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A Passing talent

She's returning from a party given for her gifted girlfriend, a dancer extraordinaire, a fave of the mavens. At the street corner to her apartment she's confronted by a transient type who'd be considered aggressive in some opinions. But she is native to the Big Apple. So merely startled, she is not fearful when the disheveled fellow proffers his empty cup, announces, "Your wishes come true for a kind donation, Missy. What task you got for me?"

Made tolerant by his novel pitch, she stops. Without hesitation she pulls her pocketbook forward and reaches in. There're just quarters and dimes in the change pocket. Next to it, her crammed billfold shows a tenner outermost. High price for impulse; but what the hell. She could afford it. If that stupid driver hadn't splashed her shoes when pulling up, and maddened her enough to walk the few blocks, she'd have ridden home in his taxi and paid him the same. By this thinking, the money could've been already spent.

So she grudges the tenner from the fold, waggles it at the fellow. "What you got for this?" she says, and waits for the expected reshaping of his jester's face into a show of surprise, or exaggerated appreciation.

But only a shrewd smile slowly works itself out of the used-up visage. "What you daring, darling . . ."? he begins.

She thinks, "What great teeth!" as his brilliant smile transforms into an infectious grin.

". . . what yuh really want?" he teases.

Gay in the spirit of the exchange, laughing almost, she daunts back, "Something great and important and priceless."

"Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! The usual," he taunts, bright-eyed, challenging, and ever so sly. "But what yuh really, really want?" he repeats.

"Well, what's the choice?" she haggles, as marrow deep, a feather-touch of tension thrills her.

"You just name it, Pretty Lady. I got it all if yuh really, really want it," he says. His eyes are bold and wicked, charming.

Out of the blue, prodded by this vagabond, she finds herself admitting to a jealousy of her gifted dancer girlfriend. Helplessly, she blurts, "A real talent! I'd like a real, real talent. You got any of that?" she finishes lamely.

"Dime a dozen."

The flat response somehow sets her at ease again. So back to their unstated game, she says, "There's a lotta dimes in this here tenner."

"Yep! And for that you'll get my biggest deal. Extreme adjustment of realities. So come on, Miss Pretty. Make a power play. Name yuh poison."

Half her mind says, "What a joker!" The other part quivers at the mischievous gleam in his eyes. What was there to lose, though? So she admits about her single passing talent. "Painting," say she. "Do me into an extra special painter?"

"Not too hard. How much extra you wanna be?"

This is getting edgy, she thinks. But we're only playing a chat game, right? So she considers for a moment before saying, "I wanna be better than regular good. You know. I want to be exceptional. First class unique. Really, really original. You know. Like fantastic."

Unexpectedly aware that she wants it that badly, she realizes that her breath is short. She can feel the racing pulse at her neck. Now, more than slightly embarrassed, but defensively aloof, she reaches to put the bill in his plastic cup. "Well, here you are," she says, managing herself coolly out of the farce.

"Well, well," drawls the vagrant, baring his beautiful grin, "we did get a wriggle there, huh! Thanks you for yuh patronage, though, Miss Pretty. But now, be careful o' what the giftie gi' you, okay. And don't ye expend it all in one place!"

As she deposits the tenner, his deliberate finger lightly touches the back of her hand. It's like a living spark slipped into her. A prick without the sting. A frisson. She blinks at his face then quickly away as she is totaled by his smug, blazing smile. Sweat cool on her forehead, eyes to the pavement, she feels a shiver as she starts homewards.

-

The apartment is warm and aromatic from the small, mail-order spruce she'd bought to decorate early for the holidays. As usual, she tosses the keys on her large, maple-wood table. Then it's off with the shoes and the clothes and into things comfortable. She spritzes the orchid, makes a sandwich, pours a glass of chardonnay. Then she curls up on the sofa, eats and sips of the delectables, satisfied. The rest of the day, at long last, is hers.

In the soothing quiet, she finds herself lightly rubbing the spot on her hand, caressing his memory, recalling the touch. Her thoughts flutter back to his cockiness, his promise. Or was it his challenge? On her part, it was only a charitable donation. That was all. Wasn't it? For sure he'd misuse the money, wouldn't he? Anyhow, wasn't pure generosity just the point? Nothing to be expected from it. Right?

Wine glass placed in the kitchen sink, she wanders to the living room. She sits down at the table, does her mail.

That taken care of, she sets out money and a note about the kitchen windows for her cleaning man, Mordy.

Now at last, no kith, no kin, no cares, and another long day done, she should turn in for the night. Except that back of her head, there's a burr to a sleepy frame-of-mind. So driven back and forth from kitchen to living-room, she just can't stop pacing. Until absently, without recognizing her actions, she's responding to the cause of her restlessness.

She is picking up crayons and approaching the expanse of welcoming, egg-shell white, living-room wall. Where, compelled, she begins. . .

-

Promptly at ten-fifteen next morning, Mordy, the cleaning-man let himself in. The sound of him relieves a stasis she has lived all night. He opened the door, slowly entered as if reluctant to intrude on her Big City standard of professional success. He went right away to the broom closet, took out his tools and began his tasks. This unexpected diligence was impressive.

After a while, as he mopped the floor and moved into the kitchen, she lost him. Although, off and on, she could hear him in there, talking in self-congratulatory tones. Happy that some jig was working out, rapping snappily of 'moving the love times to mih own beats and rhymes.'

It came to mind that the only time they'd met was when she handed him duplicate keys to finalize this house cleaning arrangement. All else had been neutrally arranged thru the web. He had seemed a trustworthy young man as she met his undemanding hazel eyes. Then he gave her not even the slightest macho squeeze when they shook hands. And with his prices so reasonable, it was easy to leave her home to his charge.

Indeed, she had grown to be quite happy with him. Because of his conscientiousness, she had discovered the spiritual uplift of coming home to a sparkling bathroom, a well-made bed, an orderly kitchen, and crispy clean floors.

All that in mind, she remained sensitive with her notes to him. Was always anxious about unintended offense. Just as she was with this last one regarding the windows. For who would want to lose such a gem of a cleaning person?

But here he was! Mop in hand, out from the kitchen, at last approaching her table. He noticed and reached for her note. Began reading before he stopped and jerked his amazed face to stare at the wall.

-

Well does she know what holds him spellbound.

No doubt it is her full-sized image there. An absolute perfection, convincingly life-like, it is holding a crayon in the right hand, making her likeness happen. While on the face is an exquisite expression of stupendous dismay about this bizarre circumstance into which she has entangled herself.

(c) Kelvin C.