Pulled from his reverie by a woman shouting into her phone, Finn turned to look for the source of the diatribe. “What do you mean you can’t get here for another hour? This damned meeting was your idea! You chose the time, you chose the place!” She looked to be in her fifties, dressed in white with gold and black accessories. Perfectly coiffed hair and an immaculate manicure confirmed the suggestion that the clothing made – she had money, and she knew how to use it. “Fine. No no no, it’s fine. I’ll just sit here in this damned park in the middle of goddamned nowhere and wait for you. There isn’t even a fucking Starbucks in this neighborhood! How do you people live like this?!”
She ended the call and threw the phone into her suitcase-sized designer handbag, then fished distractedly through it while tottering across the grass in heels that were decidedly opposed to the idea. “Son of a fucking bitch,” she muttered as she dropped onto the other end of Finn’s bench. “AH! Yes! There it is…” With her air of moneyed entitlement and a hint of a vaguely European accent, she seemed like exactly the type of woman who would obliviously sit down on the only occupied bench in the park and light up a cigarette. Fully expecting her to do just that, he instead had to stifle a laugh when she pulled a huge, clear plastic bag full of fun-sized candy bars onto her lap. “Halle-fuckin’-lujah!” She fished out a few candies and popped them into her mouth, one after another. Three candy bars in, her face relaxed and her shoulders dropped as a little sigh escaped around the chocolate.
She was right about one aspect of the neighborhood: she certainly didn’t belong there. It was a working-class area where women who aspired to look like her, unable to afford much more than the cheapest knockoffs of her high-end designer clothes, fell short of the mark by at least a mile. He had just realized that he was staring at her when, without turning her head, she shoved the bag of candy at him. “Want some? I have plenty.”
Unnerved by the idea that she’d been watching him stare at her from behind her huge, dark sunglasses, he blushed and looked back toward the playground. “No, thank you. Sorry. I mean,” he stammered, painfully aware that his social skills lacked something to be desired, “I’m sorry I was staring at you. That was rude.” Navigating the perplexing and ever-changing landscape of Human interaction would never be easy for him, but nearly three decades of having to apologize for his awkwardness had, at least, drilled home a few of the fundamentals.
“Pfft.” She plopped the bag back onto her lap and fished out another few candies. “I can’t blame you for staring after the scene I made. My apologies for that, by the way! Sometimes I get pissed off and forget there might be children and whatnot around. And now I’ve just realized that I sat on your bench while all the rest are empty…”
“Well, that’s all right.” He gave her an understanding smile. “I doubt you could have gotten to any of the others without taking your shoes off.”
She tossed her head back, a sharp bark of laughter ejecting itself from her throat. “HA! These shoes aren’t made for walking, you’ve got that right! I’m only wearing the damned things because they’re impressive, and I needed every bit of ‘impressive’ I could muster for this fucking meeting.”
“You don’t dress like this every day, then?”
“Fuck no. I’ve got a house out in the country. I wear pedal pushers and flip flops half the damned time! It’s fucking gorgeous and peaceful out there. I only dress like this when I have to come into the city on business.”
He smiled at her use of “the city” to describe this sad little ‘burb. “How do you manage to survive in the country with no Starbucks?”
“Don’t need one. I’ve got a fancy-ass espresso machine and a personal assistant who used to work as a barista. Best hiring decision I ever made! I went into this little coffee shop one day – not a Starbucks, mind you, a fabulous little independent place downtown – and ordered my favorite latte. It was the best damned coffee drink I’d ever tasted. I demanded to know who made it and everyone but her stepped back because they thought I was gonna complain. I said, ‘Did you make this drink?’ She nodded, scared shitless. ‘You know how to type?’ She nods again, this time looking confused. ‘You speak English?’ She nods again, even more confused. ‘You want a job? I need a personal assistant, and this coffee is amazing. The job is yours if you want it.’ Coulda knocked her over with a feather, but she said yes and she’s the best damned assistant I ever had. Wish to hell she was here.”
“Why isn’t she? I thought that was what personal assistants did, follow their employers around non-stop.”
“She was supposed to be here, but I left her to finish an errand this morning and she’s still there. I forgot how much I hate coming into the city when I have to do everything for myself. I’m spoiled, but I suppose days like today make me remember why having money is fantastic and I should do everything in my power to never be poor again.”
Meska’s waving arms caught their eyes and Finn waved back, pleased to have an excuse to stop fighting the smile of amusement the woman’s story had prompted.
“Is that your daughter?”
“Yes. She just turned five.”
“She’s precious. Too bad about her skin, though.”
His relaxed smile tightened into a grimace at the blunt observation. Meska’s skin had been normal only a few months before. She’d been just another child on the playground, taking turns on the swings and holding her own against the boys in races across the monkey bars. Then one night he’d run her bath as usual, and the mystery of their lives had gotten quite a bit deeper.
* * *
Three months earlier…
“Daddy?” Meska’s voice had sounded weak and scared, so he’d rushed to pop his head into the open door of the bathroom and found her examining her naked torso in the mirror. “Daddy, what are these?” Pale green v-shaped marks ran up her sides, much as they had in his dream years before.
He’d looked closely at them, poking one with the tip of his finger. “Do they hurt? Or itch?”
“No, they’re just…there!”
He’d gathered her long blonde hair up to check her neck and scalp, then looked her legs over.
“I don’t see any more of them. Go ahead and take your bath, and I’ll call the doctor tomorrow.” He’d held his breath while she slipped off her underwear and hopped into the tub, only releasing it when he was sure that no tail had appeared along with the green markings. He felt silly for even thinking it was possible, but the spots had dredged up that long-forgotten memory of the dream he’d had the night she was born.
The doctor had referred them to a dermatologist; by the time they got to their appointment, the spots were darker and spreading. A month later they’d been creeping up her neck and down her arms, and no one could explain them or make them go away. As they’d appeared in areas that weren’t hidden by her clothes, the other parents had begun to warn their children away from her. Finn hadn’t been able to give an explanation that might allay their fears, so his little girl had become an outcast before she’d even started school.