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Change, Miss

November, 2017

The fingers aren't filled out quite right.

How absurd that seems at first, how ridiculous, but you cannot bring yourself to forget it, cannot deny what your eyes are feeding your brain. There is a sharp pulse of the weight of reality straining against the soft insides of your skull and all you can do is watch skin sag from bony fingers as they clumsily clasp the handle of a steaming ceramic mug. And it isn't the fingers alone--oh no. The wrists and elbows are rippling with deep furrows of flesh stretched at all the wrong angles. The neck is pooling behind the ears and in the hollows of the collarbone and when he lifts his heavy head--with slick hair that slides ever so slightly southward along his right temple--to speak, the cadence is stilted, staggering.


Those rubbery lips twist into what seems like an awkward approximation of a smile. Yesterday you would have thought nothing of it, would not even remember his face and all of the wrongness that sets the depths of your stomach churning, but after that letter...


"I'm sorry?" you stutter, one hand curled into a tight fist around the strap of your shoulder bag. The other fishes for the pen knife in your back pocket. If he so much as blinks twice---


"Tonight's going to be cold for a change, miss," he jokes after a loud slurp of whatever has stained his teeth a grimy brown ochre. He blinks wide gray eyes at you and grins, much like any grandfather, and you are surprised to find that you are grinning in return. Familiar warmth blossoms in your chest and your back is turned to him without a thought beyond collecting your bags.


He salutes you with his cup again after the cashier counts change into your palm and suddenly you feel a pinch of fear prickling at the nape of your neck.


"Hurry home," he calls cheerfully, drumming near-flaccid fingertips along the tabletop. A tinny chuckle that tickles the wrong part of the ear. A squeal of metal as his nails carve lines along its surface. "Don't keep him waiting."


You run.

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