The lipstick went on in a smooth, plum stroke. G looked at herself in the mirror to check the color. She wiped it off with a tissue. The counter was scattered with used tissues bleeding in several hues.
“Once again, can I help you find the right color?” the Sephora saleslady asked, her professional smile barely masking the irritation in her Botoxed expression.
“No,” G said, spiraling up another tube of color.
She stayed at the counter for another ten minutes, the shop whirling with activity all around her, until finally she bought a berry red lipstick in a gold tube and went out into the strong sunlight. G shaded her eyes and looked around. The Texas sun beat down on her, casting wafts of heat devils up from the glass and concrete islands of the city. The air rippled invisibly. She drank up the heat, letting it soak into her bones, from her slippered feet up beneath her long white dress that draped from shoulders to her toes. She could never get enough of the heat. The sun browned her skin, wrinkled around her eyes, changed her from a forest sylph to a creature of the hard, human world. Soon she would be unrecognizable.
Next stop, the salon. The smells of chemicals and hair products made her grin with happiness. The hairstylist covered her in a drape and fluffed her long blond hair. She was a narrow-faced girl, with purple hair, tattoos along her arms, a nose ring piercing her septum. She looked like a water spirit. G liked her immediately.
“Hello. Just a trim today?” the girl, whose name was Jannelle, asked. The question was one of professional courtesy. The underlying wish was to unleash the fury of her scissors on the golden mane. G wanted that too. She wanted more than anything to be released from the restraints that had been place on her by magic and custom and time and imprisonment of her nature by the force of another, an arrogant, secretive, jealous, and hateful nature.
“Like this, please,” G said, showing her the picture in the magazine of the beautiful boy in beautiful dark clothes, his face a blank stare, hiding boredom, pride, embarrassment and insecurity. His hair was styled in an elegant crop with a forelock over his eyes.
“Oh God,” Jannelle said, almost a groan of longing. Her eyes met G’s in the mirror. “This is gonna be awesome.”
Awesome, G thought later, long blonde hair covering the floor around the chair. Jannelle held up a mirror and spun her around and when she could see the back of her head, she burst out in laughter. Jannelle laughed too. Awesome, G thought again, trying out the word. Tom was awesome, or awful, depending on who was around him.
She was expected to be awe-full around Tom.
She paid for the haircut, tipping generously, and went to the boutique down at the end of the shopping center. There were beautiful girls in beautiful clothes and there were lovely things for one’s home, and G bought dresses and jeans and long trousers and short skirts and strappy sandals and drape-y blouses and t shirts of smooth fabric that slid over her warm skin with a comforting coolness. She paid for the clothes and stepped out of the shop, pulling down the dark sunglasses over her eyes, the frames covering her face and making her feel like a dragonfly with bulging eyes and iridescent wings.
Tom would not recognize her.
Leasing office, the sign said, and G stepped inside to the blast of air conditioning. She slipped off her dark sunglasses and took in the paneled office, pressed wood desks and chairs, and photographs of other cities on the walls. Almost immediately a woman came out of the back room. Her eyes lit up.
“Hello! How can we help you?” she said, holding out her hand. G took it, and noted the woman’s blue nails, a bit nibbled around the edges.
“I would like to live here,” G said, and she noted the change in the woman’s demeanor, a barely imperceptible withdrawal. So she smiled, using the slightest bit of magic, and the woman smiled back, and G started again.
“Hi there. I’m new in town, and I’d like to see about a tour of the model units. I’m looking for a one-bedroom.” She fished into her shoulder bag and pulled out a folder of documents. “I have all of my information.”
That night, G sipped from a flute of sparkling golden wine and looked out over the city from her nineteenth-floor apartment. The lights and the skyscrapers spread out around her, the window in her living room bringing in the vista. Distant hills were dark on the horizon, and there were no stars, just the crescent moon hanging in the sky. G liked the sky that way; clear, blank, only the moon.
There was no dark forest. There was no rustic lodge, no male travelers to worship her. No Tom to demand awe.
No women ever came to the lodge in the forest, where Tom held court. She missed the friendship of women, the distinct, overwhelming, competitive, hurtful, loving connection that women had. And so she walked out of the lodge in the forest and wished so fiercely for another life that the glass and metal door between standing boulders appeared and swished open at her approach.
