Mara and Alicia

Mara seemed to radiate as she crossed the stage. It was her night. All eyes were on the small figure with the big hairdo, tightly fitting clothing and long legs. As she began to dance, she could feel every muscle in her body stretching and contracting in just exactly the right way, willing her to use it to the utmost. It was the opening night, and she was a star.
When she was onstage, she could forget about the real life. In her real life, she was named Alicia. In her real life, she had to go to the hospital twice a day to check up on her mother who had recently gotten alcohol poisoning. Again. The doctors had insisted on keeping her there for a while because they thought they also felt something strange in her breast when they’d done a full physical. Alicia had no idea how they were going to pay for it all. Alicia knew she needed to call her father again and plead with him to send them more cash. Alicia fell asleep every night with her tears drying on her face.
Mara, on the other hand, didn’t have a mother. She lived as a tenant with an older woman, yes, but there were no ties between them. She told her friends that the old lady had gotten alcohol poisoning and how pathetic that was. They all nodded sympathetically, with their too-big eyes drifting away to their tiny cubes of cheese which were their only sustenance for the day. Mara hated them all and she knew that they hated her too, but they had to get along because they didn’t want their director/choreographer to give them another lecture. Then, too, was the fact that none of them had any other friends anymore. That tended to happen during the strenuous periods before new shows went on, because they spent so many hours of the day rehearsing that they naturally could only talk to and complain with each other, since no one else understood exactly how much their toenails hurt, how hungry they were, how itchy their scalp was because of the hairspray and how much they craved a cheeseburger and a beer on the beach.
Alicia knew she wasn’t well. Alicia went to a therapist twice a week because she was terrified of herself and what she was doing to her body. She hated the feeling of her fingers going deep and the vomit creeping up her raw and swollen throat. She hated the raspy voice she’d developed, even though the man she worked for told her it was “tres sexy.” She hadn’t needed to do this only two years ago when she’d gotten accepted to the company and there was really no reason for her to be doing this now, except that everyone else was and it seemed to be expected. But she worried about needing replacement teeth and she knew she didn’t have enough money for that.
Mara never worried about money. When she went out with the friends she hated, she was the one who managed to get free drinks by nuzzling up to the older men on the bar. She would sometimes find herself in their beds in the morning, but she didn’t allow herself to worry about that too much. It was worth it, she figured, for the feeling of bliss that crept over her when she had had so much to drink that her head was fuzzy and the room was spinning gently and she knew that no matter what – no matter what – nothing could really hurt her at that moment.
When Alicia and Mara met, as they sometimes did, accidentally, when the were switching out the use of the same body, they seemed to hedge warily around each other. Alicia idolized Mara and Mara looked down on Alicia. But Alicia also knew that Mara wasn’t practical, and that she would ultimately destroy her. She hated Mara, even though she envied her carefree lifestyle and her confidence. She also worried, because she knew that the facade of Mara was wearing thin. She wasn’t sure how much longer she’d be able to keep it up.
But right then, under the hot spotlights, knowing that the audience couldn’t see how hard she was working or the sweat already rolling down her back, knowing that they only saw this graceful body moving with the utmost precision – at that moment Alicia took over from Mara and allowed herself to simply be within the dance, to fly and leap and soar and tumble to the ground in an ecstasy of movement.

Silas (2)

Mr. Suit’s name turned out to be Thomas Smith. Silas assumed the name was fake, but didn’t mind much. In this business, he knew, privacy was essential. Part of the reason he was so successful at what he did was that he understood this simple fact and acted on it. It had been twenty years or more since anyone had seen Silas’s real face, and he intended on keeping it that way.
The face Thomas Smith saw that day was a pock-marked wreck; cheeks hollow, eyes a muddy brown, a crooked nose and a gash of a mouth, obviously scarred. Smith didn’t seem at all disturbed by this face, which annoyed Silas a little. He liked making people uncomfortable. It was another reason he was so successful – people didn’t want to spend more time with him than they absolutely needed to, so they wouldn’t try to socialize or bribe or judge him. Instead, they simply gave him the facts of the matter.
Smith looked at Silas, and then turned his head around, first to one side and then the other, taking in the empty tables and the dirty street. Then he did something that surprised Silas. He swiveled his body around and looked up at the dingy building above Mick’s Burgers & Beer, obviously checking to see if anyone was looking out of a window. Silas hid his surprise behind a stony face once more, and waited patiently.
“It’s like this, Magician,” Smith began. “I heard about you from a lady friend who used to be… well, shall we say, not in the best of situations. She says that you’re known among the South-dwellers.”
Silas nodded, and broke in rather wickedly “South-dwellers, eh? ‘Round here we call ourselves Southies. As you would know from your lady friend.”
“Yes, well,” Smith didn’t seem offended in the least. “The official term is still South-dwellers, Magician. Also, if my information is correct – which I am sure it is – you haven’t been a Southie, as you say, forever.”
Now Silas took notice. This man, this Mr. Smith, knew more than he was letting on. He knew more than any corporate stiff had a right to know. Mayhap he was simply rich enough to get tongues a-wagging, but then again maybe he he’d hired someone to find out about Silas, and the thought that he might have missed someone lurking around here made him very uncomfortable.
“I’m the Magician,” Silas said coolly, refusing to show he was unnerved. “I’ve been lots of places in my lifetime, Mr. Smith.”
“Indeed.”
“You gonna tell me what the job is or shall I leave you in peace to enjoy a burger and a pint, Mr. Smith?” Silas was desperate to get the job, sign the contract and get away from this suit.
“It’s very simple. The company I work for has placed a spy in a rival company. This spy is now an-” he hesitated, but then continued. “an inconvenience. We need him taken care of.”
“Right,” Silas smirked. “Taken care of. Understood, Mr. Smith. Tell me when and where I find him. And you’ll have to sign this.” He took a crumpled contract from his jeans pocket. “Fill it in, as much as you can, and sign right down there.”
Mr. Smith seemed, finally, slightly discomfited, but he did as he was told, filling in the short form while explaining to Silas where and when the spy could be found. He agreed to the fee Silas demanded without haggling. He returned the contract to Silas, who scanned it quickly as the man rose from the table.
“Just a minute, Mr. Smith,” he took hold of the suit’s arm, firmly grasping it so that he caught skin and sinew, not only the expensive shirt fabric. He tightened his grip as he continued. “You didn’t sign right at the end here, like I asked you to. I asked nicely, didn’t I, Mr. Smith? Can’t do a job without you signing the contract.”
Mr. Smith stared blankly at Silas, then back at the contract. Finally, he reached back to his pen, which he’d put in his shirt pocket. Slowly, ever so slowly, he signed the name “Thomas H. Smith” on the dotted line.
Silas looked at Mr. Smith’s face and saw the surprise and alarm in the suit’s eyes as he felt a jolt, like an electric surge, go up his arm. Silas smiled grimly, his jagged mouth tightening into a hard line.
“They call me Magician for lots of reasons, Thomas H. Smith. You remember that.”