Let Down Your Hair...
(The final installment of a novella fairy tale)
Good Sir Knight
The next morning, I overslept. Bad thing, too, because I sure could have used an extra hour or two just to try to become presentable. Unhappy face here. I yawned, stumbled into the bathroom, took one look in the mirror and screamed. Should I start with the itchy, giant stye in my left eye that refused to accept my contact lens? I would either have to try to tough it out and look like a squinting Popeye, or wear my glasses. Fudge. Glasses it was. I do not look edgy or hip in my glasses. I look like I’m about to go scuba diving.
I showered and went to blow dry my hair and my blow dryer made a sad sizzle. I smelled burnt hair, as it said ‘sayonara.’ “No, no, oh no.” I felt like turning on my oven and sticking my head inside. Instead, I towel dried my locks, trying to swipe the towel down, followed by pulling my brush through. It took forever for my hair to dry, but even forever wasn’t long enough. I looked like someone’s mother with an at-home perm got caught in the wax cycle of a drive-thru car wash. Obviously the pomade I utilized was not just the trick. Heavy sigh.
I put on my glasses and tried to survey the damage. “Good Sweet Mother Mary of God in Heaven,” I said, my horror compounded by the fact that I subconsciously quoted my own mother in forming a half-baked entreaty of prayer. Had the thick fleshy pimple rooted into my chin been a new wild strawberry, it would have been ripe for the picking. Note to self: acne surgery five minutes before you have to leave for work is best left to the professionals, like a plastic surgeon, or a spackle specialist. All I had to do the job was my trusty tweezers. Upon botching that, all I had left was bronzing cream. You try camouflaging a bloody Mt. Vesuvius spewing hillock on the outermost jutting portion of your face with bronzing cream. Brown and angry red make a delightful mahogany color, that would be perfect if my chin were a mantle piece in my friend’s parents’ rustic ski lodge. Boo. Boo hoo. I refused to let myself cry; God knows what would happen to the stye in my eye. My Mr. Magoo glasses did nothing but magnify the bags under my eyes; it looked like I had hot-glue gunned Chinese potstickers to my face.
My feet already hurt. I put on my low black grandma heels, the ones that had been featured on What Not To Wear as what not to wear. I squeezed my suddenly gargantuan ass into my black pencil skirt and tried to find my lucky cream colored polka dot silk blouse. It had done absolutely nothing to earn that distinction except that I had been wearing it once when I found my favorite pair of shoes on sale, for half-price! It was high time it stepped up to the plate.
If I didn’t leave that exact moment, I was going to be late. The smells on the El made me sick to my stomach. Whereas the past few days I had been so open and appreciative of all that nature had to offer, now I wanted to hogtie every blasted gross odor--I’m talking about you Mr. BO hanging on for dear life in front of me--and bag it up in a Hefty-Hefty-cinch sack and give it the old heave-ho right into Lake Michigan.
I shuffled in my granny shoes the rest of the way down the sidewalk to my building. Mr. McGrimace, the man who had seen me nearly every day for the past 8 months barked at me to show him my ID. The only whistles I got that morning were the ones coming from my squeaking shoes.
I plunked my purse on my desk and tried to calm myself down. La-ura was actually expecting me to have a speaking role this morning. I pulled out the report and started to fan my face.
“Good God! What happened to you?”
“Hi, La-ura. I couldn’t wear my contacts this morning, and uh, yeah...” She had already thankfully stopped listening.
She shoved her bony wrist under my nose, above my pimple. “Lovin’ this Rapunzel.”
I sniffed. It smelled entirely different on her. I inhaled again. It smelled normal, like a regular old perfume, one that you’d buy for your great aunt on Christmas Eve from the drugstore. Granted, I couldn’t define what the scent was when it was interacting with my skin, I just knew I loved the smell on me. It was something different, special. But as I held La-ura’s wrist I made my fatal mistake. I sniffed it a third time. The putrid vapors hijacked my nose. I couldn’t breathe. I watched La-ura lean in and smell her wrist for herself. I waited, but she merely nodded. “Nice.”
