by Noemi Szadeczky-Kardoss

It was Sunday evening again, and on every Sunday evening, I wanted to die.

“Cindy! Where are you?” I heard my mother’s voice calling me.

I was in the living room watching an episode of my favorite TV show that I had recorded on the Friday before. I knew my mother wanted to say that it was already eleven, and that I had school the following day, but that was something I didn’t want to hear. On Sunday evenings, I just wanted to bury myself somewhere and not come out until Friday, or drink some kind of magical medicine like Juliet, so that I could sleep deeply for days and wouldn’t have to do anything.

“So here you are hiding!”

My mother appeared at the door and looked a bit angry. But, to tell the truth, I had never seen her angry in my life. She was a woman of kind features. Not somebody you would call beautiful, but her eyes mirrored her goodness. She never used make-up, not even for the theater, and although she had gone very gray, she didn’t dye her hair. She said she didn’t like those things, and after all, my father liked her the way she was. And she was right. I always thought that my father was a strange man in this respect. All the other men I saw on TV liked women with make-up. Or maybe he was only too old. He was already forty-five when I was born.

“Cindy, why didn’t you answer me?” my mother asked and put her hands on her waist.

“Sorry, I didn’t hear you,” I said and didn’t take my eyes off the screen.

“Are you watching that silly series again?” my mother asked. That was the question I hated the most.

“Just this one last episode, and I’m going to bed, okay?” I said quickly. She sighed and finally left me alone.

You have to know that the “silly series” I was watching was the only reason why I didn’t want to die once and for all. It was about the life of a high school that was very similar to mine. Handsome boys and slender, beautiful girls were falling in love with each other all the time; others broke up, then began everything again, and had fun every day.

They had the most fashionable clothes, and everything suited them. They were full of self-confidence, and they loved life; of course they did, because they were blessed with perfect looks, so they had no problems. I forgot all my troubles while I was watching them. I imagined myself being pretty like those girls and being loved by a tall, brave prince, and for those hours, I was happy. Or at least I thought I was.

When the episode ended, I turned off the VCR, took the cassette out of it, and started towards the door. But the TV shouted after me.

“Do you want to know the secret of success?”

I turned around and looked at the screen. It was a commercial.

“It’s beauty,” the TV continued.

Then it showed a blond girl who ran at a boy in the street. The boy could smell her shampoo, they looked at each other, and they lived happily ever after. Then there was a woman with huge blue eyes and snow-white skin sitting with no clothes on in the middle of a green field. She said if I used the body lotion she did, then I would have a perfectly healthy skin. Within the next five minutes, I could hear all of these sentences: “Lose weight!,” “Have white teeth!,” “Take the hair off your legs!,” “Be beautiful!” And after all these, although not explicitly said, but still understandably: “Because otherwise you won’t achieve anything!”

I turned off the TV and went to my room. That room was a real hideaway for me, the only place where I felt safe from the outside world’s attacks. I furnished it according to my taste, or – as my parents said – my tastelessness. Yes, maybe it was a bit too gaudy. Its walls, the door, and the doors of the closets were full of posters of my TV show, and there were stickers even on the mirror and on the windows.

I had brushed my teeth and put on my nightgown before I went to watch those few episodes so that I wouldn’t have anything else to do after that, only to go to bed. I put the video cassette on the shelf beside the other cassettes that all contained the episodes of the same series. Then I went to the light switch, and before I turned it off, I looked into the mirror.

I used to do this every night. And how many times had I dreamed that one day when I looked there, a pretty girl with a beautiful smile would look back! But, of course, that never had happened. I could only see myself: my big, round face and hundreds of pimples on my pale skin, my deformed nose, my ears sticking out, my gray eyes, my hair that had no definite color and which was impossible to comb out because it was so thick and curly, and my yellow buck-teeth because I couldn’t close my mouth. Please, don’t laugh, it was true, and it wasn’t funny for me at all!

So, I looked into my own eyes once more, then turned off the light, and went to my bed in the dark. I wrapped the blanket around myself and said my prayers. I had been taught that everything I want can be mine; I only have to ask God for it, and believe that He would give it to me. So, I asked Him every night to give me beauty like He had given it to other people, and my faith was strong that sooner or later, He would help me.

My Brave Decision
The following morning, I was going to school, and as usual, I felt a lump in my throat. I was so afraid of what would happen there, that the mere thought of it almost made me cry.

I knew that I would be the last one to arrive. When I would step in the classroom, everybody would fall silent, and they would all look at me. I would blush, then I would turn pale and would go to my desk with my clumsy steps. I knew I looked like an idiot then, but I couldn’t help walking like that! And especially when everybody was looking at me. So, I knew they would laugh at me, because I would surely do something silly.

I didn’t know exactly what that something would be. While I was sitting on the bus and waiting for it to start, I was thinking about that. I thought that maybe I would make a strange grimace against my will like on the Friday before, when Sue Fowley pointed at me, roared with laughter, and shouted “Look guys, there comes the ugliest Cinderella on earth!”

They had dubbed me Cinderella when we were freshmen in high school, but I could never figure out why I deserved that name.

Then I thought what if I would drop my coat, and when I would bend down to pick it up, my bag would slip down my arm to the floor like the week before, when of course everybody had a good time watching me. But most likely, I would simply trip over my own foot like so many times before, and I would be covered in shame when Mr. Owston would step in.

