the wax paper

Our Sweet Lady

Her pants brush the floor not because of carelessness, but to keep her heels out of sight. She feels short, but she is a cute miniature. Her plucked eyebrows are replaced by a dramatic black line hardening her otherwise plain, slightly wrinkled face. Her hair (curly, vaporous, juvenile) is held back by a barrette and secured by two bobby pins.

She paces calmly, coasting the long lines of people in wait. Bodies slouched or tense, exuding worries or fatigue. Cramped, fearful or angry faces. 

She holds a pile of documents under her left arm: probably a stack of forms she’ll dispatch following needs. They look as a permanent part of her figure: she so naturally accommodates them against her chest.

There is something perfectly aligned with her posture, though you’d bet she never spends time at the gym. Maybe she does ballroom dance… does she? It could be. Or have been: in a fold of her life we don’t have a claim upon. In a secret zone most likely buried in the past.

She could have waltzed or tangoed: you can tell by her obvious lightness, her smooth gliding – unobtrusive and linear – so efficient you see her materialize in different spots of the room without spying the transition. She’s ubiquitous, magic: her presence a vector, an arrow shifting diagonally, with no sound but a whisper. 


She does not smile: that is her most striking feature. We don’t miss the gimmick her muscles have the good sense to spare. 

Smiles are not needed for she is kindness itself. She comes close to those who call her. She approaches those who don’t call but appear confused, at loss. She listens to questions and provides appropriate answers. She points to directions, patiently repeats instructions, clearly articulates. She doesn’t divert her gaze when she addresses you. She can speak the word yes in its full length: three letters, then a brief pause to confirm she meant it.

Her smile is not needed for there’s no hostility, no haughtiness, no irritation, no attitude that a grin would try to disguise. Strangely, she doesn’t carry such luggage at work in the morning. We are not contrived to acknowledge those prickly shards: they are sealed out. She has dropped them.

She only holds on those forms niched against her elbow: you suspect she came already attired with her cartaceous burden, substituting for the canonical mug of coffee held by all other employees - hugged as tightly as if life depended upon it. There’s no cup in her hands: she must eat or drink during break (does she take one?) When on duty she is on, not on and off intermittently as a broken traffic light.


She is a fairy. A small one (they were all small by the way - living among petals, hiding into dewdrops). Yes, a fairy of the State Health District, one of those urban caverns funneling pain and rage all day long – never cleared of those intoxicating fumes, never allowed fresh air.

She is a fairy and for sure the only one. If you keep an eye on her, if you look in her direction now and then - whenever you need it - you will be granted three wishes. 

First: you will survive this line, should it take from now to eternity.

Second: though you’ve long lost your faith your sins will be forgiven. All of them: tonight.

Third and last: you won’t go to hell. You won’t. Never again.

Toti O’Brien’s work has appeared in Intrinsick, Alebrijes, Entropy, and Random Sample, among many other journals and anthologies. Find out more at