The Girl with the Brown Scarf
“I do my best thinking on the toilet.”
I put down my burger and look across the table. I can never tell if Margie is being serious or not, it’s one of the things — one of the many things — I like about her. She returns my gaze and smiles.
“Oh, not on the toilet like that, that’s gross. I don’t even read when I’m, you know, on the toilet. I mean, just the thought of picking up a magazine or newspaper that someone might have touched while…well, you know. Nope, while I’m on the toilet, no thinking’s necessary, it’s just business. What I meant was I go into the bathroom to think about things, you know, to get away from the noise and commotion in the house.”
I’m not quite sure what kind of commotion she’s talking about; Margie lives alone with an old cat that didn’t move from the window ledge the few times I had been there. In fact, I’m not even sure it’s a real cat. It looks suspiciously like one I had once seen at a mall kiosk; that cat was battery operated and its stomach moved up and down as if it were sleeping.
Margie and I had met through mutual friends about a month earlier. I hated being set up but after my friend Mark insisted this girl was different from all his previous setups — a sentiment he had actually used before — and reminded me that I hadn’t had a date in quite a while, I finally relented.
Through emails we made plans to meet at a coffee shop around the corner from my apartment; I figured if things didn’t go well at least I wouldn’t have to spring for a cab home.
I had gotten there first and was sitting in a back booth when I saw her enter. Mark had given me a good description and I knew right away it was her. Medium length dark hair, thin but not too thin, cute ears.
“Cute ears?” I had asked Mark.
He nodded. “Real cute.”
I don’t really remember ever looking at or caring about a girl’s ears before but Margie’s were cute. Small, pinkish, and without any distracting earrings.
Apparently Margie hadn’t gotten as good a description of me from Mark’s wife Karen and she started asking every man sitting alone if they were me. When she approached an old, completely bald man, I wondered exactly what Karen had told her about me. I thought about standing up and introducing myself but didn’t. I liked watching her. She moved gracefully, with the end of her brown scarf swinging around her neck.
“Greg?” she asked, when she finally got to my table.
I smiled. “That’s me.”
“Of course,” she said, sliding into the booth across from me. “I knew it was you as soon as I walked in here.”
After our fourth date — and a bad movie at a cheap theater — we had gone back to her apartment. She introduced me to her motionless cat and then showed me the rest of the place. In her bedroom I was surprised when she pinned me against the wall and kissed me a little forcibly. Besides a small hug, we had hardly had any physical contact. After a moment’s hesitation I returned the kiss and we sank to the bed.
When I awoke the next morning, I was alone. I heard some movement in the next room and a minute later Margie shuffled in. Her hair was messy but she looked adorable; she was wearing a pair of fuzzy slippers, a long, pleasantly sheer pink shirt and the brown scarf. That’s weird, I remembered thinking, trying to clear my groggy head. Why would she put the scarf on? Or had she never taken it off?
It took me about half a pitcher of beer to get through the Adam Sandler movie the night before and by the time we had gotten back to her apartment, I was still a little drunk. But surely I would have remembered if she had been wearing it during sex, wouldn’t I? I tried but couldn’t.
“Had to feed Mr. Snuggles,” she said.
I was about to ask her about it but when she slipped back into bed a glimpse of blue panties made me lose my train of thought. This time it was my turn to make the first move. She giggled as I nibbled on her left ear; not only were her ears cute, they were also delicious.
“So, what do you think about when you’re in the bathroom?” I ask and down the last of my soda.
“Lots of things. Like the other day I was in there and I suddenly noticed the clock above the sink was crooked. So I stood on the toilet to straighten it and I fell and hit my head on the sink. That’s when this great idea for an invention came to me, the fl-“
“Flux Capacitor,” I say with a grin.
“Oh, did I tell you about it?”
“Something like that.”
Despite her weird Back to the Future obsession, I found myself falling for Margie, and even though we hadn’t known each other long, I could already envision a future with her.
