Amy hovered over the hanger. It held an extremely pretty top, all handkerchief hems and gauzy floatiness in multiple shades of pink.
‘Just do it.’ she admonished herself, tired of her inability to shop without hurdle after hurdle ruining the day. With Herculean effort, she grasped the hanger and took it from the rail, although she couldn’t prevent the furtive little glance around to see who was judging her. She scurried through the store wondering why they insisted on packing the rails so close that it was nearly impossible not to end up hooked to something and trailing scattered items behind you.
Faltering to a stop before the changing rooms, Amy came close to letting the hanger drop onto the returns rail and running for the main entrance. It wasn’t so much the warning signs about only two items, or how Big Brother watched over you – in this case the eyes belonged to teen-aged girl who stood in the doorway passing studied judgement on each client whilst steadily chewing her thumbnail- but a single word above the uncurtained entryway;
‘Communal Changing Area’
Amy stared at that one word, hovering mid-stride between the girl and the abyss beyond, well aware of the derision behind those highly made up eyes which swept lazily over Amy’s outsized duffle coat and clumping army boots. Communal? She looked back over her shoulder, surveying the store, trying desperately to decided how likely it was there would be other shoppers within. Wednesday afternoon before the schools and offices let out, usually only pensioners pottering around and complaining about the flimsy nature of undergarments today. The store looked deserted, Amy moving on just in time to forestall a snarky comment from Big Sister.
It was every bit as awful as Amy had expected. Floor to ceiling mirrors lined every wall, not a curtain or cubicle in sight. It was also blissfully empty. Amy dumped her backpack in the furthest corner from the entrance, hung the delicious top on the nearest hook and shrugged out of her coat. She kept her eyes carefully on her boots, practiced in the art of never looking in a mirror. Coat joined bag, sharply followed by the shapeless jumper she’d nabbed from her brother’s cupboard; a fit-inducing shade of mustard yellow – the reason Graham wouldn’t wear it and how Amy had managed to ‘liberate it for herself; she knew it was vile, but when you were twenty stone you took what you could get.
With almost reverential care, she slipped the top from its hanger, delighting in the airy lightness of the fabric, letting it run through her usually clumsy fingers with a shiver of anticipation. It really looked like it might just fit and she couldn’t recall every owning, let alone wearing, something so fairylike and wispy.
‘Even if you don’t buy it’ she giggled to herself, ‘At least you’ll know what it looks and feels like to wear girly clothes.’
She slipped it over her head with infinite slowness, terrified the all too familiar sound of shredding fabric would fill the room and bring Big Sister running, but all was well. The soft, lacy material slipped over her hot skin like a cooling wave, made her skin flush with ticklish prickles, settling about her with elegant drapes. It felt like nothing she had ever experienced and it gave her enough courage to do something she hadn’t done in ten years.
Shaking a little, she lifted her eyes to the mirror with deliberate slowness. A slight smile touched her lips at this strange vision. The top gave her the illusion of delicacy, an ephemeral quality, the pink hues lending warmth to her pale skin. She could nearly believe the top was something she could wear, out, in the street, perhaps to a coffee bar, where she could sip idly at the blackest of coffees, mysterious and alone at a table until Nigel from media studies happened by, stunned to see a vision of loveliness and intrigue he had never known, stepping over to her table, leaning in…
“Holy crap! Watch out girls, it’s a bit of a squeeze in here. Budge up there. I’m sure you can spare a couple of feet for us four. Suck it up, Madame Mountain.”
Amy froze in horror, her happy little daydream shattering about her with the screech of Katrina’s jibes. Why her? Why now? All summer vacation Amy had managed to avoid the ‘popular’ girls and it had been a slice of paradise. No teasing, no bullying, not a word. She should have known it had been too good to last. Now everything was ruined. No point buying the top. Every time she wore it she would hear Katrina and that hated nickname, one the entire college used thanks to the bitch queen of Lingford and her three little groupies.
She dropped her eyes to her feet, frantically figuring out a method of escape. She’d have to run out with the top on, she couldn’t bear the thought of trying to change. She leaned down, trying to grab for her coat and bag and was pulled up short, that sound of her nightmares exploding behind her; the top was ripping at the seams with a high scratchy sound which seared across her brain.
“Hold up there, Madame Mountain. Where you going? Not gonna give us a twirl?”
Katrina tugged, trying – and Amy had a self-aware moment of painful clarity when she knew Katrina could never budge her victim – and failing to spin Amy. The seams gave out and the garment fell to the floor in two neat little heaps. Katrina laughed raucously, pointing at the heaps;
“That’s what you get for buying cheap flabric.”
As the laughter of all four grew at this last jab, Amy’s temper began to rise. Visions of the last three years flashed through her mind, filling her mental vision with incident after painful scene. It wasn’t fair. She wasn’t stupid. She knew it was her own fault she was the size of a house, but that didn’t give this evil little shrew the right to make her life steadily more miserable. It wasn’t Amy’s fault she had been born special, that that specialness had isolated her, turned her lack of friends and unhappiness into a constant existence in front of the fridge or larder to assuage her broken emotions. She couldn’t help her bloody genes!
With an ear-piercing scream, Amy let her guard down. All the years of scientific research, of lessons in how to control her mental capacity, her ‘special gift’ as the lab called it, crumbled into dust and the scream rose in pitch. It climbed, sliding effortlessly up the scale until the four girls were cowering against the furthest wall, unable to move, to run away from the sound which was beginning to cause blood to trickle delicately from their ears. Their hands clamped to their heads, whimpers escaped their lips and still the scream rose, reaching for that single perfect moment. It came.
The scream cut off as suddenly as it had begun and the four girls sagged in relief; a relief which lasted a split second. Amy smiled lazily, her eyes flicking around the room , watching in satisfaction as terror flared in the girls who had destroyed her single moment of pure peace. There was only a slow blink and then the mirrors exploded. Shards flew around the screaming girls whose abject fear meant they did not see how the pieces floated, shifted, curled, not one fractured sliver catching them. Instead they coalesced into a cloud before Amy. Her head tilted, she studied them for a moment, watched Katrina eye the door and tense to run then unleashed her cloud of razor-sharp knives.
The mirror fragments hurtled across the room, the girls flying upright beginning to run, but Amy was ready. Half the cloud split off and raced in front of the herd, like dogs controlling sheep. The remaining pieces became a precision formation which methodically sheered through every item of clothing the girls wore. In seconds their designer clothes were expensive rags in heaps about their feet, all four cowering naked as the day they were born. Amy laughed, a tone of simple joy and pointed at the exit.
“Run!” she whispered, her menace and intent putting fresh panic into the group. They were clearly torn between the need to get away from this crazy girl with her army of mirror knives and running naked into the store. The latter won as Amy gathered her forces into a single cloud once more, freeing the way ahead of her prey. They ran.
Amy grinned and sent the mirrors pieces swiftly behind the girls, forcing them through and out of the store into the main street where she let them be herded into a circle once more, back to back, everything they were displayed for the main street of the town to eye at their leisure. Pretty certain there would be no more bullying, at least from that quarter, Amy quietly laid twenty dollars beside the checkout and left. It was money well spent, she decided, and headed back to the research facility to own up to her slip in control.