I am watching Emily paint her nails. She’s beautiful. Her eyes are sapphires with gold flakes submerged in water. Her cheeks are rosy pink from the shower heat. She has a slender build, her long legs pulled close to her body, the thigh pressed into her full breasts a bit. Her silky gold hair shines and glows, lies on her pearl skin, off her back and her shoulders. Her skin is flawless, no hair, no wrinkles. The hair is still a bit wet, causing the ends of her hair to curl slightly. They called her a slut back in high school. That’s when she found strength within herself and learned how to survive in this world. While I work 9 to 5 in a large, multi-million corporate (before the overtime), slave worker bee, Emily has been, for the most part, unemployed. We have known each other very well since high school. I'm Rachelle.
The sky is turning blood orange with a hint of pink and purple. I never liked sunset, it as if roaring fire engulfs the sky, bringing the world to its end. It is, figuratively speaking, the end of every day at least. Endings are not my forte. Neither is night time. Yet the sunset still comes, every day, warning me that night’s about to fall. The creatures at night crawl and hunt the innocent.
Emily is humming a melody, possibly some chorus from a Top 40 song. Her long curly hair is still damp, occasionally allowing water to drip off. It covers most of her face as she lowers her head. Her blonde and curly lashes fall like the satin curtains, enveloping the precious sapphire stones. If Vogue’s cover feature is beauty at home, Emily is the girl. “Rachelle hon…” Most her attention is on her last toenail as she softly calls to me, “Did I tell you about Mr. Ransoms?” I’m staring at her left hand. The hand is holding her nail brush. No reply. She finishes painting and lifts her head to look at me, “It’s called Vila Glam.”
“A nice shade of red…” I manage to say something though my voice sounds dry like a lost soul in Sahara, gravely dehydrated. As I struggle to come up with something to keep the conversation going, Emily beams at me; a nice radiant smile and excitedly tells me how she thought it would look too bold and flashy on her fingers but somehow pops nicely on her toes. She takes a risk and the reward is magnificent. She’s a risk taker, a doer, and a go-getter. She would have gone to a nail salon for manicure but she likes painting her own nails. It’s her calming ritual. “You know, I don’t want it to scream out, ‘I am hot,’ but I think it’s seductive to have this color on my toes.” Pointing her pale left leg towards at me, she wiggles her toes, giggling. “Anyway, yeah, about Mr. R. J. Ransoms” Closing Vila Glam’s cap, Emily grabs a soft beige nail polish from the vanity table. “Creamy Cashmere.” She winks. “What about Mr. R?” Uninterested in the names of nail polishes.
“I asked about the arrangement, and he was talking about chemistry.” The statement is full of disappointment. “Hm, I’m not...following.” “O’Hon…” Emily glances at me though veil of her long blond hair for a second, without raising her head, peeking like a cat through the door gap. I shift a bit, uneasy. “I haven’t heard of this name before… thought you are already occupied with Mr. Astro, Barky, and Silverton.” “Well, you see…” On to her left index finger, the brush smoothly layers the polish on. Somehow, it extends the length of her fingers; an illusion. “Mr. Barky moved his business to the New England area, Boston, I think.” Pause. Emily blows her nail. “So our relationship has to end. You see. Quite sad. Oh, quite sad indeed. It’s hard to find such man in this damn era. A great, generous man with wonderful taste! Where do you find that kind of gentleman these days?”
“Ugh…so Mr. R is to fill the vacancy?” Reasonable deduction. I pat myself on the back. “Well, not even close…Mister R. a. n. s. o. m. s! He WAS supposed to be the replacement.” She spelled his full last name out with a passionate disgust, imaging slashing each word as knife wound deep into his flesh. Pause. Onto her left middle finger. “I mean when I checked out his profile, he’s handsome, making 7 figures and whatnot. But you know what,” “Ugh. No.” “His profile doesn’t indicate the allowance range or his past experience. All his bio stated was that he’s looking discreet experience with chemistry.” Bitterly she bites her lower lip, turning it temporarily plumy red. “I am the one to blame, I suppose. Too desperate. Never should have let myself fall to such a state. Lesson No.1, my love: Don’t be desperate! It slipped my mind and I replied to him. Made the reservations at Osso even.” Emily is on the rampage now, but swiftly she recomposes herself. Always maintain your composure and let no one affect you. That’s one of her mottos but she seldom puts it into practice.