I swallowed and clapped my hand to my mouth. “Be right back.” I ran for the ladies room. I almost didn’t make it. I dashed into a stall. I squeezed my nose, panted through my mouth and sank into a crouch. I let go of my nose and tried a gentle puff in. A violent wave of nausea shook me. Oh no. Heat flushed up my body, threatening to boil over with the cold egg roll I had eaten on my way to work. I hiked up my skirt, pulled down my panties, sat down and prayed for the smell to pass. It reminded me of the time when I had been about thirteen years old. I had visited my great aunt (of the cheap perfume recipient notoriety) and she had insisted I have a piece of gum. I had been all proud that I didn’t think being nice to old people was that hard after all, and cheerfully shoved the stick into my mouth, whole.
My taste buds had sent up the Abort! Abort! siren immediately, trying to flood my mouth with saliva to wash away the decaying mouthful of shattered shards of history; it must have been the first piece of gum ever invented. It was the worst thing I had ever tasted; I couldn’t even recognize the dizzying rankness of the petrified particles in my mouth. It had been so bad, for a horrifying second I imagined I was chewing the rotting bones of one of her 97-year-old fingers. The perfume on La-ura smelled like that long-lost but never forgotten zombie crunch, and clung to my nose hairs.
I bent over and smelled my underpants. Please don’t judge, I had no choice. Not that I go around smelling my underwear or anything; I just needed something, anything, to get my equilibrium back. It took at least five minutes before I finally calmed down, crisis managed. When I could begin to breathe normally I washed my hands, dousing my wrists with cool water and splashed my face. There went my concealing bronzer. No great loss.
I headed back to my desk, just in time to find Dino and La-ura waiting for me. They wanted to ride down in the elevator with me so we could all go into the meeting at the same time. How nice.
I followed Dino and La-ura into the elevator, my once glorious chariot, now appearing as a drab, faded sorry excuse of a cube. I sighed. My underarms were feeling sticky. I dropped my head for a surreptitious sniff. Great. I think Dino saw me. He hadn’t called me, but I assumed we were still on for our date tonight. Question mark?
I took a deep breath, tried to unhunch my shoulders and smoothed down my black skirt.
Awkward doesn’t even begin to describe the little shuffle we all did settling into our positions in the elevator facing forward. La-ura did a little shimmy. She was wearing a skin tight purple velvet suit, no blouse underneath, bare legs and awesome black toe open platform heels. Dino had followed her into the elevator like a puppy, wearing his best dark gray suit that he usually wore on Thursdays, the day after wearing his dark blue almost black ensemble, but the day before he pulled out his khaki pants slash blue oxford shirt combo. I noticed he had gotten his hair cut, but had missed a spot shaving this morning. Aw.
Shoving me into the mix with both La-ura and Dino on my fantasy elevator wasn’t going to cut it. For once, I wished Dino weren’t in my dream coach. Not only did I not want to share him, I didn’t want to see him with La-ura. Laura stood between us, arms crossed. She hadn’t been wild about what we finally came up with for the campaign, but that was certainly nothing new. Some of our best, award-winning ideas, in fact, had been recycled from the trash can. Armed with only our cell phones, I think we were all a little nervous about the pitch meeting.
We were headed to meet the suits, (but not the rock star who apparently was only vaguely aware a new fragrance was going to be added to his empire, increasing the smell of money portion of his portfolio). This first meeting was to show them an initial look at our creative ideas to gauge their interest and get a sense of the direction they wanted to go in.
Earlier, I had taken down to the conference room copies of our campaign, OK’d by La-ura, and distributed them at places around the table. I had seen people from artwork head down about an hour ago, working on their Powerpoint presentation. Oddly enough, no more samples of Rapunzel had arrived. We usually always tried to incorporate the product in our meetings, trying to anchor the physical commodity into the intangible art of marketing. I guessed it wasn’t really necessary, a perfume is a perfume, you can’t sell smell, you sell desire. Just ask me, I was an expert. I was the Pepe Le Pew of the fourteenth floor, lusting after my dream boat.
I tried to catch Dino’s eye. It had been one week ago today that I experienced my happily ever after with him. As of yesterday, I had been giddy with excitement; speculating about odd romantic notions--which side of the bed he liked to sleep on, could he whistle, what we would name our first child? What a difference a day makes, 24 little hours. I had been on top of the world only to plummet to...well, I peered down at myself through my smudged glasses...this.
