Some Girls They Got Natural Ease

For Naru, and for Mae’s bedroom wall.

I had a scrambler at home, up on the shelf where it wouldn’t be noticed even if someone was looking. It was long and thin, like the baton they used to wave over your body when you set off the metal detectors at airline security. I always kept it carefully polished. On nights like this, when I’d come home tired and drained and sick of punching in and punching out, I would pull it down and run it over my face, my hair, and my body. Then I would go out.

I had different personas, different faces, for all of my favorite moods. One was Abigail, an overnight check-out girl at the local Safeway. When I was her I was simple but bubbly, very cheerful, blue-eyed and sandy-haired. Then there was Ronnie, my Wednesday night, the anachronism, stuck in her beehive-hairdo past and always calling everyone “sugar.” Some of my other lives even had friends and acquaintances, people who recognized me only as the fantastic concoctions I wore after dark.

Sometimes I’d be celebrities, but only at home. I’d never go out with someone else’s face; that’s illegal, and anyway it would prove I had a scrambler. The government banned them about a year and a half ago when bank robbers kept changing their faces for each crime. I don’t think it’s so bad, though, to want to be someone else for a night. You could do it with makeup anyway, so what’s the difference? The scrambler just gave me more choices.

None of my friends knew. To them I was just Hester, the plain and quiet one. Sometimes my girlfriend Janie would sit me down over coffee and give me her patented worried look. She’d tell me that working in a factory all my life wasn’t saying much, that I should get out of this rut, try to find something better. I was worth it, she told me, with that too-sweet pout that I knew meant she didn’t really believe I was worth it at all. I hid my smile and told her I was fine, that I was perfectly content to be somebody’s support, to stay second-best. She smiled because she knew that by ‘somebody’ I meant her.

Those were the nights when I would put on my most coveted face, the most rare. Those were the nights when I would be Tera, the star, the elusive punk-rock sensation who never scheduled a gig but was always welcomed with screaming fans when she dropped into a club to play for the night. I rode the sea of adoration and smirked to see Janie fainting with joy like the rest of them. The scanner stayed safely tucked away in Tera’s jacket. On those nights, this was reality, and Hester was just our little secret.

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