“So this morning, while you, Miss sleeping beauty, were sleeping in on this gorgeous Saturday morning,” She peeks at me again. Guilty as charged, my face burns slightly but then most of my colleagues do the same. At least I hope they do. “I re-evaluated his profile and looked up his assets. No, don’t ask me how I know how to do that. The point is I sent him a nicely composed rejection letter. You know… the one you wrote for me.” Pause. Left ring finger.
The corner of her mouth curves up; a victory smirk. Sometimes she gives me one of those grins when she beats me in chess. “Did he say anything back afterwards?” There is a sigh, and droopy, dejected face replacing her smile. “Yes, he did. That Mr. R… silly, Mr. R. He replied saying that I’m all money, and a realistic bee---.“ Emily censors herself. Cute. Emily has these little quirks that make me glad she’s around. Most of time though, I don’t want her. “And then he ended ‘good luck on the site.’ Can you believe him? Please, excuse me for being selective!” Emily exclaims, rolling her blue baby eyes.
I made the mistake of asking about his reply and now the rain clouds are swelling up and flashes of lightning beckon danger, ready to storm if I so much as misstep . However, her frown and narrowed eyes do not diminish her beauty. The evil spike of hatred provokes her beauty ever more, fascinating. “This type of man is a dime-a-dozen. Ya’know. I should have known better. Those who just set the allowance range as negotiable or something undisclosed. They want to take out girls who are smart, sexy and affectionate. They want to “help out” students and artists.” She has to put down the brush before giving me a quotation gesture, like bunny ears noting, I laughed a little.
“They want to show the girls their masculinity and superiority. No pay. They want to find an intimate connection and chemistry but with no strings attached. CHEMISTRY, Rachelle!” Her anger makes her whole body quiver. Her stunning, shiny blonde hair bounces. “I detest that word. I almost failed chemistry, remember?” Yes, I remember, very much so, Emily. I know, because I used to turn in the assignments for you. I keep the thought to myself and said nothing. “I mean, for Christ’s sake. They are like 40 or 50 or 60 even! Men at that age, doesn’t matter how fit they said they are, you know, who is going to seek chemistry or some magic deep connection with them? If not for their wealth, why would anyone want to have unconventional friendship without a solid benefit?” Her voice rises; pitch increasing. “They just want the good end of the bargain. Discounted deal and free work. If they want free, they should try those…ugh…oh gosh what are those free dating websites? Tinder? Nicemeetyou.net? What’s that one? Ugh …” “Oh, eharmony.com. That’s a classic one to meet unmarried, and desperate spinster I bet.” Pause. She switches hands and now paints her right thumb. “There are only two webs I use. Neither is designed for free trade. Ha!” Emily laughs at her own joke. “Try Craigslist. Suits them and their Macy’s wool trousers really well.” Index finger. She’s no longer making the case on Mr R. yet I have no clue what to tell her. Reading my mind, she replies “Oh, I’m passed frustration, love. It’s not just Mr. R. He’s just one of them. You know, when I first joined, how many these type of low cheap, senseless, ugly orcs I have to filter through to find a good polished dime?”
Middle finger. “…Thought you found your first one within a couple of hours…” “Well… yes…but I mean the real good ones. Georgy doesn’t count. He was like 32 and he’s actually one of those orcs! He taught me a lot for sure. It was more for the experience back then rather than in to do it full-time. Sure, I get your point but...” Ring finger. “I mean, I was in college.” She makes a face and blows her beige colored nails, “but now I’m experienced! I’m a professional with a few good tricks. Plus, I’m amazing at what I do!” Pinky. “You understand right, Rachelle? You wouldn’t want to be underpaid…” Pause.
“You’ve seen those homeless down the street or those underpaid blue collar workers at your manufacturing plants. I don’t want to be like them. Being taken advantage of.” She bites her lips again. “Well, not anymore.” There is a brief flashback where I was walking by the conference room occupied by old white men, in suits, laughing. On the other side of the glass windows, blue smock minorities (possibly Filipino or Latino or some kind of mix) were running around trying to put orange tags on some safety concerned batch lots. The gathering is like a round table summit while the nobles discuss how to destroy and contain.” One of Emily’s sponsors sat on that white premises panel. He gave me a wink.
The crimson fire has come to an end; the trail of embers turns to ashes as the grey curtain falls. The moon is scarcely seen. I thought to myself, with my current salary, I could qualify for low-income housing. Maybe I should change career fields to be a teacher. Same shitty salary, but supposedly better benefits and tax cuts. Emily is still mumbling until the phone rings, stopping her rant.