My bus was still standing at the final stop. I was looking out of the window while I was thinking, but I became so dazed that I didn’t see anything. I shuddered when another bus trundled beside mine. A boy about my age was sitting by the window on it, and when it stopped, he was only a few meters away from me. I took a quick look at him and caught his eyes. Of course, I got embarrassed, so I looked away and started to read the ad on the side of his bus. I almost fell off the seat when I saw what it was.

“So, you don’t want to be what you are? You poor little girl! Come to us! We can help you!” And that was all. Under the text was an address and a phone number. I rarely did things like that, but in that moment, I jumped up and got off the bus immediately. I read the ad one more time, memorized the number, and rushed to a phone-box. After I had dialed, an old woman’s hoarse voice said good morning to me.

“Good morning,” I said, and my voice was trembling a bit, but otherwise I was okay, and I was sure that I wouldn’t regret later what I did. “I saw your advertisement, and I think I may need your help. But could you explain me what kind of help are you offering?” I asked, but even before I finished the last sentence, the hoarse voice answered.

“Of course I can explain it to you, my dear. And I will explain everything when you get here. Where are you right now?”

I told her, and she explained in detail how to get to her. It was a long way. We lived in the suburb, and her place was in a district in the center of the city. I had heard pretty scary things about that district, so I usually tried to avoid it, but then, I didn’t care about what I had been told.

“That’s only silly gossip,” I thought and went back to the bus stop.

A Very Strange Place
An hour later, I was standing before Madame Zelma’s Shop. I could read that on the purple door. The letters and the big stars around them were painted with gold, and they were glittering in the sunshine. The shop had no window.

I took a deep breath and stepped in. It was dark inside; so dark that first I couldn’t see anything, because my eyes were used to the bright sunshine. The air was heavy, and thick, sweet-smelling smoke was spreading. I could hardly breathe. A few seconds later, the objects took shape. The room was small, and four large candles were standing in its corners in metal candlesticks. The walls were covered with colorful carpets, but the floor was bare stone. A wooden chair was standing before me, and opposite to that, in a huge armchair, was sitting Madame Zelma herself. She filled the whole chair; she was so unbelievably wide. I thought that if she stood up, the chair would go with her. She wore a dark purple dress. Her make-up was thick, yet I could see that her face was wrinkled, and there were black blotches under her eyes.

“Come, my child,” she said in her hoarse voice. “Have a seat.” And she pointed to the wooden chair.

I sat down and didn’t know what to do with my bag, so I put it on my lap. It was full of books, so it was heavy. I had to hold it, because I was short, and the chair was high, and the bag would fall if I let it go.

“Good morning,” I said and tried to be natural. But unfortunately, that was something I was simply unable to do: to be natural. A lock of hair escaped my bun and hung before my eyes. I made a grab at it to pull it away, and in that moment, my bag slipped down, and reached the ground with a loud thump.

“Sorry,” I said and wanted to be suddenly invisible. I picked up the bag, sat back to the chair, and didn’t know what to say. Madame Zelma was silent, too. She was just looking at me with her narrow, black eyes that mirrored the candles’ light. I could feel the sweat running down my back. Finally, she began to speak.

“What do you want from me?” she asked and remained motionless like a statue.

Until then I had thought that it was obvious for her what I wanted.

“It was me who called you an hour ago,” I said and heard my heart throbbing. “I- Well, I want to change.”

“Oh, I see,” said Madame Zelma very slowly. “That’s no problem at all.”

“It’s not?” I asked.

“No,” she replied. “But, of course, first you have to tell me how do you want to look. For example, what color hair do you want to have?”

I wanted to ask so many things, first of all where exactly were we, because it certainly didn’t look like a hairdresser’s or a cosmetic surgeon’s salon, but the words stuck to my throat. I didn’t want to offend her with suspicious questions, so I answered her.

“I’d like to have blond hair,” I said. “And, if possible, long and straight.”

“Good. And what about your eyes?” I took a breath to answer, but she didn’t wait for that. “I think I’m going to make you blue eyes,” she said rather to herself than to me. “That would go well with your blond hair.”

“Can you do that?” I asked and couldn’t help sounding mistrustful.

“Of course, I can,” she said. “And I can do much more than that. Stand up!”

I did what she told me, put my bag on the chair, and folded my hands.

“Look, my dear,” Madame Zelma began. “I know you have many wishes that seem impossible. But I also know that today is the day when all those wishes will come true. If you do what I tell you to do, you’re not going to be anything any more what you are now.” She put her hands on the arms of the chair and pushed herself up. “Come with me!”

She went to the back of the room and pulled aside a carpet. Only then could I see that what I believed to be hangings were the wall itself, and behind that, was another room. I followed her, and we stepped in somewhere that looked like a swimming-pool. This room was much bigger than the other one, but not a bit lighter. Some pale light came from a few candles that were standing before a huge mirror by the wall. I could see two pools, and neither of them was tiled. One contained white liquid, and the other one red liquid.

“What are those?” I asked.

“Milk and blood,” she answered.

Although it was hot, I started to shiver. I didn’t know what to think and what was happening to me, but I knew I would do anything if that helped me to become a new person. I swallowed hard and asked her what kind of milk and blood were there.

