Vic takes the shoes out of the box and fingers the imitation leather straps. They are festooned with rhinestones of every color.
"It's like a department store, but discount," his wife had said. "At the department store they would have been at least $40. At least. I only paid $13.99."
"Plus sales tax," he'd said.
None of it makes any difference. He inspects the bottom of the shoes. Perfect. He slides the strappy sandals back into the box, tucks it under his arm and goes out the door.
His wife does have nice legs, and they would look damn good in the shoes, with that sexy sort of strap that goes around the ankle and the skinny high heel. But thirteen ninety nine plus seven percent sales tax? Torques him to no end, strappy heels or no strappy heels. He guns the Brougham, which responds with its trademark rusty vigor.
"Was there some sort of problem?" asks the clerk.
"No," says Vic too quickly," she just changed her mind." The girl sniffs and has him sign a slip, then hands him a ten, four ones and 97 cents. He stuffs the bills in his pocket, mumbles a "thank you" and scurries out the door.
Despite the fact that the 1952 Vintage Aqua Velva Ice Blue gift set has been at Sally's Nu-To-You! gathering dust for three years, he speeds all the way down Dantreau Avenue, running three red lights on the way.
Sally isn't there.
Some other guy is behind the cash register. Some dicky guy. Reading a Penthouse right like that in the middle of the day. Just Vic's luck. Sally knows him and is as likely as not to give him a deal on the gift set.
"Sally here?" asks Vic anyway.
"Sally's on vacation," he says. "Can I help you?"
"I know what I'm looking for," says Vic.
"Help yourself," says the guy, turning his attention back to the Penthouse. Dicky guy.
Vic steps into the belly of the shop, passing the lunchbox display and the bucket of doorknobs and the stacks of comic books. As he enters the second to last room on the left, his heart skips. The steel shelf unit is there, but upon the top shelf are three of those crocheted dolls you use as toilet paper roll covers and a perfume atomizer.
Where the hell is the Aqua Velva?
He deflates with relief when he sees the gift set just one shelf below. "Thank Christ," he says to himself. Good thing he got here when he did. Someone else must have been looking at it. Why else would it be on a different shelf?
He lifts the box and fingers the set. The bar of soap, the shaving brush, the mirror and aftershave are all there. "Aqua Velva" is printed on each item, embossed on the soap and in the plastic handles of the mirror and brush, and (of course) on the bottle's label.
He swallows hard. Aqua Velva.
He doesn't barter with the dicky clerk, but pays the twelve dollars and change without comment and drives back home just as fast as he drove to Sally's.
He has ten minutes to spare before she gets home.
Down in the basement, he opens the cabinet.
He picks up the 1949 Burgess Meredith Aqua Velva ad (sheathed in plastic) and sighs. He puts it back on the stack.
"Aqua Velva," he whispers like a prayer. "Aqua Velva."
"Honey?" His wife's voice brakes the spell. "I'm home."
He places the gift set in the cabinet and bounds up the stairs.
* * *
The space between awake and asleep thins to a translucent gauze. There is the sound of something moving.
Vic's eyes blink open and shift to the nightstand. It's 3:47. Did he hear something? Was it a dream?
Another sound. He feels for his wife, but her side of the bed is empty. He leaps up, grabs the baseball bat from it's home next to his dresser.
She is in the basement, sitting in the middle of the concrete floor. She is wearing a tee shirt with her naked legs folded under her. His entire Aqua Velva collection is arranged around her. She is studying one of the plastic-sheathed ads. He drops the bat.
She raises her face. "Aqua Velva?" she says. "Vic?"
His mouth is dry. "Say it again," he says, swelling with desire. "Just like you just did. Say it again and again and again."