Even a recluse has to leave the house every now and then. Last evening was no exception. So what if it was Halloween Eve? I needed cigarettes.
I collected the cash I would need, folded my arms into the hoody I'd be wearing to offset the chill outside, and hooked my gate keys to the belt loop above my left hip. I took the old scarf I keep hanging by the door and wrapped it around that part of my face that is now misshapen into the horror that frightens children and sends them scurrying to the arms of their parents who scoop them up in turn and rush away from me in fright.
Outside I had to cross the length of the patio to reach the gate that would deposit me onto old Decatur Street. Within only seconds, my ear could hear the swift swoosh of curtains being drawn inside my nearest neighbor's apartment. Ahead of me and to my right, in the laundry room, another neighbor sensed my presence and froze, unable to move till I had passed.
Soon I reached the gate and peered out onto the street. Couples and small groups of merrymakers dashed about, huddled against the cold wind scattering loose flotsam down the sidewalks in the darkening gloom.
I stepped outside and hugged the walls till I could reach my destination. It was only a few yards away, now a few feet, inches, inches, and I was there.
The doors were hung wide open like welcoming arms. Inside was bright and raucous with shoppers merrily examining the sundries of the tiny tobacconist's shop. The lady clerks danced from customer to customer, festooned in motley, their faces painted to hint at harmless Halloween horrors.
I slumped over to a far side of the shop to wait until one of them might free herself from the crowd to wait on me.
I stood there in that corner a few moments, believing myself to be unnoticed, before I felt the hand. That hand. Behind me, a young man - just yesterday a boy - had crept up stealthily. In his right hand, he carried an old guitar. In his left, he had entwined a corner of my scarf between his fingers. I sensed the weight of it, his hand. And then the jerk. I felt the cold air sting my face where just before the scarf had lain against my skin. I saw the faces of the customers turn to me at the sound of the young man's gasp. His, you see, had been the first eyes there to light upon my visage.
Before me, what I beheld was the terror in those other eyes, the eyes of the ladies of the shop, as they caught sight of my disfigurement. The image of their fright seared into my brain like acid poured upon the artist's metal plate before it is inked and pressed against the paper.
"'I'a'ettes!" I cried, piteously. "'I'a'ettes, p'ease."
I held out my cash in trembling hands.
The clownfaced lady clerk reached behind her and counted out several packets of the cigarettes I craved. She tossed them in my direction. I laid the dollar bills on the counter, collected the discarded packs, and made to leave. The crowd swept back, affording me a pathway to the street.
Back in the windy lane, I scuttled home, a broken spider hurtling forward its despised body, hoping to outrace the rushing feet behind it, the booted feet intent on stamping out its life.
Oh, the horror!
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