“All kinds,” she answered. “Do you want me to list it?”

“Oh, no,” I said quickly and was staring at the dark red waves. I was wondering what made the blood move, but I had two even more important questions to ask Madame Zelma.

“What do I have to do? And what would that cost me?”

Madame Zelma turned to me and took my hands. Her hands were dry and cold, and I knew she felt how wet my hands were. She was a little bit shorter than I was, so she had to look up at me as she spoke.

“My sweet child, don’t you ever think that I want anything from you in return of my help!” she said. “I don’t need anything you have, because I have everything.” I didn’t understand that, but I remained silent. “And you also ask what you have to do? Why, don’t you have any idea?”

In fact, I had, but I didn’t want to believe that it was the way I could become a blue-eyed, blond girl. And that was the point where I realized Madame Zelma knew how to read people’s minds, because she said this:

“Never forget one thing: You have to believe.” And then she smiled at me. It was strange to see her smiling, because first she seemed to be so unfeeling towards me.

She went back behind the carpet and left me alone. I started to take off my clothes. First, I took off my coat, laid it on the ground, and put every other piece carefully folded on it.

“You’re never going to need those again,” I heard Madame Zelma’s voice suddenly. I realized that she could see me all the time, although I couldn’t see her. I tried to cover my naked body with my hands and looked around to find where she was hiding, but she wasn’t in the room.

“Don’t worry, dear,” I could hear her again. “I’m only here to help you. Now, have a dip in the first pool.”

That was milk. I went to the pool and stopped at its edge. “All kinds of milk,” I remembered. Then I started to think. “And what does that mean? All kinds of animals’ milk?”

“Yes, and also mother’s milk,” sounded the hoarse voice from somewhere.

I wasn’t surprised any more that she knew exactly what I was thinking about. But what she said made me feel that I couldn’t do what she told me. I thought that she was crazy or could even be a killer who then was trying to lure me in a trap and kill me, too. A cold shiver ran down my spine, and I waited for her to say something, because I knew she could read my thoughts, but she didn’t say anything. I waited for at least one whole minute until I realized that there was no turning back. I could stand there for the rest of my life or do something to make it worth living.

So, since there were no steps that lead into the pool, I turned around, crouched down, and climbed into it slowly. The milk was tepid and silky; I liked how it stroked my skin. I let myself deeper and deeper, but I was still holding on to the edge of the pool, because I couldn’t feel the bottom with my feet. So, I was hanging there; the milk came up to my neck, and I didn’t want to sink any deeper in it, because I had never wanted to put my head into any liquid. And, besides that, I had another problem, too.

“Can you swim?” asked Madame Zelma’s voice.

That was it. I couldn’t. And I was scared to death even if I only thought of falling into deep water.

“Cindy,” Madame Zelma said. She knew my name, although I didn’t remember telling it to her. “Don’t be scared. You must go under the milk and stay there as long as you can hold your breath. Just do what I said and don’t think!”

I let go the edge of the pool, took a deep breath, and closed my eyes. I felt that something was pulling me down. When the white waves dashed over my head, I thought of death. “But even if I die now, that won’t be worse than to live on how I lived until now,” I thought.

“You won’t die,” I could hear Madame Zelma’s voice again. There, under the milk, it sounded as if she was in my head. “You’ve already started to change,” she said. “You’re much braver now than you were when you stepped in my shop.”

My lungs wanted fresh air, so I struggled to get up to the surface, but the milk was thick, and it was very difficult to move in it.

“Stay calm, Cindy,” I could hear. “And remember that you’re now somebody who can do anything she wants. You’re not a pitiful, bumbling child any more, who trips over her own foot!”

It was hard, but I knew I had to believe her. “I’m not pitiful!” I thought and kicked into the milk. I swam up easily like a mermaid. I lifted my head out of the milk and wiped my face.

“Madame Zelma!” I shouted. “I can swim!”

The walls echoed my voice. There was no answer from Madame Zelma. I climbed out of the pool, and went to the other one which contained the blood. I didn’t stop to think; I jumped right into the middle of it. But when the liquid touched my skin, I wished that I hadn’t been so unthinking. The blood was ice-cold, and it pricked my body like thousands of thorns. My heart stopped for a second, and I lost consciousness.

The next thing I remember was lying on the floor that was made of rough concrete, and feeling a strange taste in my mouth. When I opened my eyes, I saw Madame Zelma leaning over me.

“Oh, my Lord, it worked just perfectly,” she said and touched my nose with the tip of her finger. I didn’t like her touching me, so I sat up quickly, and saw that I was wearing clothes I had never seen before.

“And the clothes suit you,” she continued. “Come and see it for yourself.”

She helped me up. Although the shoes I wore had high heels, and I had never had shoes like those on my feet before, I stood and walked in them with no difficulty at all. Madame Zelma led me to the mirror in which I could see us from head to foot. I looked into it, and I saw her and somebody I didn’t know standing next to her. That somebody was a young girl who was more than a head taller than Madame Zelma. She had long, golden colored hair that she let to fall on her back. Her face was oval, her chin narrow, and her forehead high. She had a tiny nose, and well-shaped, pink lips. Her sky-blue eyes were wide open in amazement. She wore a little make-up that made her eyes seem just a bit bluer and her lips and smooth, white skin a bit redder. I lifted up my hand to touch my face, and she did the same thing. That girl was me. I looked at Madame Zelma with my hand still on my face and with my mouth opened. She smiled again.