With a glance, she cautiously uses her left hand to pick up the phone. The polish is not quite set yet. “Hello, Jonny ba’e.” Her high pitch voice whines with excitement. Some deep voice and static comes through as Emily giggles. “Of course I miss you. Tell me the reason you calling …” More deep voice static. “No way! Oh! You are? Really?” Static. Static. “Oh, Jonny, my sugar. My little furry teddy bear. You totally made my day! “ She flirtatiously giggles at her silliness. “hmmmm…Tell me you did this for me please….mmm…” Her voice sounds like melted marshmallow wrapped in caramelized honey and dropped in hot cocoa. That’s how some people describe soft, seductive voices at times, I assume. “The reservation is at 8 but I know you like to be punctual.” She giggles some more, an inside joke perhaps as I have no clue why that would be funny. “Alrighty, babe. I’ll see you at 6.” She gives Mr. Astro a kiss goodbye over the phone.
Her mood seems significantly improved after the call. She resumes humming a pop melody and starts putting her makeup on. This song, I happen to know; it’s called Get Money Now. The vanity desk is filled with tangled jewelries, nail polishes, powdery makeup cases, and strangely shaped perfume bottles. They shape like crooked stars, infinite circles, and a naked dancing ballerina. Staring at the mirror somehow gives me strength as I say to her. “Hey, Emily…”
“Yes darling.” She smiles, tracing her eyes with Lancôme eyeliner in Minuit, putting on Giorgio Armani glittered eyeshadows in Gold Ashes. “You ever thought of, you know… get out of the special service for money scheme?” Her smile drops and I can feel the thunderstorm coming back, overshadowing her previous rainbow-like mood. “…It’s… it’s illegal really…” The words echo in my head. It sounds too harsh and I wish I could take them back. Nothing from Emily. There is just silence. I should change subject and ask her about tonight’s menu, or if she’s on diet still but nothing comes out. The dreadful silence fills the room.
The night is here, but there are no stars. The light pollution in the city drowns out any star that can’t compete with such overwhelming manmade power. Sirens and shouting noises reverberate every few blocks, in dark alleys, across from the dumpsters and among the chaos of the concrete forest. Distance isn’t the only thing that removes us from the wonder of a shooting star. Humans are. The creatures at night crawl and hunt the innocent.
Emily looks back at me with an icy cold glare. I avoid her gaze after a brief moment of eye contact. Her emotion is often too strong for me to take in. I grow smaller, and fainter. Then the thunder howls. “That’s the 3rd time since August, Rachelle. I found this conversation pointless and frustrating. You need to stop talking about my occupation with such terrible accusations. Stop judging, Rachelle. I don’t judge how silly data entry and paper-copy sound.”
“Ugh, I… I’m an office administrative assistant and I have my own projects, really. I’m…” “Working overtime and underpaid? Miss secretary? You make it so now only weekends are possible to arrange anything.” She cuts me off and the truth hurts my lesser ego. “But...Em... at least I can put project managing on my resume. What you do right now is illegal. And…and…” I stammer. “I got a full-time position now…and…so…”
“Contracted work for 18 months. 18 months! Rachelle. Are you trying to lie to me as you lie to any associate you meet out there? Don’t you be fooling yourself!”
“They like me…there are talks about bringing me on board… and still… it’s not about my job. It’s yours… yours is...it…It is illegal…” I protested, weakly.
“Drugs are illegal, money laundering is illegal, human trafficking is illegal. Yet people who do that live in indulgence. The billionaires probably are involved in at least one of those things. You think politicians and businessmen and Wall Street brokers like Mr. Astro are out there getting earnest money? Please, it’s faker than Cinderella.” She snorts. “I provide excellent service. I work hard and I do my homework. Just like you. Since when it’s illegal to pay for good service? Hm?”
“No, I have had enough of you.” Emily narrows her eyes, blue crystal irises flickering with an emerald shine. She puts down her Hakuhodo powder brush and raises her eyebrows. “Listen, why don’t we talk about some truth Hm? Look around the room. Hm? Look at this Empress Charmeuse bed sheet that’s made of silk, real damn silk.” She walks toward the bedsheet, rubs it between her hands to feel its softness and throws it on the ground. She opens the closet. “Oh! Look, Stella McCartney Josie dress, 2015 spring collection. $5735. Oh!, Christian Louboutin Houghton sandals. Spring 2015. $1575. Hmm?” she throws the dress onto the bed and takes out the shoes. “Oh, Valentino cape with embroidered butterflies. Elegant, isn’t it? $5790.” Onto the bed. Hands on her waist, she looks into the mirror.
