Cal parked her station wagon by a park opposite the library and adjusted the rear-view mirror. Just briefly she caught sight of someone in the mirror in a long black coat and a fedora. She checked her makeup – lippy fine; eyeliner not smudged; rouge creating a healthy rosiness instead of creating the effect of excessive alcohol consumption – then stepped out of the car.
In the park, the children’s playground was surrounded by abstract sculptures and a duck pond. Cal recalled the pond once being positively teeming with ducks and other waterfowl but since the water had started drying up in recent years the birds had vacated. She noted a two year old blonde girl in a pink parka awkwardly hurling clumps of torn bread at a duck, seemingly not noticing the majority of the bread getting caught in the wind and blowing back over her shoulder.
She continued to a shady spot under a clump of trees next to a metal statue of what appeared to be a rippling question mark fused with a pyramid and a magnifying glass. She looked at her watch and then remembered that she had forgotten to replace the battery so it was useless. Mickey Mouse grinned back at her from the watch face, with his arms in a most uncomfortable looking position as the watch had stopped at 9:40. Looking back toward the playground she noted the figure in the black coat and fedora approaching. The figure was short and seemed somewhat bulky.
Cal called out, “Is that you, Terry?”
The man in the coat looked up but tried to keep the brim of his hat low over his face, which was thin and hollow-cheeked. Under his nose he wore an unconvincing moustache.
“Shh, I’m trying to keep a low profile.”
“Why are you wearing a fake moustache?”
“It’s a disguise!”
“But it’s not even the right colour. You’re blonde and the moustache is black!”
Terry gestured for Cal to come closer. He pulled a bag out from his coat and passed it to her. She looked inside and within the bag smiling back at her was the cherubic face of an anime catgirl rendered in polyvinyl chloride.
“Wow! This looks even better than the photos. Look how the light catches her hair and cat ears with that metallic purple paint.”
“They don’t go out on the shelves for another fortnight. If my boss knew I was smuggling this out for you early I’d be fired on the spot!”
Cal looked at Terry with concern, “Is it really that bad?”
“Oh, you know how it is. They like to create hype and build up the anticipation. I guarantee the moment we open the door and those are out on the shelves there’s gonna be scores of sickly, pale, twenty-somethings with acne and Velcro wallets just bursting in to get their hands on them. I don’t get the appeal.”
“To think, I always thought you were a man of culture,” Cal replied mockingly.
“No. Yoghurt gives me the runs.”
Cal looked sidelong at Terry, confused. They shook hands awkwardly then went in separate directions.
Later, at her flat, Cal removed the catgirl from her bag and admired her. There was a spot on her shelf, specially cleared to make way for the new addition. She placed the figurine in place with reverence and stood back. As she admired the way the pink lighting from the rope lights around her bedroom caught the contours of the figurine suddenly it dawned on her:
Culture… Yoghurt… I get it.
© Aidan J. F. Phelan, 2020