“Close your mouth, please,” she said. “There’s plenty of room there for your teeth now.”

I laughed at that and looked back into the mirror. I could see that my teeth were white and shiny like little sugar-lumps.

“Now, my child, don’t you have anything to say about your clothes?” Madame Zelma asked and I knew she wanted to hear more than a simple thank you from me.

“I’ve never thought that one day I would be able to wear such pretty clothes like these,” I said. “With the figure I had, I could never get into a skirt like this.” I smoothed down the tight, black miniskirt that let my pretty legs and slim waist be seen. Besides that, I wore a white, cheeky top that laced up at the front, so my round, honeydew melon-sized breasts could be seen under it. I turned around, looked back over my shoulder, and smiled at my reflection in the mirror. It was beautiful, and I was beautiful, too.

But then a thought flashed through my mind. Since looking at me nobody could tell that I was Cindy, the girl who was born on January 9, 1981, lived at 3 Wind Street, and was a junior at High Hill High, I could never go home again, because my parents wouldn’t believe that I was their daughter. The smile disappeared from my face, and I looked into Madame Zelma’s eyes in the mirror.

“No, you’re wrong,” she said. “You can go home whenever you want, and your parents will recognize you, but then-” She stopped and lowered her head.

“Then what?” I asked.

She sighed and said, “I’m sorry, dear. But then everything will be as it was before.”

“Then I will never go home again!” I said and really meant it.

“Are you absolutely sure?” asked Madame Zelma. “Because if you are, I can make this thing last for ever.”

“Oh, please, do it!” I said and clasped my hands. “I’ll be fine. I’ll make friends, and I’ll work something somewhere. I know I can do that now!”

“Good,” she said. “If that is your final decision, then you have to do just one more thing. I’m going to tell you a secret. This mirror here is a magic mirror. You can walk through it. And if you do that, then whatever happens to you in the future, you will always look and behave like you do now.”

I touched the mirror carefully, and ripples appeared around my fingers.

“This is great!” I said and wasn’t even surprised that the mirror was made of something like water. It would have been stranger if there had been a perfectly normal mirror in Madame Zelma’s Shop. I looked at her and said thank you. I didn’t say anything else, because I couldn’t find the proper words to express my gratefulness.

“Good luck,” Madame Zelma said, and I saw her smiling once again. Then I reached out to the mirror, closed my eyes, and took a big step. The mirror only looked like water, but it didn’t feel wet, and it was so easy and natural to go through it, like walking through an open door.

Rebirth
When I opened my eyes, I was standing in the street with my hands still reaching out and holding my bag. People passing by looked curiously at me. A young man wearing jogging suit even asked me if I was all right.

“Yes,” I answered. “I’ve never felt better.”

I looked at my legs and clothes to make sure that I had really changed. Nothing was missing; I was a beauty. What’s more, I even had on something I didn’t had before I left Madame Zelma: a silver colored jacket.

I felt that the bag was light. I opened it, and saw that my books had disappeared, and it only contained my purse. So, I began my new life with not more than twenty dollars. I would have fainted when I realized this, if I had been the old Cindy. But I was a new person in body as well as in spirit. I didn’t know any more what was fear or worry; I was certain that the only thing waited for me was happiness.

My plan was the following: I remembered seeing many ads in the street that had said that fast food restaurants were continuously taking on young employees. I decided to take my chance there. I would surely get the job, since my appearance was winning, and I quickly found my feet. Then I would tell my troubles to one of the nice young boys who are working there. Again, there was no doubt that he would gladly help me to find a place to live, because I looked like a beauty queen. He might even let me to live at his place!

After thinking over all this, I started determinedly, and soon left the dirty, narrow streets behind me and got to the teeming avenue. The sun was high up on the sky, and it gilded the tall buildings, the cars that got stuck in traffic, and the people hurrying after their business. I mingled with the crowd and headed towards the nearest Burger King I knew.

I had been there only once with my parents, and I almost never had been alone in the downtown before; only when I had to buy Christmas gifts or go to the dentist. So, I didn’t really know the way to the restaurant, I just let my legs carry me. And, to my great surprise, after ten minutes, I was standing before its door. But just when I was to step inside, I felt a hand touching my shoulder. I turned around and looked into the greenest eyes I had ever seen in my life.

“Hi,” said the boy who belonged to the green eyes. He was talking to me like he had known me for years. “May I invite you to lunch?” This kind of question was quite new for me.

“I’m not hungry,” I said not in an exactly friendly voice. But he remained resolute.

“Oh, I’m sorry. But then you must be thirsty if you wanted to go in here. So, can I buy you a soda?” I was just staring at him; at his thick, shining, brown hair that made me want to pass my hand over it; at his curved, wet lips that made me want to kiss them; and at his eyes that were still looking at me pleadingly, waiting for my answer. He looked exactly like he had stepped out of my beloved TV show.

“Thank you,” I said finally, completely forgetting why I wanted to go in the restaurant originally. “I’d be happy to have a hot chocolate with you.”

“Oh, that’s great!” he said. “Then let’s go!”

