The bottles should have lined her shelf, all shapes of the pastel rainbow, a tally of her pasts. Their numbers would be such that they overwhelmed the tiny space, and even by resorting to clever stacking methods and ingenious pyramids she would never quite be able to fit them all. The shelf was clear, of course.

The latest brand of moisturizer was not on Miko’s shelf, but in her purse. She slipped it out without thinking, squirting the oily mixture onto her hands, rubbing it in like a prayer. Away with the rough edges, the lines, the pockmarks of use. Smoothness was unity, and as she achieved it the clenched fist in her breast relaxed. She could breathe again.

Miko sat down before the perfectly neat desk on the perfectly placed chair and ran her finger over the perfectly smooth mahogany. So beautiful, the dark wood against the white walls, especially in the dim evening light. Her hand against the surface made it all the more beautiful, the perfect skin and perfect nails of perfect length. Her life fit together like an intricate puzzle forming a detailed, perfect picture.

When she was little, she never bit her nails. The girls who did, pudgy-faced and red-cheeked, were her inferiors; they knew nothing of grace, and were too stupid to think in the long-term. She despised them, and used to make snide comments behind their backs, just loud enough so that they could hear. She held nothing but contempt for them.

The desk was polished to a precise and even shine: not to the point of pure reflection, for that would detract from its own merits, but certainly enough to catch the scant light of the setting sun. Her fingers pressed against four invisible spots on the right-hand corner, impossible to find unless one knew where they were. In response, the center of the desk faded away, revealing the matte black of a computer console that emerged from within the structure. Her fingers danced over the keys, too fast to follow and dizzying in their grace.

“Wow, sixty-five words per minute. Impressive.”

“Who told you how fast I type?”

“Nobody. I heard you, just now.”

When she was very, very young–no more than three years, though of course she couldn’t place her exact age, not knowing her birthdate–some old hag on the sidewalk had seen Miko sucking her thumb. “Stop that,” the creature had croaked, “You’ll get buck teeth.” The tiny, dark-haired child had cried all night long for fear she had irreparably damaged her perfect teeth.

Miko could feel an errant flake of skin, rough and offensive, on her knuckle. This would not do. Out came the bottle once again. The thick scent lifted her prayer to the god she didn’t believe in, to the ancestors she never knew. The half-empty bottles, scattered in forgotten dumpsters and office wastebaskets, were the beads on her rosary.

“Did you design the mechanism?”

“For what?”

“The concealed chamber in the desk.”

“What the hell are you talking about? There’s nothing in the desk.”

“Yes there is. Right there, the four indentations, thirty-six centimeters from the right.”

Miko slammed the laptop shut, then breathed deeply and carefully smoothed her hair. Temper, temper. That wouldn’t do at all.

She’d hated his scar, and made no secret of it. It was vulgar, she’d told him, even lewd. How could he deface his body like that? Worse yet, how could he leave the evidence intact? She painted it as a crime against nature, and berated him for it whenever the opportunity arose. The day he’d removed the scar out of necessity had been a veritable triumph, and she’d known the instant he slunk in, meek and overthrown. She was right, of course, as always.

A clear plastic bag was arranged precisely in the sleek metal wastebasket. She had never changed the bag; there had never been a need.



“How many scratches are in my desk? The one in my apartment?”

“Eighty-seven. Twenty-three on the top, sixty-three on the combined sides, and one underneath where you hit it with your chair last Sunday.”

Seven seconds of silence meant nothing more to her than a pause. Eight would have been precisely the same.

“…Why do you ask?”

She took everything with her–every pen, every note, every disk. Hardly a mote of dust was left; if anything, the lack thereof was the only sign that the desk had ever been used. The last rays of the setting sun made the almost-full bottle, tossed in the wastebasket, seem to glow.

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