“Now look at this apartment. Its location is right in the midst of SoHo district. Look at that Poliform SOHO sofa set. Or Christopher Guy Matisse table. Who did you think paid for all these? Hm? How much do you think they are worth? You think you can live off alone in some struggling low-wage position that you can’t even secure for more than 2 years? Miss Rachelle” She says, surprisingly calm though underneath her tone, the raging anger seething out.
“it’s… it’s not my fault… Market is bad. Everyone is suffering...” I don’t sound convincing.
“Sure, suffering you say? Except Serendipity 3 still offers 23-carat gold Opulence Sundae last time I checked. Hm? The penthouse suite is still hard to book in Four Seasons Hotel. The vacation house Mr. Barky sold is close to four million. Hm? He said that’s an 18% increase since last year. Mr. Silverton booked a weekend trip to Tokyo just for Sukiyabashi Jiro. That’s only a week after he took me to dine at Masa. Hm? Economy is bad? Are you not following Town and Country? Islands? There are …”
“I…I would rather be poor and live honorably than taking money from some old dirty man’s filthy hands! …I…I would move back to Newark.”
“Oh, what a noble statement. Of course, keeping your hands all clean. Hm? All nicely polished nails of two nicely manicured hands, aren’t you? Drinking Starbucks coffee and living inside a cubicle with no sunlight? Is that really so honorable? Be a tiny corporate slave?”
“…Emily….I…th-…things get done because I’m there. I’m not just a nobody in the company. I do, offer my best efforts…to my best ability… I...am not… a nobody …”
“Why couldn’t you scream that to your boss? And really… why can’t you scream all that righteous thought and honorable self-proclaimed concept back when you were in high school?”
“Don’t. Emily, please.”
“Oh, really? Hmm? Rachelle? Standing up for yourself? Miss Rachelle D. Dublin?”
“No? No to what? Did you say ‘no’ to the boys who pinned you down and felt you up in the locker room? Did you say ‘no’ to the girls who dumped trash on you? Who called you a slut? Who put your personal information onto a sex hookup website?”
Emily stops the crying immediately, “Don’t you blur out the makeup I just put on.” Feistily she scolds me.
Blonde hair dances as I shake the head left and right, helplessly. “No…” I look at the mirror. Emily’s coldness pears my ever weakening persona as she takes complete control of the body.
“Yes, denial. Rachelle. That’s what you are good at.” She adds more Lancôme eyeliner onto the lower eyes, puts Hourglass mascara in Onyx on and wipes off the smudged inks I caused.
“You have no friends except for me, Rachelle. Remember that? Be strong and be independent? Always maintain your composure and let no one affect you. That’s what I told you! Remember? And when you cannot deal all those laughers and bullies anymore, what did you do? You fucking vanished.” She adds more mascara. She’s angry and starts to curse between sentences. “It is me who took over for you. Remember? Hmm? The whole nasty fucking business. I made them pay remember? I handled it my way because you can’t fucking deal with it! So shut it. No more indecisive escapism. I am the one who uses what we have to our advantage and uses what we got for our own strength! So screw you and your pointless accusations.” Yves Saint Laurent lip pencil in Nude Beige, Yves Saint Laurent lipstick in Fuchsia Innocent, and Yves Saint Laurent glossy stain.
“I got us out of the student debt. Remember? I got us our first car, oh, and this new Lexis…” There is a long pause and she softens; almost with pity she looks at the faint blurry figure in the mirror.
“No one else in this world is on your side besides me. Think back of what they had done to us back then and now. What’s the difference? You can’t protest against the way you are unfairly treated. No one cares. You would be at the bottom forever if it wasn’t for me. So no more of this nonsense, ok? You don’t want to be worthless, I know, Rachelle. We can’t live like a lowlife garbage. We can’t defy this society either. A beggar can’t be a chooser. Get with the game or get fucked, right?” Sigh.
“No one else in this world is on your side besides me. We only have each other.”
She smiles. The reflection in the mirror smiles back at her.
The night is here. The creatures at night crawl and hunt the innocent.
“Now, should we wear the Gucci Heloise leather sandal instead of Louboutin?” The shoes are still in the gift box, delivered two weeks ago. The light mauve leather strings wraps around the ankle. “Doesn’t it look nice? It makes Vila-Glam pops even more. Hmmm…I am thinking… Isabeline pearl necklace. It has a nice beige rosy sheen. Goes well with the finger nails.” Cheerfully, I say.
I put on my grandmother’s pearl necklace for a second, and then take it off instantly. As a replacement, I wear the choker made of calf leather in black with antique bronze and silver chain around it. A silver panther pendant dangling from the center of the choker, it lies on my full, well-endowed breasts. I grab my Valentino butterflies cape and head out the door.