The young brunette girl turned around, looking surprised.
“That’s my name, yes. Who are you?”
The earnest, fedora-wearing gentleman set down his briefcase and wiped his forehead with a damp handkerchief. He appeared relieved.
“Oh, thank goodness. Jeepers, me, I thought I would never find you in this place. I hate shopping malls.”
Sarah raised an eyebrow at the strange young man who had called to her. She looked him up and down, but she didn’t seem to recognize him from anywhere. She wondered what he could possibly want.
The man in the fedora took her top to bottom scanning to mean something different. He blushed and put his hands out in front of him.
“Oh, no, Ms. McGlocken, I don’t mean to give you the wrong impression. I know that, well, I’ve been told that I have a certain allure, ha- but, ahem, that is not why I’ve stopped you.”
Sarah laughed at the absurdity of it all. The man was not particularly attractive to her, and she thought it was odd that his mind was so quick to arrive at romance.
“I have no impressions, Mr…?”
The man in the hat smiled and gestured back and forth with his hand. People continued to pass by on all sides in the crowded mall, but they paid no mind to Sarah and this stranger.
“Oh, no you don’t. No one gets the name. Almost everyone asks, if you can believe it. I suppose there’s a friendliness about me, too, that people want to know me, but no. You won’t see me again after this day, Ms. McGlocken.”
Sarah’s amusement faded and she began to feel uncomfortable.
“Why did you stop me?” she asked, folding her arms across her stomach. “And how do you know my name?”
“Well, the devil’s in the details, as they say, and I won’t bother you with the bureaucratic minutia- that’s a good word, minutia. Isn’t it? Ahem, anyway.”
The man knelt down and unbuckled his briefcase as Sarah looked on suspiciously. She couldn’t see inside from where she stood, but the man in the hat shuffled through a few papers, squinting at them and then deciding that he needed to wear his glasses, which he removed from his breast pocket. A look of distant focus came over him as he picked up papers, looked them over, and set them back. Sarah looked around, still clutching her arms around her middle.
“Ah, here we are,” the man said, rising from his place. He looked over the form in satisfaction, then handed it to Sarah. “I just need your signature here.”
Sarah let the man in the hat hold out the paper with a vague smile on his face. She made him wait several moments while she considered taking it, but the satisfaction in the stranger’s face never left. She took the form and began to look it over.
“Why do you need a signature from someone you don’t even know?” Sarah asked as she looked at the ornate heading at the top of the page. “Is this some kind of petition or something?”
The man chuckled.
“Oh, no, nothing of the sort. Just a simple matter of course, really. And we do know you- we know you quite well.” The fedora-wearing, mysterious man removed his glasses and picked up his briefcase as he spoke. “We know that for quite some time now you have been, well,” he chuckled, “having some luck with the fellows.” He winked. “You’ve practically leaped from man to man, and there’s no slowing down in sight. They make you feel pretty, you’ve learned how to bend their will to yours… it’s a marvelous thing, really. Pull them in, make them chase you, and then drop them on their heads, ha- it’s a wonderful game, and you excel at it, Ms. McGlocklen.”
Sarah opened her mouth to speak, but no words came. She glanced from the man to the paper, then back to the man.
“But there is just this one, teensy issue,” the stranger continued, wrinkling his nose. “There’s this nagging bad feeling. Little twinges of baseless regret, absolutely baseless,” he said, shaking his head. “When you want to be a free woman! Feel the wind in your hair! Scatter the hearts and the bodies where you may! Anyway, ahem, this form is just a formality, the final step in the process of getting rid of those nagging feelings. You may not be aware of it, but you put your application in long ago. Sign on the dotted line, keep pulling in those men, and not an ounce of regret in the morning, the next night, or ever!”
The stranger held his briefcase up like a table for Sarah to set the paper on.
“What are you, some kind of a freak?” Sarah asked, though she did not run away. She was intrigued and frightened at the same time.
“Do you believe in fate, Ms. McGlocken?”
Sarah leaned back and regarded the man carefully.
“Can’t say that I do.”
“Good! Then think of this as an opportunity. Was I wrong in my assessment?”
“Do you want the bad feelings to go away?”
“Well, that would be nice, yes.”
The man in the hat laughed amiably and shrugged his shoulders. He fished through his overcoat and pulled out an expensive fountain pen. He handed it to Sarah.
“Right there, Ms. McGlocken, and you’ll never see me again.”
Sarah took the pen gravely in her hand, staring at the words on the page. She tensed up inside and trembled, feeling both an inevitability about the document, but also feeling as if the feeling of inevitability was a false one. Anxiety gnawed at her.
Suddenly, she laughed, struck by the absurdity of it all. Her full, painted lips drew into an amused smile.
“Very funny,” she said, putting her hand upon the briefcase. She signed her name at the bottom of the page. “There you are, your ‘signature’ that you ‘needed.’ This really was a funny gag, do most people react the way I did?”
The man in the fedora put his glasses on his nose and examined the signature, then grinned.
“Oh, it varies from time to time. Some are more eager than others.”
He set his briefcase down and unbuckled it, shuffling the papers inside and adding Sarah’s to the mix.
“Thank you very much for your cooperation, Ms. McGlocken, and rest assured that everything has been taken care of. Now go and slay those boys, am I correct?” He winked. “Show off your curves, strut your stuff, and not an ounce of regret in the morning.” He smiled and began to walk away. “Oh,” he said, stopping suddenly. “I almost forgot.” He walked back to Sarah, who had placed her hands on her hips, and watched with an uncertain sense of amusement. “There’s this nasty rumor going around that someone can undo these sort of contracts- they’d call it ‘helping you.’” He scoffed. “Anyway, don’t worry about them. All contracts are final. Take a new man home tonight and celebrate! Toodles.”
He walked away then, and Sarah shook her head, chuckling. What an odd experience, she thought, but it had amused her greatly. She turned and continued on her way where she had been going before she was stopped. She held her head high as she swayed through the crowds, passing the theater before arriving at the lingerie store. Outside of the entrance she stopped, suddenly, feeling a sense of déjà vu.
She looked over her shoulder at the theater marquee and saw that there was only one thing playing that day, which was odd. The signs all said “Faust,” but Sarah had never heard of that one before. She shrugged her shoulders and went to go into the lingerie store, like she planned, but across the way she caught sight of a dashing young thing with a day of stubble on his strong chin and shoulders you could build a house on. He was sitting in the food court with what looked to be his wife or his girlfriend or something, but that would just be an added challenge. She smiled voluptuously and strutted over.