It’s my job to make sure every person in the town sees these flyers. So they’re stapled to telephone poles, tucked into door frames, and some I let fly in the wind until they curl around unsuspecting ankles.
They say, “Tired of being a background character? Reclaim your life today! Renowned therapist will help you realize your dreams and potential!” There’s even a picture of a smiling Mr. Henry Morganson, my boss and the renowned therapist, although I’m not exactly sure where he got his credentials. All I know is that on my 18th birthday he fluttered into Willows Peak, Arizona, and I fluttered out with him.
When we go to new towns, it’s my job to get the word out and rope in customers. This new town in Nevada is as hot and flat as a skillet for cooking tortillas. People walk hunched over and it’s the type of place you know the TV will be static-y and the water bitter. Using a Family Dollar store’s window as a mirror, I paint on crooked winged eyeliner. I always look lopsided, like I’m tilting my head. “No, like this.” is what Hannah said to me when we practiced on her bed so so long ago. She had grabbed my face like she was about to snap my neck, cradling my head in one hand and painting on black wings with the other. I try and fluff my bangs up but they’re greasy at the top. I’ve been too scared to shower at the cheap motel with a crackling sign and green pool.
“Is this yours?”
I stop raking my fingers through my hair. It’s a middle-aged lady with one of my posters in the hand not holding up the baby at her hip.
“Oh, yes, it must have slipped. You can keep it, though. I’ve been working with him for so long, he really works wonders.”
She studies the poster, the exaggerated font and promise. The baby stares at me and smears a sticky palm across his face.
“I’m sorry, I’m not really looking for that right now. Welcome to Copper Lightning, anyhow.”
I take the poster back and add it to the pile.
“Thank you, it’s such a lovely town. And please tell your friends, if you think they’d be interested.”
Before I finish my sentence, she nods and turns away to walk to the parking lot. My makeup and hair are done, so I tape up another poster and leave.
We can’t afford two rooms, so we share one with two twin beds. Look at me, already saying “we” when I’ve been on the run with him a little less than two months. Not the romantic elopement with a cowboy I had hoped would happen, but the practical one of a glorified pseudo-therapist’s assistant.
The second morning, I finally shower in the tepid water. The flaky soap bar smells like mosquito repellant and leaves my skin drying up as soon as I turn the shower off.
We walk from the motel to the little office where we’ve set up for the time being, me trotting behind his long steps like a frantic little dog or overworked secretary. In little towns, rent is cheap and people are less suspicious (supposedly). So we’re supposed to be little-town hopping until forever.
He’s explaining to me that we already have an appointment set up for today. She’ll get her friends soon after this, we could stay in Copper Lightning for a while, maybe look into a little RV in the park near town. I nod and adjust the hemline of my shirt. The clothes are from Goodwill and look like it too. The business women pants pouch around the crotch and the shirt’s collar shifts and puffs out even if I’m not moving at all.
The woman waiting for us outside the storefront is the same woman from the dollar store, the one not really looking for a miracle therapist right now. This time there’s no sticky baby, so her hands don’t know what to do and move from crossed in front of her to clasping them together to scratching the bridge of her nose. All these movements in the small time fragment it takes to rush over to the store. I smile and use the bronze key to open the door while Henry apologizes and introduces himself and makes himself likeable. I’m nervous for no reason and the key scratches the doorknob before finally pushing in and twisting the door open.
I switch the laminated Open/Close sign to open and hurry to the rickety table and computer to type up some stuff on a blank document. Henry explains to me this is so we look more professional.
“What’s your name and age, please? For our records.” I even add an apologetic look, sorry for the inconvenience, we’re just so very professional.
“Juliana Stewart. Forty-four years old.”
At least she doesn’t make up some joke about being old, or not asking a woman her age.
I nod and smile and type, the three things that I’m supposed to do in this little office that smells like stale air on an airplane. Actually, I’ve never been on an airplane, but it does smell like the same air has been in here for the past 100 years, barely moving and oblivious to history. I can’t even prop open the door or all the dust in Nevada will blow in (Henry’s words, not mine, who already shows the disgust for the town after two days that usually only teenagers born and raised in a town display).
Once Juliana and Henry are in the office, I can do whatever I want. Whatever I want to do that can fit into the office space. So I plug in earbuds and watch travel videos for the next 45 minutes. People stepping into streets after airports, rich street foods that make some people sick, brightly colored dresses and flowers, mountains, beaches. I stop 5 minutes before the appointment is scheduled to be over. I can imagine Henry coming in, seeing the videos, smiling but not, and the next thing I know I’ll be back in Willows Peak where airplanes don’t even fly over (let alone to or from).