He opened the door for me like a gentleman, and as soon as we were inside, he started to excuse himself for accosting me in that unusual way.

“You know, I’ve been following you since you have stepped on the avenue,” he explained. He spoke very fast, like he had read it from a book. “I couldn’t help noticing how pretty you were, so-” He looked at me and I saw a self-satisfied smile in the corner of his mouth.

“So, you decided to pick me up,” I finished his sentence.

“Well, that doesn’t mean exactly what you think it means, but-” he said and again let me to find out his last words.

“Of course, I understand,” I said and gave him a smile. Not that he needed that to feel more comfortable. He didn’t seem to get embarrassed easily, anyway. But neither was I somebody like that. I thought of what a well-matched couple we could be.

Start of a Perfect Day
By that time we were already standing by the counter. It was a weekday and before lunch, so we didn’t have to wait for long, because there were not many people in the restaurant. We ordered two hot chocolates and sat down to a table. Then I wanted to ask him something and realized that I didn’t even know his name.

“By the way, I’m Cindy,” I said. He sipped at his drink before he replied.

“And I’m Jed.”

“So, Jed,” I began. “Don’t you have school today?”

I asked this only because I wanted to know his age. Looking at his little bit bristly chin, which definitely suited him, I would have said that he was a few years older than me. But his answer was surprising.

“Oh, this second year of high school! It really takes it out of you, you’ll see!” he said and gave me a knowing look. “But let’s not speak about school. I’m sure you’re not here because you like it, am I right?” He looked deep into my eyes and stopped talking.

“Yes,” I said and took my cup from the tray. When I looked at Jed again, he was still examining my face.

“Do you know that you have a very cute nose?” he asked finally.

“What?” I said and covered my nose quickly. For a second, I forgot how I looked then.

“Sorry,” Jed said when he saw that I didn’t really like his compliment. “Did I say something wrong?”

“No,” I said, and for the first time since I had left Madame Zelma’s Shop, I felt uncomfortable.

We didn’t speak after this until we finished our drinks. I was thinking about the unbelievable things that had happened to me that morning. Knowing that miracles exist was reassuring. Something I had believed in for a very long time, was finally proven. And things were going easier than I had ever thought.

I looked at Jed. I knew he was part of the miracle, too. I would have never met him, if I had looked so disgusting how I had looked for the previous seventeen years. And then, suddenly, he was sitting there with me. And he liked me.

“For beautiful people, life must be like Heaven,” I thought.

Jed didn’t notice that I was watching him, so I could take a better look. He wore a cream colored shirt that was not buttoned up at the top, and I saw a few curly, black hairs and a necklace under it. The necklace was a black string, and something was hanging on it, but I couldn’t see what. When he sipped the last drop out of his cup, he looked at me, and his face brightened.

“Cindy, today’s gonna be a wonderful day off for both of us!” His light-hearted way of thinking made me feel better, too.

“And where are we going?” I asked in the same enthusiastic voice in which he spoke.

“Well, if you ask me, I prefer Pazzo Center for day offs.” He waited for my reaction, and as I didn’t do anything, he added, “That’s the greatest place on Earth!”

“What’s Pazzo Center?” I said out loudly, although I didn’t want to. Jed looked at me as if I were an alien from another planet.

“Don’t say you’ve never been to Pazzo Center!” he said. “That’s the largest mall around here.”

“I go to other malls, and I didn’t know that one,” I answered quick as a flash. Of course, I hadn’t gone very often to any mall. Besides my parents, I couldn’t go with anyone. We went there a few times, and I saw boys and girls walking around hand in hand, and when they had passed me, they started laughing.

Jed stood up and buttoned his shirt completely hiding his necklace from before my eyes. Then he took on his black leather jacket and helped me on with my jacket. When we were out in the street again, he asked me if he might hold my hand.

“Of course!” I said and put my dainty, little hand into his large palm. It was so good walking with a boy like that. I felt that nobody could do me any harm, because I had a strong bodyguard with me. I was sure that he would risk even his own life to rescue me, if I had needed that.

We went down to the subway. On the escalator, he stepped one stair lower and turned towards me. Then our faces were in the same level.

“I like your eyes,” I said.

“Come here,” Jed said, and put his arms around me. I embraced his neck, laid my head on his broad shoulder, and closed my eyes. I drew in his sweet smell which was cigarette mixed with after-shave and deodorant. I liked it. It was something I had never felt before: The smell of a boy. My heart started to beat faster and faster, and together with my blood, an unusual feeling flooded over my whole body.

“So, this is love,” I thought and pressed my face to Jed’s. But just then, he stepped aside, and my head drooped suddenly.

“Sorry,” Jed said. “We can continue soon what we’ve just started.”

We arrived at the bottom of the stairs, and that was why he wanted to turn around. He took my hand again and lead me to the far end of the station where we could be alone, and not even the camera could see us, because we were standing right under it.

Jed pushed me gently to the wall and kissed me. I don’t think I have to tell you that that was the first kiss in my life. And still, I knew exactly how to do it. Jed was tender to me; he stroked my face and my hair while we were kissing, and I abandoned myself to my feelings and forgot about the outside world. But then, he suddenly pulled me away from the wall.

“Our train’s here,” he said changing the subject somewhat too fast for me.

“Oh, I didn’t notice it,” I said and followed him.

