The uniform skirts were heaped in the corner, almost all of them unbuttoned so that they didn’t even really look like skirts anymore but kind of like very large, very ugly party garlands. One skirt stood impossibly up on its own, its pleated frame starched into a kind of sentience.
“I left everything in there,” the girl teen said, clear braces shining, side-pony mussed.
“Okay,” I said back, pulling the thin blue curtain to the side, sizing up the mess in the fitting room.
“Thanks,” she called over her shoulder.
“Thanks,” I called dumbly back.
I stood in the middle of the tiny room, staring at myself in the mirror. I tugged at the ends of my hair, just below my chin. Even shorter next time, I thought.
I picked up one of the skirts and a lizard scurried out from beneath it. I screamed and dropped the skirt. The lizard, small and brown, made its way out of the fitting room and into the hall. Another teen’s face poked around the curtain; this one, a tallish boy.
“Everything okay?” he asked.
“Yeah. There was a little lizard.”
“Oh, shit,” he said, thick eyebrows concernedly pulling together as if I’d just delivered news of an earthquake or a terminal illness. Then, slowly lifting up a pair of khakis, eyebrows returning to their right spots, he asked, “Can I try these pants?”
“What school?” I asked. The teen stood out in the hall on the round, carpeted podium in front of the three-way mirror. I pinned the too-long bottoms of his pants up one inch, then two, then three.
“Cardinal Mora,” he said.
“Oh.” I tried very hard not to prick his hairy ankles with the straight pins at the memory of the packs of navy-blazered Cardinal Mora boys who, just a few years ago, used to follow me home from school; the boys who jumped onto the city bus and sat behind me, spitting into the hoods of my sweatshirts and snapping condoms at the back of my head and calling me juicy and baby and ugly.
“Did you take your SATs?” I asked after a minute or two, to be nice and polite like I was supposed to be when I was at my job. The teen didn’t answer me, and instead he leapt forward off of the podium and shoved his whole left arm up under the sharp bottom of the mirror. He smiled and pulled his arm out and held his fist toward me, and I could see the lizard’s tail sticking out between his ring and pinky fingers, wiggling madly.
“Take it outside,” I said, both hands up under my chin. Pinheads from the tomato-shaped pincushion still fastened to my wrist tickled my neck. I watched the teen think about lunging towards me with the lizard in his fist, to scare me, to make a joke, and then I watched him decide that this would not be a good idea, and then I watched him head for the door, one pant leg dragging.
“You can pick them up Wednesday,” I told him, leaning forward onto the high glass counter at the front of the shop.
“School starts Wednesday,” he said.
“Tuesday, then? At, like, five?”
“Cool, yeah.” The teen scratched at his elbow and frowned. He held it up to look at it, and there was blood. “From the mirror,” he said, not taking his eyes off the scrape.
“Oh, no,” I said, and I got him an extra-large Band-Aid from the first aid kid we kept in a drawer.
“I need the pants embroidered with the thing,” he said, peeling away the Band-Aid wrappers, letting them fall onto the counter. “With the initials on the pocket on the right.”
Some schools made their students do this, I knew. I pointed to a laminated piece of paper taped to the glass. “You can pick the font,” I said, and he told me it didn’t matter, stared at his elbow.
“It’s my last year,” he said. “Wild.”
I told him his total and he handed me a credit card. I ran it through. He got a text, and he read it and smiled. “Hey, uh. Could you do me a favor?”
I said that I could. Because I was being nice and polite and I was in the process of selling him uniform pants.
“Could you put a U between the C and the M? When you embroider the pocket? To be—you know, for. Like, so it says ‘cum.’ You know.” The teen laughed at himself, ran his fingers through his hair. “Yeah, that’d be hilarious.”
“I could do that,” I said, not blushing, not blinking, nodding my head slowly. “It would be hilarious.”
“Okay,” he said, “okay,” but his face was starting to look a little scared. “Okay. But, uh. Yeah, you know what. Don’t.” He looked at the ground, and then back up at me. “Please.” He used his knuckles to push the crumpled Band-Aid wrappers on the countertop towards me, and then he turned to leave, and then he stopped and turned back to look at the wrappers once more, then turned a final turn and left the left the shop, and the little electronic bell at the front door chimed, ding-ding.
Alexandra Tanner lives and writes and works in New York, where she is an MFA candidate in fiction at The New School. Her writing appears in Joyland, Ninth Letter Online, and more.