The city tonight was a suffocating wet sheet. The rain wasn’t about to let me go any further, blinding me, a rolling, organic curtain of water blocking me from the front entrance. No matter. I’d worn my boots, the ones that often land me in a predicament anyhow, involving anything at anytime, anywhere, in fact. I’d learned years ago, since the Westgate Fire, that preparation for anything was key.
I usually hated “key,” as it often prevented me from improvising. Other Jayne liked improvisation. Although, her improv skills left a lot to be desired and often got me in trouble. Ask the scuzzy burnout she’d promptly tossed into a carefully crafted James Patterson display at the bookstore just after he’d asked me if I’d ever had sex on the ceiling, and that if I hadn’t, he’d be willing to try it with me, if only “for the experience.” It’s a question I get asked more often than reasonable civility allows. Men are so predictably fascinated by the prospect that I can actually do that, among other things. At any rate, I never got the Nook cover I’d had my eye on. I’m not allowed in that store anymore thanks to Other Jayne.
Anyway, I wasn’t about to let a little shower get in the way of the end goal. With my raincoat hood pulled tightly over my head, I sloshed my way over to the barred glass doors of the old marketplace storefront. As soon as I reached the entrance, I could see that Agatha had chained and locked the doors, even while the “OPEN” light was flicking hotly on-and-off in the front window. Only minutes ago, I’d snuck around in the wet and checked the back door to the building, but it was just as locked, just as chained shut.
I rubbed the condensation, the wiggles of raindrops, from the windows of the door. If anything, to catch a glimpse of movement. Anything.
She’d said seven o’clock “on the dot.” I knew I was on time, unless my watch was broken or in need of a new battery. Yet another thing I couldn’t afford this week. If I’d had it in me, if I’d had it in Other Jayne, I would’ve gotten into small-stakes theft. Easy pickings, with or without surveillance. But that was Other Jayne doing the thinking for me, and she was the reason I was outside. In the streaming, cold, wet. Waiting for a snarky, old, broad to let me in in order to…
Well, I still didn’t know what “to” was, in all actuality. I wasn’t expecting some sort of Mr. Miyagi, “wax-on-wax-off” kind of training from her. She wasn’t the training type. She was the get-chatty-over-bitter-beer-and-buttery-spankatopia type.
A flick, flash of spinning colors through the foggy window. Deep magenta hues weaved and fluttered in and around lemony yellows and golds. Scarves were flit-gliding from her hands. I could hear her humming in time to the rain and its constant strumming against the windowpanes. I pounded on the door, shouted for her over the rain. When she didn’t stop her spinning, her dancing, her music, I knew she wasn’t planning on letting me in. Not until…something happened. Something always had to happen with her.
Another test. And I knew what it was. It wasn’t difficult. I gripped the chains tightly in each of my hands. Rapped them on the window. “Agatha, hey, you’re going to have to get new ones in the morning!” I shouted just as I…pulled…ripping them apart, then tossing them down with a splashy clang on the sidewalk.
It was as if she didn’t hear me, but she had. She hadn’t stopped her twirling, but the humming had subsided a bit. She’d grown back into her younger self, the youngest I’d seen her. Her hair was a maelstrom of wild, chestnut tendrils. Her skin, no longer creased and mottled with age and memories. Her hands teased and tickled the air around her as she swayed. She glanced over her shoulder at the window, at the wet, droopy mess standing out there, glowering at her.
I’d no patience anymore. My foot struck out, not of my own accord this time, I swear. I break things. Other Jayne…she likes to kick things open more often than I do. Just don’t ruin the boots, I pleaded. Not as if she’d care.
The door smashed open, hurtling right into the rear of the store, crashing into a shelf of beauty products. Oh, I’d miss those. It’s the only place in town where one can actually find vintage brands like Gee Your Hair Smells Terrific shampoo, violet face powder, and Tangee lipstick.
I stepped cautiously into the store just as Agatha had settled down and gone back to examine the extent of the damage O.J. had caused by kicking the door in.
“I…I’m sorry,” I said to the empty air in front of me as I slowly peeled off my sopping wet coat and gently shook it over the doormat. Then I looked around to see how wet I’d gotten her carpeting. As I’d figured, I’d just formed more puddles all over the floor.
“It’s just it was raining like crazy out there…I was getting cold, and I knew you didn’t want me to be late!” I added. After all, this could’ve been solved a lot easier had she just opened the door in the first place, not locked it up like that.
I turned, and she was there, right in front of me, grinning toothily at me. Her hair had changed back to its bushy, grey knots. The wrinkles formed crevasses all along the sides of her mouth and made deep indentations in her forehead. “Silly, silly, girl. That wasn’t the test. That breaking and entering routine…No. It was good. Effective. But you’re kinda sloppy, aintcha?”
I guess she could read my bafflement because she tweaked my nose. Man, I wish people would stop doing that. It makes me feel like I’m ten all over again. “You didn’t ask the question you shoulda been asking since you tromped on in here, girly girl,” she said.
Still had no idea what she was talking about. She often talked in riddles.
She scowled at me through those caterpillar, cottony eyebrows. That look — she only has it when she’s seriously disappointed. “How many people run my place?”
“Just you. You don’t trust anyone else to help though, not since your husband passed away,” I said.
She nodded. “So if it’s just me…and you only just got here…Who exactly locked me in my own store?”
And all the thoughts…They whisked through…Too many ideas…Too many logical possibilities that would be wrong. She didn’t care much for logic…solidity….absolutes. Not in this world we shared.
She patted my cheek, smiling tenderly at me. “When you figure that one out, you’re done for the day, my dear.”
I guess I wouldn’t be getting my prized beer for a few hours at most.