We got on the train, and although there were plenty of empty seats, Jed wanted me to sit on his lap. I didn’t resist. He held me tight and snuggled up to me. My jacket was unzipped, so I knew that my breasts were in full view of him.

“Boys must be wily creatures,” I thought and smiled. “And especially this one.” I ran my fingers through his hair. It was silky. Then I looked around and saw that older people were watching us. I felt that I was luckier than anybody on that train.

We had been sitting like that for ten minutes when I thought that I should talk to him. I knew that sooner or later I had to reveal my secret, namely that I had nowhere to lay my head, but then I didn’t want to start with that.

“Which is our stop?” I asked.

“Holly Road,” he answered.

I looked at the map over the door. Holly Road was two stops before the last stop. That was on the outskirts of the city, and we were still very far from it.

“Do you like watching television?” I asked Jed to continue – or rather to start – the conversation.

“Yes,” he answered shortly, but I was happy to hear that.

“And what’s your favorite program?” I went on with the interrogation.

“I don’t have any,” he said. Then he added, “You smell good.”

I started to stroke his hair again. After three more stops, he lifted his head and looked up at me.

“Do you like to go to the movies?” he asked.

“Sure,” I answered, although I couldn’t even remember the last time I had been in a movie theater. It must had been many years before when my parents took me to see a cartoon.

“Great! We’ll go and see a movie then!” Jed said, and his voice was enthusiastic again. “If you like movie theaters, you gonna love that one in Pazzo Center!”

“Why? Isn’t one theater like the other?” I asked to make him speak more. “What’s so special about this one?”

But he only said, “Just wait, and you’ll see!”

Finally, we arrived to Holly Road. We got off, and on the escalator, he turned towards me again. This time it was me who kissed him. But I was careful not to fall backwards when we got to the top of the stairs. Then we had to climb another staircase that wasn’t moving, and we were out on the surface again.

“Now, look there!” Jed said and pointed to the other side of the road.

I saw an enormous building there. It was almost as high as the eleven storied apartment blocks behind it, but it was longer than five of those blocks together. It was made of dark glass, and when I looked at it, I thought that the sky had come down to earth, because it reflected its blueness together with the white clouds and the sparkling sun.

“Isn’t it beautiful?” Jed asked mesmerized.

“It is,” I said.

“Come, let’s go!” He grabbed my hand, and we ran across the broad street just before it was overran by cars. Watching Pazzo Center from closer, it looked even bigger than it really was. We went in through the revolving door, and I stopped short.

“Jed! You were right! This is the greatest place on earth!” I said and kept twisting my head round and round, because I couldn’t decide where to look. The spaciousness, the glittering colors, the hundreds of shops selling thousands of things fascinated me. I didn’t remember seeing anything like that before, even though I had been in other malls. Probably, I had been looking differently at things then.

“I’m glad you like it,” Jed told me. “But you haven’t seen anything yet.”

We started towards the escalator that led to the second floor. We passed by shoe stores, toy stores, drugstores, record stores, flower stores, gift stores, book stores, candy stores, and food stores. Then suddenly, in the window of a newsagent’s shop, I saw something very familiar on the cover of a magazine.

“Wait a minute,” I told Jed and went closer to the shop. Yes, it was what I thought it was: The stars of my favorite show. I had been collecting their pictures to decorate my room with them, and I could never resist to buy them if I discovered some new ones somewhere.

“I’d like to have that magazine,” I said and tried to pull Jed after me into the shop. But he didn’t move.

“What? Why do you want that magazine? It’s for ten-year-olds!” he said.

I stopped. “So what if it’s for ten-year-olds? I don’t read it anyway, I just want the posters from it. Besides, why do you care about what I buy for my money?”

After my last sentence, his face became serious. During our very short relationship, I saw him looking like that for the first time. But just after a few seconds, he was smiling again.

“Oh, come on! Don’t be so childish!” he said.

“And what if I am?” I asked.

“Well, that’s not too good news for me, but-” Jed looked down at my legs. Or was he looking between my legs? I couldn’t see. Then he said, “Okay. If that makes you happy, I’ll buy you that magazine.”

“Thank you!” I jumped up a little, and gave him a kiss on his face.

He bought me the magazine, then we continued our way up to the second floor. There everything was even shinier than downstairs. The neon signs of the restaurants and cafés threw colorful lights on everything. The first floor was quite deserted, but here were sounds and people, too. Most of them were sitting, eating, and chatting or staring at the small movie screen that was fastened to the wall. And a group was standing by a barrier and was looking downwards.

I was curious what they were watching, so I asked Jed to let me go there. He said there was nothing interesting, but still, he followed me. I found an empty space between the people by the barrier, and looked down. From there, we could see the first floor and a little ice-rink. Then I saw why people were watching it.

There were only small children on the ice with a trainer who taught them how to skate. They were so cute! They had tiny skates on their feet, and they were moving very slowly, very carefully, and awkwardly. They had to go around waste-bins that were placed on the ice. They didn’t know yet exactly how to go on, so what they did was similar to walking, only they had to make twice as many steps as on the ground, because they always slipped back.

“Oops! Did you see that little girl?” I asked Jed laughing as a girl dressed in pink fell on her bottom.

“Yes,” Jed said.