I didn’t know what exactly had happened to me, except the fact that I had no access to Rapunzel, no Phux, and what was worst, no prospect of future Phux. I wanted to roll my own eyes at myself for believing in a magic potion, good luck charm, love philter, but with my giant aching eye stye and all... Look at the proof. I was pathetic. I couldn’t believe how high I could fly when coated with the protective sheen of Phux, cushioned from life’s evils, insulated from the everyday stench and stress of living. There was no other explanation. Phux was magic
Maybe it was my haste in bashing the elevator button or the fact that Dino and I hit the number 4 button at the exact same time from our respective book end places on either side of the elevator door, or more likely, it was jealous gods, bored and vengeful, toying with us mere mortals. The elevator doors closed, dinged and the cart lurched. It stopped with a jerk, tossing us aside and causing us to catch ourselves against the wall.
“Whoa,” I said. I pressed the number 4 again.
“What’s going on?” La-ura asked.
While I was pressing the 4 button, Dino was pressing the < abd > open door buttons. Brilliant. We heard a creaking followed by a snap and then a long slow hiss, followed by a rapid ping. Though Dino and I had remarkably fit and agile thumbs, courtesy of Blackberry workouts, no amount of button pressing caused any reaction. The elevator was not moving.
“Knock it off, you two,” La-ura said.
La-ura of course had jumped on her cell phone and called her assistant to call the fire department. I don’t know if the elevator was running on reserve power or what, but the lighting was hideous. If La-ura looked that gaunt and swarthy, heaven knows how I was faring. Dino was starting to sweat.
“Calm down, Dino,” La-ura said. “What’s wrong? They’ll have us out in a little.”
“What if it takes a while?”
“Then we wait,” she answered him, tossing me a look of ‘can you believe this big baby?’
She was busily abusing the buttons on her keypad when all of a sudden the elevator lurched again. I don’t think it was me that screamed but I’m going to say I did because if that sound came out of Dino I don’t want to know.
“Is it me, or are we kind of hanging crooked here?” I said in a low voice to La-ura.
Dino heard me and dropped his pen. It rolled from his feet all the way past me to the wall behind me. Yep. We weren’t hanging straight. I gingerly tried to tiptoe over to Dino’s side.
“Get away,” he said. “Go over to your side. Wait. Don’t move. Maybe you should crawl.”
“Maybe you should suck it up, Dino,” La-ura said. She pulled me back and had me stand next to her, more in the middle, toward the front by the door. Her phone rang; her assistant said the firemen were on their way.
“I hate this,” Dino said. “He had unbuttoned the top few buttons of his shirt and loosened his tie. I can’t stand to wait. I’m a terrible waiter.”
“Good thing you don’t work in a restaurant then,” La-ura said, looking up from reading her email. “Dino. Look. We’re going to be fine. Chill, baby. Here. Smell this, tell me what you think. Do you like it?” La-ura shoved her wrist under Dino’s nose, forcing his lips to kiss her arm.
I tilted my head back, trying to breathe my own air and not get a whiff of La-ura and her Rapunzel.
Dino squeezed La-ura’s hand and pulled it next to his side. No dumb boyfriend, he; he knew what he was supposed to say. “You smell awesome,” he said.
La-ura nodded and laughed.
As Dino opened his mouth to continue to talk, it was as if I heard the wail of an oncoming train, seconds before seeing its horrific headlight rushing around the bend, nanoseconds before the heartbreaking crash.
“But, it doesn’t smell like it did on MaryBeth.”
In some movies, directors sometimes rely on silly special effects to show how a girlfriend is really mad or something, and they’ll slow down and lower the voice of the actress to convey the direness of the situation at hand. Meet La-ura, as she put two and two together and came up with fuck you. “F-U-C-K Y-O-U....” It took her about eight seconds to get the words out, long enough to deplete her system of estrogen and drop her voice an entire octave.
She hauled off and slapped Dino across the face so hard, the elevator rocked. He was on his own. No way was I taking credit for the sixth-grade-girl-getting-nailed-in-dodge ball shriek that came out of him.
“Are you kidding me? MaryBeth and you? You and MaryBeth?”
“Sorry, La-ura,” I said even as Dino was trying to lie and deny.
