Short Story, Writing

A Hazard of the Heart

The comic book store was quiet. A still, warm day in June, too early on a weekday for any young patrons. The only customers in the store were a chubby thirty-something Marvel fanboy who read and never bought anything and a slight, graceful young woman Mark had never seen before. The first thing he noticed about her, as he stared from the register, were her chapped lips; the way her tongue flicked out, refreshing the dusky pink rose petals before retreating back into her mouth. The dust motes danced in the sunlight that battled through the grimy front window to bathe her in an ethereal light. The fanboy was a veritable gremlin beside her, and Mark did not rank himself much higher. Despite his self-deprecating thoughts he stepped forward, adjusting his glasses before asking,

“Do you need any help?”

She smiled before looking at him, her eyes lingering on a Nightwing cover before turning to face him. Mark was struck by the intensity of her gaze, the bright brown stars that shone out of her heart-shaped face. She licked her lips again.

“Yes, I was wondering if you had Batman: Year One?”

‘Lilting,’ Mark thought, as he led her toward the back where they kept the event paperbacks. ‘Lilting,’ was the word he would use to describe her voice.

The wooden floor creaked under him with each movement but he barely heard her tread behind him. It was a though she were floating. He grabbed the comic and dumbly held it out to her. She took it with an absent-minded smile. Mark drank in her every movement greedily; the way her fingers ran over the shrink-wrap, the elegant way she crossed her legs at the ankle as she read the back cover. Perhaps I should say something to this creature, he thought, wiping his clammy hands on his jeans; something that would elicit more than her gorgeous shallow smile.

“Uh… that one’s pretty good… the artwork is amazing… are you a big Batman fan?”

She looked up at him from under her eyelashes; her heavy bangs twitching as she blinked. She licked her lips.

“Yes.”

She went back to reading the back cover and Mark continued standing next to her, dying slowly.

Just then the floor beyond the paperback section creaked sharply and the fanboy appeared, a Wolverine figurine cradled in his arm.

“How much is this?”

“What? Oh, I don’t know,” Mark hurried toward the register and looked it up, wanting to return to the paperbacks, the quiet sanctuary where he could worship his newfound demi-goddess. “It’s $35.99.”

The fanboy turned the figurine over, scrutinizing every inch and inquiring about the material it was made of, whether the paint was latex or oil based. Mark heard the softest of shuffles and looked over to see that the sphinx emerge from the paperbacks and resume scanning the serials. His heartbeat quickened as he deflected the remaining questions about resale value and availability until the fanboy muttered something about him being incompetent and shuffled out.

The small bell over the door tinkled closed and Mark stood staring at her, the air charged with a one-sided sexual tension.

“Do you need help with anything else?” he ventured after several more moments of frustrated silence.

She licked her lips. Looked at him. Smiled. “No.”

Mark’s mind was a jumble of nonlinear thoughts and fantasies. He wondered what her mother looked like, where she lived, what her favorite foods were, what they might name their eldest child. He imagined their first date, what she might look like at home reading comic books (probably with a glass of wine). He envisioned her in the Black Widow costume the figure just above her head was wearing or Selina Kyle fully kitted out as Catwoman (why did she like Batman anyway? What did she mean she was a ‘big’ fan?). He wondered what their first night together would be like. He fantasized about kissing those chapped lips.

The paperback slapped onto the countertop, snapping him out of his reverie.

“I think I’ll just get this.” She murmured, digging in her purse for her wallet.

“Oh… um… yes, of course.”

He began ringing her up, stuffing all of the free promotional material and sales flyers he thought he could get away with into her bag, drawing out every movement to steal another moment of her presence. Her eyes roamed around the store, her fingers drumming lightly on the glass countertop. Mark’s heart picked up the rhythm pounding at an obscene triple time as he told her the price and asked how she’d like to pay.

She licked her lips and silently handed him a credit card, continuing to examine everything but him. He ran his fingers over the raised letters before he swiped the card, slightly warm from her hand. Diana Walker they read. He followed the loop and swirl of the pen as she signed the receipt, then handed her her bag, the motion awkward with finality.

She paused— just inches from the door— and began rummaging through her purse again. Mark took this as a sign and could not remain silent any longer.

“Wasn’t there anything else you wanted?” he blustered, his throat constricting in panic, words tumbling out. “Isn’t there anything else you’re interested in?”

Diana started a little but collected herself and turned to face him, looking at Mark thoughtfully for the first time. She held a tube of lip balm in her hand, which she opened and smoothed over her lips before answering. Her bright brown eyes bore into his own and in that instant he was sure she knew everything he was too cowardly to say. That he would do anything for her. That he thought she was human perfection, if not already one of the unblemished immortals; her name was Diana— the same as the Roman goddess and Wonder Woman for god’s sake! He would worship her; surely she knew that he loved her? His questions echoed in his mind as he stared desperately back at her. Didn’t she want anything else? Didn’t she want him?

And he was even surer that she knew his thoughts when finally, she gave him a small, sad smile and shook her head. “No. Thank you anyway though.” With that she passed over the threshold, and the soft tinkle of the doorbell echoed into the quiet musty gloom of the store.

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