She was so short and her rompers were so thick that she probably didn’t even feel the hit. The trainer hurried to her and helped her up. Then she joined the others again. I was thinking about the fact that she, with her five or six years, was already much braver than I had been a day before that.

“I like children,” said Jed behind me suddenly. I turned around.

“You do?”

“Yes, but let’s get some lunch now,” he replied.

I had no objections to lunch at all. We went back to the restaurants.

“So,” Jed said. “What would you like to eat? Chinese food, Italian food, Turkish food-”

“Hamburger,” I interrupted him. I didn’t feel like trying out things that were completely new for me when he could see me.

“Good choice,” he said. “Sit down, I’m going to bring the food.” And he disappeared in the crowd.

I went to a table that was near to the screen, and settled myself down. It was showing scenes from the upcoming movies; some of them were already familiar to me from the television. Just then it was showing a beautiful landscape with blue mountains and green forests, and then a woman walking under the trees, and after that a street in a big city, and a man was hurrying somewhere, then the same woman and man in a room almost kissing each other.

“A romantic movie!” I thought. “This one I would like to see!”

I looked for the title. It was written after the pictures: Changing Wind. Then came another movie. That one I had already seen on TV. I mean, not the movie, but those pictures from it. I would never watch that movie! It was about a stupid idiot who killed by accident everybody he met, and that was supposed to be funny. The “funniest” thing in it was when he opened a window and pushed down a man from the ninth floor who had just changed his mind not to jump.

I was watching the movies for quite a long time. After all of them were over, they started again. I looked around, but I didn’t see Jed. Two boys were sitting opposite to me at the other table, and they were watching me. When I looked at them, they smiled at me.

“Can we come over?” asked one of them.

“I’m waiting for someone!” I shouted back. Then I turned towards the screen again. When I looked at their table a minute after that, they were gone. And, finally, I saw Jed coming towards me with a tray full of food.

“Sorry for being away for so long. I had to stand in line,” he said and put down the tray. Then he pulled out a little brown bag from his pocket and gave it to me. “I bought you some candies. Can you forgive me?” he purred.

In that moment, I felt that I was head over heels in love with him.

“You’re so sweet!” I said and pulled him beside me to the seat. We kissed and embraced, and he reached under my top and stroked my back. Fortunately, I still had my jacket on me, otherwise everybody could have seen what he was doing.

“I’m crazy for you,” he admitted, but I had known that already.

“Let’s eat now before everything gets cold,” I suggested.

“Eat this!” Jed said laughing and put a long piece of French fries half into his mouth while the other half was hanging out.

“And you said I was childish!” I said and bit the other half off.

We ate everything somehow in a similar way, playing with the food like babies, and not caring about what other people thought of us. Then – as a dessert – we set about eating the candies. While the chocolate was melting in my mouth, I couldn’t help thinking that it was as sweet as life…

Who Am I and Who Are You?
“Oh! Jed,” I said when I woke up from my daydreaming. “I want to see Changing Wind in the movies!”

Jed looked up suddenly.

“Why? That trashy, boring-”

“Have you seen it?” I asked.

“No!” he said quickly, then was thinking for a second and said, “Okay. Let’s see that one.” I was beside myself with joy.

We stood up from the table, left the ruins of our lunch there, and went back downstairs. Jed said there was the movie theater. He led me in the opposite direction, not where the main entrance was. There were bigger stores that sold things like furniture and carpets. In the distance, I saw a big, blue light. I asked Jed what that was.

“That’s where we are going,” he answered.

When we arrived to the theater, I saw that it was lighted only with blue to create a feeling in people that they were not on earth any more, but somewhere in the sky. There were stars on the carpet, and hundreds of tiny lamps on the ceiling that really looked like the starry sky, and the stairs and the floor of the gallery were transparent. I was walking with my head turned upwards.

“Cindy! Stop acting like a fool!” Jed told me.

I knew he was right. “Sorry,” I said. “When does our movie start?”

He looked at the TV screens above the box-offices. “It’s already started. Ten minutes ago. Are you sure you want to see this one?”

“Yes,” I said.

“We could see another one with a little bit more action in it in half an hour. We sit down somewhere until then and smoke a few cigarettes. How about that?”

“I don’t smoke,” I said.

So, he ran to buy the tickets, and left me there. Then he rushed back to me, and grabbed my hand. We ran up the stairs, showed the tickets to the usher, but he was not interested, then ran through meandering, narrow corridors where there were stars under us and above us, until we found our auditorium. There were plenty of empty seats, but we didn’t want to stumble around in the dark, so we sat down to the first seats that were at the end of a row.

“I want that finished by the end of this week!” somebody said in the movie. I leaned back in my seat, and tried to follow the story. After five minutes, I was getting an idea about what was going on. Then I looked at Jed. He hadn’t said anything to me since he had bought the tickets. I leaned closer to his ear.

“Are you angry with me?” I whispered.

“No,” he said softly. Then he flipped up the elbow-rest between our seats, put his arm around me, and pulled me closer to himself. It was quite uncomfortable sitting like that, but I didn’t say anything. I turned my attention to the movie again.

And suddenly, I felt a hand between my legs. It was groping about on my thigh, then it continued its way up under my skirt.

“What are you doing?” I asked Jed.