“No. No. You’ve got it all wrong. MaryBeth just had some Rapunzel perfume with her, the other night and of course I was curious. I just smelled it. Why would you think that? I’m hurt. Come on, baby...” He didn’t even look at me.
La-ura in heels was about an inch taller than Dino. She grasped his tie, like she was going to straighten it for him and then pulled, tight, choking him and shoving him against the wall of the elevator. Again the elevator rocked, while Dino caved.
“God, La-ura. Stop it. Stop it. We could die in here. Just be still. Don’t move.”
“Tell me about you and MaryBeth. How long has this been going on?”
“There’s nothing to tell. You’re crazy. I love you baby, you know that...”
Before he could even finish his spin, La-ura jumped up and down. The elevator teetered and creaked. Even I didn’t like the sound of that.
“La-ura,” I tried to interrupt. She just put her hand up in the general direction of my face without even looking.
Dino’s face was that of a seven year old boy caught red-handed with a booger on his finger reaching to wipe it on his sister’s hair. He couldn’t wait to spill. “Don’t do that again,” he said. “Stop, please. I’ll tell you everything. I promise. It was just once. Last Thursday.”
“Fuck you, Dino!” I interrupted at last. “It was Friday.” God. Men are such asses. I would have remembered that magical day forever.
“Whatever,” he said, not looking at me either, seeming afraid to take his eyes off of La-ura’s. “She made me, La-ura. You don’t know. She’d been after me for a long time, and she came on to me. It, honestly, wasn’t my fault. I didn’t want to hurt her feelings.”
“Ouch,” I said to no one in particular.
“So let me get this straight, Dino. MaryBeth forced Guido to come out and play? She held a gun to Guido’s head and said ‘straighten up and fly right’ or Guido gets it right between the eye?”
“Who’s Guido?” I said. Oof. I got it. I clapped my hand to my mouth. What kind of goober names his junk Guido?
“Seriously, La-ura. It’s you. I love you. I’m sorry. I never wanted it to go that far. I think that Rapunzel perfume is like an aphrodisiac or something. She made me smell it and I swear things just got out of hand.”
“True that,” I agreed.
“It just got out of hand,” Dino continued. “It was like I was under a spell or something. It will never, never happen again.”
Dino was interrupted by the sound of banging and clanging, which sounded high, high above our elevator car.
We heard a voice magnified by a megaphone. “It’s the Chicago Fire Department, everybody OK down there?”
“Yes,” La-ura and I called together. Dino looked like he was afraid his yell would cause us to crash.
“We’re going to get you out as soon as we can but there’s a little problem.”
“What’s wrong?” La-ura yelled back.
“We can’t reach the top of your car without putting weight on it, and we don’t want to do that until we can make sure it is secure.”
“So what do we do?”
“Well, we’re working on it.”
“What’s the problem?”
“Basically, as far as we can tell, a small belt between two round pulleys broke, causing the doors to jam and the car to get stuck. We just want to take it easy and not force any motion.”
“What the hell? Do we have to climb out and fix it ourselves?”
“Do you want to take a look at it?” the firefighter called back.
“Fuck,” La-ura said to me. “I’m too heavy. What do you think? Can you stand on dickwad’s shoulders and just take a look?”
I kicked off my shoes, put my foot in the stirrup of La-ura’s hands, and climbed up Dino’s back. My glorious quad-strengthening eagle pose from yoga was paying off. La-ura held my right hand and helped me stand, and then balance on Dino’s shoulders. I straightened up and pushed the panel at the top of the elevator to one side. I lifted my shoulders up through the space. About twenty feet or so up above my head, I saw a fireman leaning through an opening, shining his light down.
“Look over to your right side,” he hollered down, “over toward where the front of the car is.”
I looked to where he was guiding the beam of the light. “Yeah, there are two round pieces that look like they had a belt around them or something. There’s nothing here.”
“We’re trying to find the part,” he said.
“How long is that going to take?” I asked.
Long pause. “We’re working on it,” he said. “Hang in there.”
I climbed back in the elevator, down Dino’s back and hopped to the floor. I looked at Dino and La-ura. “I don’t want to wait, you guys.” My heart was pounding, and it was obvious I had forgotten to roll on my deodorant this morning. “Who knows how stable this thing is? But, we’ve got no tools. If only we had thin piece of rubber, or something, that I could wind around those pieces up there. Maybe then we could just get the doors to open.”
