For Real

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Marta stared at the human forms dominating the window display at Champion Sports. She dreamed of sneaking in at night and switching these hulking, grey, male mannequins with the lean, white, female ones from Forever 21–the ones with the high-heeled feet. The Champions would gather in groups, shoulder to shoulder, angled as if to whisper secrets to each other, sporting yellow lace tops, mullet skirts and thin leather belts over their buff bodies. The Forever 21s would place fists on hips, tilt petite chins into the air and show off Nike swooshed shorts, two-piece tankinis and New Orleans Saints caps.

The new a.m. manager at the Cinnamonster, wearing a name tag that read Josh, smiled as he handed Marta her coffee. “Will that be all, ma’am?” She still hadn’t gotten used to being called that, after nearly a year in the South.

The bags under Josh’s eyes hinted at a hangover. Settling her coffee into its holder atop the baby stroller, Marta remembered the last hangover she had. It was three or four years ago, after a friend’s Christmas party back in Colorado when she’d stayed up all night doing shots of Jagermeister with some guy she didn’t know. They had missed her husband’s buddy’s wedding the next day because she couldn’t stop vomiting until four in the afternoon.

Marta unhooked the tray from the stroller and let Jackson climb out. He padded off down the empty, half-lit corridor, waving his arms over his head. The mall in its early morning hours was cool, quiet, and free of charge. Occasionally, the security guard would stop and tell her the same story about spending a winter in Cheyenne back when he was a drummer in a band, or one of the older women who sometimes speed-walked in sneakers would squeal “It’s my little buddy!” as Jackson waddled past.

But today the halls were empty. Marta steered her son towards the gumball machines and gazed at the two-foot high mannequins at Baby Gap, their cloth bodies sewn together at the joints, carrying plastic buckets and shovels to the beach.

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