Parlor for dinner. She liked the chili, she liked the tamale; she did not like Lyle. But Martin was different. He was unassuming, intelligent, mannered. He smelled of grapefruit and vetiver and freshly laundered shirts. When she tried to buy them coffee from Johnston “The Coffee Man” or hot doughnuts, fresh from the fryer at the next shop over, he never let her pay. “Because he’s a true gentleman,” Angela said when she told her. “One of the rare ones.”

Their date is a mashup up of fun: the new Charlie Chan picture at the Fox Theater, two towering slices of chocolate-frosted cake and four cups of black coffee at The Percolator, then a stop at Krohl’s Market after Martin offers to make her dinner.

When they get back to her apartment, the front rooms are frigid. She’s forgotten to close the balcony door.

    “You turn on the radiator, and I’ll start dinner,” says Martin. A look flashes across her face that must read as fear, because he suggests, on second thought, that she find something for them to listen to on the radio. She admits that she is scared to turn on the radiator, scared to light her stove, scared to start a fire—she does not tell him why. She defaults to damsel, but she’s terrified that the fire or the steam heat could disfigure or destroy her.

Clementine drinks the martini that Martin mixes and watches as he moves expertly around her small galley kitchen. When dinner is ready, they sit on the davenport in front of the unlit fireplace, and he pours them each another martini from the shaker. He lifts his glass to hers. “Prost!”   

    “You’re German?” she says, instead of toasting. “Direct from Berlin,” Martin says and laughs.    

    “Me too,” she says. “I mean—”

    “I know,” he says.

    She takes a bite of the cheeseburger, closes her eyes, and hums as she chews, savoring the salt of the meat, the tang of the cheese. Martin laughs. “Good?”

    “Where did you learn to make food like this?”

    “Angela taught me,” he says, reaching out to wipe the mustard from her chin.

    “Oh,” Clementine says, disappointment darkens her voice. “She’d make a perfect wife, don’t you think?”

    “For someone, but I’m not exactly her type.”

    “But you two seem perfect for each other.” He gives her a funny look. “You think so?”

    “Absolutely,” she says and takes another sip of her drink.

    “Whatever you say, kid.” He reaches over and musses her hair, almost touches the plaster spot at the nape of her neck. She jumps off the davenport, alarmed. “You need to go,” she says.

      He laughs and then looks at her. Confusion in his eyes. “You’re serious?”

    “Dead. Go.” She points to the door.

      “Got it,” he says. He sets his martini glass on the table, puts his hands
in the air—a Wild West cowboy—backs away from the davenport. She hands him his coat and opens the door. In the hallway, he turns. “I
apologize for upsetting you.” She stares at him, unsure of what to say. He pushes the button for the elevator, and she closes the door without saying goodbye.

After he leaves, she pulls the wool blanket off the back of the davenport, wraps it around her shoulders, and goes out onto the balcony. She hears music floating across the hall from her neighbor’s apartment. Puccini’s La Bohème. It is the only record he listens to, night after night, from as soon as he gets home from work until he goes to sleep at exactly midnight. His loneliness is a resounding crescendo. She wonders if hers has a sound as well?

      The sky loses its stitching and the rain clatters over the cobblestones on Tenth Avenue. Clementine is soothed by its metallic melody. She’s mortified by how she acted—but what if Martin knew the real reason she asked him to leave? What would he say then?

Clementine avoids the cafeteria and Martin for the next week. She eats alone in her office or doesn’t eat at all. She ducks behind displays when she sees him; she arrives at the store early and leaves late. But after a week of hiding, she’s exhausted by her own efforts. On Monday morning, she leans into the half-open door of the workroom and knocks on the doorframe, then she walks in and sets a pink bakery box on the worktable. Martin opens it, pulls out the plum Danish, takes a bite.

    “I accept,” he says.

    “My lunch invitation?” she says and smiles.

    “That too,” he says and laughs.

After that, the two fall into a pattern of spending their lunch hours
together—eating grilled cheese sandwiches at the Woolworth’s counter, sharing a Reuben at Nim’s, or getting noodles from Luzon Café and
eating them in the workroom. Clementine’s and Martin’s coworkers begin to comment, kindly and unkindly, on their pairing.

    “Made for each other,” they overhear the coterie of salesgirls in the cafeteria say.

    “Made for each other is right,” a man at their table adds. “They think they’re better than the rest of us.”

    “Shut up, Stanley,” says one of the girls. “You’re positively green.”

Soon the race toward Christmas is under way. The holiday catalogs have been shipped, the windows dressed, the mannequins outfitted. Toyland is frosted and flocked and waiting for children’s Christmas wishes to be whispered to Santa.

One morning, Clementine gets a call from the warehouse that the order of Claire McCardell dinner suits she expects from New York has been lost in transit.

    “Lost?” she shouts into the receiver. “Lost? How can you lose an entire shipment of dresses?”

    The man on the other end stutters an excuse. She slams down the receiver, clips her earring back on, slips on her coat, and storms out of the office.

