art by Junior McLean
by Mishell Baker
When I shook Femi's hand in the office break room on my first day, everything faded: the snot-colored linoleum, the nauseous fluorescent lighting, the wheezy hum of the refrigerator. Instead of "Nice to meet you," I heard myself say, "You are a fragment of heaven."
I pulled my hand back, feeling like a complete moron, but her tranquil expression didn't waver.
"I'm sorry!" I said. "What I meant to say was... love me." What the hell? My face flamed so hot I could almost feel steam escaping from my tear ducts.
She laughed, a sound like doves taking flight; no, like bells tumbling haphazardly onto satin sheets; no, like the sound sunlight would make if it made a sound while shining on a sleeping kitten.
"It's all right," Femi said. "You're new; I guess no one told you about the curse. Take one of these. It'll fade in a few minutes."
"What curse?" I asked her, dry-swallowing the pill she handed me. I thought I could taste the salt of her palm on it, and I shuddered. Suddenly thirsty, I stared at the hollow of her throat: a little cup of caramel cappuccino I desperately needed to sip.
"I tried an ancient Egyptian love spell and cursed myself instead. That stuff really isn't for amateurs."
"Now everyone who meets me is immediately infatuated, and I do mean everyone. Eighty-year-old women. Three-year-old boys. Gay celebrities. And then it wears off and they never talk to me again."
No, I wanted to tell her. This is real. After thirty-five wretched years I've finally found you, and I will love you until the day I die. But all I could do was stare, hypnotized, at the way her lips shaped the word "celebrities."
"What's your name?" she asked. Her voice was gentle, her compassion humbling.
I opened my mouth, but it seemed ridiculous to answer. She was being polite. She couldn't possibly want to know. "Do you like movies?" I asked.