She doesn’t turn towards them like she should. She stands behind the counter at the downtown deli, hands bunched tight like wads of rope, eyes locked on something behind their heads. She pulls her hair into a ratty bun to keep it out of the cheeses, wraps her apron three times around her waist to keep it from swallowing her whole. The damn apron has a mind of its own, she thinks. If she didn’t keep it in check, it would consume the whole deli. She kills it with a safety pin. She wears a pair of white nurses shoes, sterilized with penicillin and two sizes too big. She’s got these giant glasses– they magnify her eyes like moons. She has shoulders sharp as airplane wings; works after hours until her feet are rubbed raw like she’s been running, though she stands petrified in place.
Sometimes, they come in to admire the shape of her. They stroke their fingers along the rim of her tip jar; they offer her prizes and pieces of fruit and compliments dripping with honey which she doesn’t seem to hear. They give her their wallets. They take the tongues out of their mouths and hang them flapping in the air so that she can understand them better. She watches them warp through the glass of the deli counter; pilots her own lifeboat along the draft of cold air that runs from the air conditioner. She fights them with her eyes.
The Martian man arrives with the thunderstorm. He rides in on a burst of hail, sending the deli door skittering down the sidewalk. His blue-gray beard is dripping wet from the rain; his smile wide and gaping to show off his copper teeth. We know immediately that he's a Martian man from the deep violet tinge of his skin. The gears in his raincoat clatter against the doorframe; he seems to shudder and rust on the threshold. Outside the window, clouds broil and churn. He approaches the counter, the instruments in his backpack clicking and whirring behind his head, shoes squelching puddles of copper water on the linoleum.
Come away with me, Lola, he says, and we know he’s talking to her.
In your dreams, she tells him, facing the sliced turkey.
I’m not like these other men, he tells her. I’m from the moon. I’m a moon man; my intentions are good. Come away with me, girl, and I’ll show you more than the world– I’ll show you the universe. He looms – craglike, mountainous – over the counter; we can sense the scent of space dust on his words.
I don’t need you, moon man, she says. I don’t need your good intentions; your promises. I make my own way.
This ain’t about what you need, he says. This is about what do you want. What do you want, Lola girl?
She looks at him, mouth suspended in a half-reply. There is only silence. Then, suddenly, a flash of thunder, and the lights of the deli blaze forth with a blinding, humming electricity. The deli cowers, covers its eyes. And in the subsequent snap of bulbs imploding, the deli plunges into darkness.
She is gone, when the lights recover. The space where she stood moans of emptiness; it weeps for her. The deli devolves into anarchy. They leap over each other, shattering the deli windows, in an effort to make off with free cheeses. There’s two homicides. In three minutes, they are all gone, leaving a carved-out carcass behind. In the silence, there’s a hint of her left on the air– some small subtle cry on the wind.
Sometimes, we have to wonder where she went. The obvious question is: did she go willingly? Did she believe him, when he told her he would show her the universe? When he said he would protect her, love her? She never seemed quite that stupid.
Did she wonder, though? Did she consider the possibility of the moon, and the pause before her refusal had been enough? Did he snatch her while she raged against him?
Or had she merely grown tired of her campaign, of propping up her spine with steel rods to keep herself from folding in half, so when she recognized Destruction in the tilt of a foreign eyebrow, she accepted that fate, closed her eyes, and jumped?