“What about Dino’s tie?” La-ura asked.
“I thought about that, it’s too thick. Really, these wheels, or cogs are not that big.” I made a motion with my hand, curling my finger and thumb into a small shaped C.
“Neither of us are wearing pantyhose.” She looked at Dino. “Butt face is bringing nothing to the party.” She looked back at me. “Any ideas?”
I looked at her. I had a great idea. I didn’t know how to say it. I tried to steer her into thinking it was her idea.
“La-ura. You know that perfume campaign we’re working on?”
“Do you remember some of the pitches we were throwing around?” I stared at her. I saw her get it. She licked her lips.
“Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair!” she said, raising her right fist in the air. She tossed back her hair and reached her hand back behind her head. She gritted her teeth and began pulling and tugging, furiously.
“Can I help?”
“Sure.” She turned around and I pushed her hair over her left shoulder to get a better view of her scalp. I saw the piece she was going for. Our fingers met as we worked together, trying to get the strand loosened from its weave.
“What are you doing?” Dino asked.
“Saving your neck,” La-ura said. Dino looked like he thought she was ripping her hair out by its roots from her scalp. His hand covered his mouth. I wish I hadn’t been so scared because I really wanted to laugh. La-ura caught my eye and we both giggled.
It took about fifteen minutes but we finally freed one of her weaves. “One more?” she asked me?
I nodded. “That would be great. I’m thinking we could braid them together, and then I could wrap them around wheels, and hopefully it will be enough to allow the firemen to get the doors open.”
It had to have hurt, but in only a few more moments La-ura had procured the second weave. She rubbed her head as I set about braiding the hair weaves together. It didn’t take long until I finally had a single length of braid, about 18 inches long.
La-ura hollered up to the firemen to tell them what we were going to do and had them get a crew down to our door to be ready to try to open it.
She helped me up again and I stood atop Dino’s shoulders. I took a deep breath and used all of my arm strength to lift myself up high enough through the panel so I could lean to the right side to reach the mechanism.
“Ready,” called a fireman sounding so close.
Dino’s hands were sweaty clasping my ankles. “Don’t drop me,” I called down.
“I won’t. Just hurry.”
I snaked the braid around first one wheel then the other. I couldn’t knot it because I couldn’t get my left arm over to it. I twisted it, and tried a sample pull. The wheels moved, slightly. “OK!” I called out. “I have to hold onto it, but the wheels started to move.”
“We’re going to do it nice and slow. We don’t want the elevator to move down, we just want to get the doors to open a little so we can get you all out, safe and sound, OK?”
“On the count of three,” he called back.
He counted down. I held the braid, and slowly helped turn the wheels, which were somehow connected to a mechanism that allowed the firemen to open the outer, and then the inner door of our car.
“We’re good,” came the call. “Climb on down, now, and we’ll get you all out of there.”
I clambered down and the second I was off of Dino, he was off like a shot, climbing up and out of the elevator onto the ledge of our floor, which was now at about our eye level.
As I bid adieu to Dino’s sorry ass, I finally realized that life isn’t a fairy tale. There were no such things as magic potions or fairy godmothers. It was up to me to create whatever magic I could in the time and space that I was given.
La-ura and I smiled at each other. I waved my hand at her. “After you.”
She graciously nodded and held up her hands to a waiting fireman who pulled her through. “Thank you, kind sir,” I heard her say. “Come on, MaryBeth, your turn. I have a surprise for you,” she called down.
I lifted my arms in the air and two strong, muscley arms that looked like they dropped and did about 200 before deciding to go to work that morning came down and clasped me securely, swinging me up and out of the elevator in about two seconds flat.
“Oh, thank you, so much,” I was gushing.
La-ura came to my side. “Allow me to introduce you to your knight in shining armor,” she said. She nudged me in my side, but I thought her wink was overkill. “Look. It’s Fireman Knight, at your service.”
Yes, indeed, I could plainly see the name ‘Knight’ in a stenciled font on his tight-fitting, well-worn and worn well t-shirt, atop his bulging pecs, below his gorgeous smile.
“Pleased to meet you, MaryBeth," he said. "I like it when damsels in distress help save the day.”
I heard harp music.