But there was just one thing that bothered me, one little nagging thing that was constantly at the back of my mind: she was always wearing that damn scarf.
“You’re crazy,” Mark had told me while we watched a football game in his rec room. “You’re always looking for a flaw. Why are you always looking for a flaw? You’re a flaw-looker.”
“Stop saying ‘flaw.’ And that’s not true, I don’t look for flaws.”
Mark glanced at me. “Yeah? What about Sandy?”
“Oh, your co-worker Sandy? The one you described as young and vibrant? She’s a year younger than my mother and, and she’s married!”
“Huh. I thought the divorce was final.”
“C’mon, Mark, seriously, you’ve known Margie longer than I have, can you remember ever seeing her without that scarf?”
Mark’s brow furrowed. “Well, no actually. But you should ask Karen, she’s seen her a lot more than I have.”
Karen had apparently overheard our conversation and when I stepped into the living room where she was reading a magazine, she yelled “flaw-looker!” and threw the remote at me.
As Margie eats the last of her crab cake sandwich, I stare at the scarf. Suddenly I’m reminded of a story my father once read to me when I was little. It was about a man who married a woman who never took off a ribbon she wore around her neck. The man loved the woman dearly but became obsessed with the ribbon. When he mentioned it to her she would tell him not to worry about it. But the ribbon consumed him and one night while she was sleeping he unfastened it and…and…
“You okay there, Greg?”
My eyes quickly go to hers.
“Uh, yeah. It’s warm in here, don’t you think?”
She shakes her head. “No, I’m fine.”
“You’re not a little warm? I think I feel the heater blowing on us.”
“I’m fine, Greg. Do you want to get some dessert? I’m kind of in the mood for pudding, but then again, I can’t remember a time when I haven’t been in the mood for pudding, ya know? So, how about it? Pudding?”
I glance back at the scarf.
“That’s a nice scarf, Margie.”
She smiles. “Thanks. You know, my mom gave it to me, like, oh I don’t know, a while ago. It’s kind of old but I like it.”
“Now that I think about it,” I say. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you without it.”
“Sure you have.”
I shake my head. “I don’t think so.”
“Can I see it?”
“The scarf. Can I see it?” I hold out my hand.
“It’s right here.” She lifts up one end.
“No, I mean, can I put it on? It looks really soft.”
“Didn’t you just say you were warm?” she asks a little nervously.
I don’t respond but keep my hand out.
“What do you think, Greg?” she says in a tone I hadn’t heard from her before. “Do you think if I take it off my head’s gonna fall off, is that what you think?”
I feel myself blushing and put my hand down. She begins slowly unraveling the scarf.
“Remember what the moral of that story is, Greg: be careful what you wish for.”
Margie finishes unwinding the scarf and it comes loose. As she hands it to me across the table, I notice a thin red line at the base of her neck. Suddenly the line widens and her head lolls back; there’s a gruesome tearing sound and it actually starts peeling off.
“Oh, my god,” I whisper.
I snap out of my reverie and blink my eyes. Margie’s head is still attached and there’s no red line, only what looks to be a grayish birthmark roughly in the shape of a pineapple just above her left shoulder.
I glance at the scarf.
“It’s just so soft,” I say quickly and hand it back to her.
She wraps it around her neck again and then gives me a peculiar look — kind of amused annoyance.
“You know, now that I think about it, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you without that watch.”
“What?” I say, looking down at my old Timex. “Of course you have.”
She shakes her head. “Nope, don’t think I have.”
“You’re crazy, I take this off all the-“
I see she’s on the verge of laughter and I smile and feel my face redden again. After a moment she slides her chair out and gets up.
“I’m going to the bathroom.” She takes a few steps and then turns back to me. “Not to do some thinking.”
I watch her go and then signal to our waiter. I’m suddenly in the mood for pudding.
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Portland Fiction Project
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