She walks quickly down Riverside toward Lincoln, toward an argument. As she nears the Crescent’s warehouse, she sees a man standing in front of the building smoking a cigarette. She’s seen him in the store, but he has never acknowledged her in any way. She smiles as she passes him, says hello.

    “I know who you are,” he says.

    She stops and turns around. “Excuse me?”

    “You heard me.” He drops his cigarette and crushes it into the sidewalk. “You walk around the store thinking you’re someone important, but I know exactly who you are.”

    “I don’t know what you are talking about,” she says. She turns and walks as fast as she can toward the Crescent’s wholesale office building. As she opens the front door, she hears him call out a string of numbers. It is the serial number stamped on her left hip.

After this, the man haunts her days. She sees him in the store and on the sidewalk after work; once, he is standing across the street from her apartment building, smoking a cigarette, and staring up at her third-floor balcony. How long will it be before he spills her secret? Before he tries to destroy her?

She carries her worry with her for over a week and finally tells Martin how the man from the warehouse is stalking her. She has never seen Martin angry, but a cherry hue rises to his cheeks, and the coffee he is drinking sloshes over the rim of the cup and soaks the cuff of his starched, white shirt. She tells him how the man stares at her, feels ever present. How she is scared to be alone at work, or at home, or in-between.

    “Starting Monday,” Martin says, “I am picking you up and taking you home each day.”

    “I can’t ask you to do that.”

    “You didn’t,” he says. “End of discussion.”

      On Saturday morning, Martin arrives at her apartment with a present—a poodle. It is a cloud of white curls, one eye ringed in black, the other in

    “I can’t be here to protect you,” he says. “But he will be.”

    “Does he have a name?” she asks. He winces and laughs, “He answers to Pipsqueak.”

She calls him Pip. He follows her from room to room, lies next to her on the davenport while she’s reading, sleeps with his head on her pillow, cries when she exits the room. This is what it is to be loved, to be needed, to be accepted as she is.

On Monday morning, her across-the-hall neighbor, Vilma, comes over and offers to walk Pip while she is at work. When she gets home that night, she finds two plates covered in waxed paper in front of her apartment door. Under one of the plates is a note: I am a phone call away. And then a number. It is from her neighbor, the bachelor baker, the one who plays Puccini over and over again. She knows that Martin has asked the man to keep an eye on her, but she still appreciates the kindness. She pulls out two chairs at the dining room table. Pip jumps onto one and she sits on the other. She eats the chocolate cake with her fingers and lets Pip eat the steak and baked potato from the plate.

On the Friday before Christmas Eve, Clementine gathers her purse and slips on her coat. It’s already half past five, and she needs to get out the door and to the market before it closes. Martin isn’t waiting in her outer office, so she asks her secretary to call up to the workshop.

    “There’s no answer, Miss Barman.”

    “Please keep trying,” Clementine says. “If he answers, tell him I’m going
to the market and will meet him back here by the main entrance as soon as I’m done.”

Angela is behind the perfume counter, gift-wrapping a purchase for a customer. She looks up and sees Clementine. Mouths, wait! Clementine
waves, but keeps walking. On Riverside, she looks into the festively festooned window, and there is Martin fixing the arm of a tin soldier. She knocks, says market through the glass. Martin says, wait—but she doesn’t. She walks down the street, looks up at the garlands of greenery strung across the avenue, the silver stars and bells. “Merry Christmas” is spelled out in lights; on the corner a Salvation Army Santa collects cast-off change.

She turns onto Post and is pulled sideways by someone in the crowd, pushed into the alley. The man from the warehouse. She screams, but it’s lost in a cacophony of after-work sounds. He puts his hand over her mouth.

    “Don’t scream, baby. I just wanna be close to you. I’ve seen the way you look at me. I know you want it.” Her struggle is making him hard. “Feel that?” he whispers into her ear. “That’s what you do to me.”

He puts his mouth on her neck, pushes his fingers into her, pushes her into the wall. He takes his hand off her mouth to undo his belt, unzip his pants. She screams again, and his hand comes down hard across her face. “I told you to keep your mouth shut, bitch.” He tears at her panties and there is a crack, a shattering. Clementine opens her eyes and sees Angela; she is holding a dust-covered high heel. A pile of painted plaster lays at their feet.

    “Come here, love,” says Angela. She takes Clementine in her arms, holds her until her sobs go silent. Finally, Clementine pulls back and asks, “How?”

    “I hit him,” Angela says, touching the plaster spot at the nape of
Clementine’s neck. “Here.”

    “But how did you know?”

    “Because, darling, he was one of us.”

Carla Crujido is the Nonfiction Editor at River Styx Magazine. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the Institute of American Indian Arts and has had work published in Crazyhorse, Yellow Medicine Review, Ricepaper Magazine, Tinfish Press, The Ana, and elsewhere. Her short story collection, The Strange Beautiful, is forthcoming from Chin Music Press in the fall of 2023. She lives in the Pacific Northwest.

Originally published in Moss: Volume Eight.

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