“Don’t ask silly questions, please!” he said. “Do you want me to stop it? You just have to tell.” And he pulled back his hand.

I was not afraid of anything, but I was thinking about what had happened, and I was unable to follow the movie after this until its very end. I kept glancing at Jed, but he didn’t look at me and didn’t touch me again. When the lights went on, he stood up, started for the exit, and didn’t even wait for me. I had to run after him.

“Jed!” I shouted. “What’s the matter?”

He turned around, and when I went up to him, he took my hand. “Nothing is the matter,” he said. “I just wanted to get out of there as soon as possible.”

“You didn’t like the movie?” I asked while we were going down the transparent stairs.

“Not really,” he said. “But don’t worry about that.” He stopped. “Do you want me to take you home?”

I took a deep breath, and that much time was just enough for me to make up a believable story why I couldn’t go home.

Lies
“I had a quarrel with my parents. They said they never wanted to see me again. I said the same thing to them. Of course, that never may last only a few days, but right now, I can’t go home,” I said as pitiably as I could.

“Oh, why didn’t you tell me that at once?” Jed asked with a smile. I didn’t understand why he was happy about my problems, but to tell the truth, I didn’t care about anything then. I knew I won. He would take me home to his place.

And that was what he did. We took the subway again and traveled back to the downtown. I was suddenly overcome by terrible tiredness, probably because the excitements of the previous hours, and I almost fell asleep on Jed’s shoulder while we were sitting on the train. We got off at the same stop from where we started in the morning. It turned out that he lived not far from Madame Zelma’s Shop.

The house was black with dirt just like all the other houses in that district. Jed opened the heavy, wooden door with his key, and we went up the spiral staircase. There was no elevator. The walls were crumbling. By the time we arrived to his floor, I felt dizzy.

“Jed,” I moaned. “I’m so sleepy.”

“Just a minute,” he said, and opened a glass door before me. “This way.”

I followed him along the corridor, and finally, he stopped by a gray door.

“Here we are,” he said and put the key into the hole. “We have about two peaceful hours before my parents come home.”

“Oh, that’s good,” I said and leaned against the wall. I felt my legs too weak to hold me.

Jed opened the door, and let me in first. I stepped into the darkness, and got a whiff of stale cigarette smoke. Jed came in and locked the door, but he didn’t turn the lights on. Instead, he pushed me to the wall, and kissed me. But that was nothing like his kiss in the subway station. No, he just pushed his tongue into my mouth not caring about that I couldn’t breath. I drew away from him.

“I don’t want this now,” I said. “I’m tired.”

“Okay, then let me take this off you,” he said, and peeled off my jacket. Then he led me to the bedroom, but he still didn’t turn on the lights, so I only saw the outline of the objects.

“You can lay down on the bed,” Jed told me, and went out of the door. I started in the direction where I thought that the bed was. I heard the sound of splashing water. I climbed on the bed, and lay on my back. My eyes were heavy with sleep.

I don’t know how much later, Jed came in the room. I opened my eyes, and saw that he had taken off his shirt.

“Do you feel better now?” he asked and climbed on me.

“I’m fine,” I said.

Then he kissed me again, but he treated me so roughly that I couldn’t believe that it was him. I pushed him away again.

“Now what?” he asked, and his voice was furious.

“I’m sleepy,” I said.

“I thought you’ve slept already,” Jed said and started to undo the laces on my top.

“Stop this!” I shouted, and tried to get up, but he thrust me back.

“Hey, you can’t be this stupid!” he said. “Just what did you think would happen?” And he leaned over me again, and was licking my neck and my ears while with his hand he was reaching under my skirt. I was screaming, and I was scratching him like a wild cat, but he held down my arms with one hand.

“Keep still!” he said and looked into my eyes. I looked at him trembling, and suddenly I realized that Madame Zelma didn’t tell the truth.

It only seemed that I had became a new person. But the truth was, that I was still a little child who only wanted to be loved and cared for, and wanted to play all day; who didn’t understand anything about life; and who only became even more thoughtless, so she didn’t know any danger. I saw Jed’s green eyes, and they looked like the eyes of a monster.

“Noo!” I screamed. “Let me go! I want to go home!”

“You can never go home again, remember?” Jed told me with a devilish smile. Then, as he lifted his head, I saw something swinging before my eyes. It was his necklace.

And a skull was hanging on it.

A True Miracle
I was laying on a bed, and I felt that somebody was shaking me.

“Cindy! Cindy! Wake up! What’s the matter? Are you sick?” It was my mother’s voice.

I opened my eyes, and saw that I was in my room, in my bed, and the sun was shining through the window.

“Mommy!” I sat up and flung my arms round her neck, crying.

“Oh, it’s all right, it’s all over now,” she said and was stroking my hair. “You were screaming so loudly that I thought you hurt yourself. But it must have been only a bad dream.”

I recoiled from her embrace. “Mom! What day is today?”

“Monday. Why?” she asked and looked worriedly at me.

“Nothing,” I said, and climbed off the bed.

“Are you all right?” my mother asked. “You can stay home today if you don’t feel well.”

“I’m okay,” I said, and tried to smile. I went to the mirror, and looked into it. I saw my face and around that, on the stickers, the faces of the girls from the TV show.

“There are no miracles, mom,” I said, and started to scratch off a sticker.

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