On the sidewalk on my way to work.
The world was normal.
Then the world changed.
Then the world was different.
I learned the world was different one thing at a time that day. First a young man walked by me with a smile smeared onto his face. The smile stretched from ear to ear.
No. I don’t mean that like most people do. His smile literally stretched from ear to ear so that the corners of his lips were biting into his earlobes. Shocked, I turned as he passed me, only seeing the back of his head. From behind, he looked normal. I told myself that I was only imagining things. After all… Wasn’t I always only imagining things?
The next thing that happened was I saw this beautiful blonde woman standing alone. Her back was leaning up against a high-rise building. She wore a pink bubble gum dress that flared out at the base of her waist making her look like a more realistic version of what Strawberry Shortcake would have looked like had she been real. Her features were stunning. Her eyes were icy blue, the kind that could be angelically soft or paralyzingly cold and distant. Her nose was sharp and dainty, and her lips were cherry red. She put Barbie to shame.
I couldn’t help but stare as I walked by her. She held an e-cigarette in her right hand, and a regular cigarette in her left. She was smoking both under a blue sky and bright sun. She lifted the e-cigarette to her sparkly lips and exhaled. In one deep breath, she created a small cloud I had to walk through on the sidewalk of State Street. I coughed and she smiled wickedly. It was then that she pulled out a part of sunglasses and set them over her eyes with one easy flick of her wrist...Her wrist from her third arm.
I continued to walk, but my head turned back to re-observe the abnormality of what I had just witnessed, but all I saw was a beautiful blonde in a cloud of smoke and the faded pink of her dress. Again I assured myself that my imagination was just getting in a little more exercise today.
Once I arrived at the coffee shop, I swung my avocado green apron over my head and tied myself into the uniform of the day. To my relief, the next few hours of work were normal. Customers came in and ordered espresso beverages and maybe a donut. Some took some things to go, some took some things to stay. It was a normal shift.
Then a young and charismatic man walked in. His hair was wild from the wind of a bike ride, but still somehow I could not see a strand out of place. Every hair on his head was as it should be. When he asked me a question, I looked up at him as he leaned on the countertop and saw his face in a strange clarity. Although nothing was warped by reality, his face stunned me. For a second, I thought I was seeing something perfect. Was it his hair? Was it his smile? Was it his question? Was it the way the sun was reflecting into the shop? Was it the caffeine from the espresso I had just sipped on before he walked in? I stood looking at him for a few long moments before I stuttered and asked him if he could repeat his question. He had a charming laugh and used it in my moment of senselessly forgetting how to speak. He tugged handsomely at his jean vest and ran his hands through his hair, and I continued to make the eight ounce I was supposed to.
He took the mug outside to drink. After I saw him sitting comfortably to himself as a happy customer, I decided to take a bathroom break. I let my coworker know I’d be right back, hung up my apron, and walked down through the other side of the building as the restrooms were clear on the other side of the structure.
To get to the door that said WOMEN on it, I first had to walk through the main room of the building. The space was built with large, broad windows facing the street that were connected every ten feet or so by concrete columns. I saw through the window that my last customer who was sitting outside with his mug was now standing. I stopped curiously and watched him walk on the sidewalk beside the windows. He had such a careless walk, a walk that was relaxed but free. A walk that represented youth and health. A walk that knew excitement was perhaps only a few more steps ahead of him. He continued to walk, and every ten feet or so, he would disappear behind the column and reappear where another large full window started again.
On the fourth column when he disappeared behind it, he did not reappear at the next window. I waited suspiciously. I stood there for a second, looking about as I tried to understand where he had gone. Then I saw a dark shadow figure. I took a few steps closer to the large windows to confirm what I saw: a panther. And just by the way it carried itself, full of gusto and adventure, I knew it was still him. I hurried, turned around, and ran back to the front of the shop. Without explaining what was going on to my coworker, I ducked under the counter and rushed outside through the double doors ignoring his questions. I ran along the store front, past the large windows and concrete columns.
The building ended, a street began. An intersection, actually. I looked left, right, up, down. the panther was nowhere to be found. Where did he go?
I stood there for a second. The wind rolled softly through the streets. I suddenly felt unusually cold. I was reminded of the shelter of being indoors. Despite my confusion, I turned around and headed back to the shop. Somehow I convinced myself to distrust my eyes, and the more I distrusted myself, the sillier I felt.
As I walked by the same spot where my last customer had walked and turned into a panther, I stopped. Something was different.
I was normal.
Then I changed.
Then I was different.
I saw my own reflection in the window. Then I saw the bareness of my scalp. Exposed. I reached up and felt my hairless head. Bald to the bone. I looked like an alien. I didn’t recognize the eyes underneath so much skin on my head. Then I looked down at my body. My clothes were gone. I was completely naked.
And then I saw everyone behind me. I stared into the window and saw that my naked reflection was surrounded by hundreds of people, all standing around me quietly. They did not make a single noise.
Was this really just my imagination?
Was I really bald?
Was I really naked?
Were there really a crowd of noiseless people behind me?
I slowly turned away from my reflection to the street where my eyes saw thousands of eyes staring back at me. Some faces I knew. Some I didn't. My breath stopped. My heart stopped. Everything stopped.
Until I heard the sharp sound of metal grazing against each other so crisp and so perfect. My eyes followed the sound and eventually found the culprit: A pair of scissors in the hand of a man standing in the front of the crowd. It was then that I realized that every single person in the masses in front of me was holding a pair of scissors.
Then one by one, then two by two, then twenty by twenty, they all started opening and closing their scissors.
I knew they meant ill. I knew their intentions were malicious in the same way I knew when I was having a nightmare and not a dream. But what could they possibly cut? I had no clothes. I had no hair. There was nothing for them to cut. No material to stop the terrible snipping sound that came from hungry metal eating at hungry metal.
At the dumbing speed of zombies, they started for me. I pressed my bare back against the windows and the chill of the glass shot up my spine. I threw my hands up with my fingers stretched and flexed in a panic.
“No please. There’s nothing more to cut! It’s all gone! It’s all gone!” I shouted.
Suddenly a panther jumped from the sky. He stood crouched in front of me. The crowd-turned-mob stopped. They were afraid. The panther looked ready to pounce. The animal looked at me for a second. I could not understand its gaze. Then it turned to the others. They seemed to understand. They reluctantly, but quickly, dispersed.
Once everyone had left, it was just me and the panther. I wanted to thank it. I wanted it to know I was grateful. I reached out to pet the creature on the head, but it pulled back from my hand. It shrunk from my touch. And just as abruptly as it had shown up, it left.
There was no one left but me. I turned to the reflection and saw only the reflection of reality.
Hair. Pants. Shoes. The Korean eyes of a daydreamer.
I walked beside the window on the sidewalk back to work.
The world was normal.