No one had been more astonished than G that she could have done so. And now here she was in this new world, and she had looked around and thought, what could a bit of forest magic do here in a city of glass and concrete and steel? What would happen to this city with a bit of magic at its heart? She could imagine first the tendrils crawling up the side of the tower — the skyscraper, she corrected herself — so imperceptible that the maintenance team wouldn’t notice until it was too late. She could imagine the roots of the forest springing up between streets, the streets themselves become forest paths. The poor spindly urban trees would break their concrete cages and burst upward. The urban creatures — squirrels and hawks and rats and possums and coyote and foxes and feral cats and mice — would become sylvan once again, the city an elvish city.
And the people, ah the people. Would the people’s elvish nature, living in the very center of their chromosomes, in genetic material not yet uncovered let alone mapped, would the humans become elves, cruel and proud and beautiful, black or brown or golden-skinned, or pale like milk? Would their ears lengthen, their pupils narrow like cats’, their words become enigmatic and remote?
Would they live for hundreds of years, immortal until the day they died, their children rare but ever the more blessed for all that? Would they begin a new dynasty that would last for one thousand years before magic became cruel and dark and hateful, and destroyed them all?
Would the world change back into a world that never was and never could be?
G sipped her wine, contemplating.
A knock on her door jolted her out of her reverie. The knock was a boom, an ominous sound. She sighed and opened the door.
Tom stood there, heavy booted, heavy whiskered, dressed in merry green and leather breeches, his rosy cheeks and snapping black eyes a familiar and unwelcome sight.
“Greetings,” he boomed, and stepped over the threshold, attempting to force her backwards into her own home. G planted her feet and he bounced off of her, though his physical presence outweighed hers. Shock and confusion illuminated his genial expression. Tom looked at her. He really looked at her. “G? Your – hair.”
“What are you doing here?” she asked.
“G, the wood needs you. The lodge needs you. The house isn’t the same. The kitchen fires smoke. The tea is weak. The crockery breaks the moment I pick it up. I need you, G. You took your magic with you when you left.” He looked genuinely distressed, wringing his hands.
She stood her ground, but she felt a twinge.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “But it is my magic to do with what I will.”
“I know that,” Tom said. “But I gave it to you.” He raised his chin, as if daring her to deny that truth.
“And I gave you your magic,” G said. “Do you wish me to dispose of your magic to my choosing?”
He was silent a long moment. Then he smiled, an unpleasant smile. “Clever G,” he said. “You know it doesn’t work like that. You know I have the greater will, the greater magic. For all you woke it in me, for all you ‘gave’ it to me, I can take your magic by force and return you to the forest and the lodge.”
She spoke one word. “Try.”
He swelled. Tom grew so far and so fast that his head brushed the ceiling in the hall. He grew so wide he would not get through her door no matter how he stooped.
G raised a hand and put it palm out to him. They spoke words of power together.
The magic crashed, and the tower shuddered. The roots of the building, anchored deep into the bedrock beneath the city, released for a moment, then caught and were still. G’s ears rang with the clash, and she readied herself for another onslaught. Two more times they faced one another, and then the magic faded. Tom shrank to his usual size. For an instant he looked tired, like a fat old man. Then he was himself again, jolly with snapping eyes and a good-humored smile.
“We used to agree,” he said. “We would sit together and I’d smoke my pipe and you would sing to me, and hey diddle diddle o, we would sing the songs of power, and each night and morning we’d remake the world.”
“I have a world of my own making now, Tom. In this world, here, I am the maker of the magic.”
“This world? This world of Men?” His jolly voice dripped with contempt.
She didn’t say out loud, And women. This world of women, still subject to the whims of men, but slowly slowly the chains were breaking.
“The Age of Men is passing,” she said, and her voice was low. “The Age of Women requires my magic.”
“When we speak of Men we mean women too,” Tom said, and now his jolly voice was confused.
“I don’t. Women don’t. Men don’t.”
They were silent for a long moment, long enough for G to look across the hall at the globes of light illuminating the doors of each apartment, with their shining brass numbers. Some had plants outside the door, some doors were painted bright and beautiful colors, some had mezuzahs or wreaths or nameplates. Already she could feel a freshening breeze, a scent of magic that spread around them, like ozone after an electrical storm. Ozone, another word she had just learned by being here. Magic and technology, working side by side, intertwining like roots, until magic became the physics of the new world, and physics became the magic of the old one.
Tom’s expression was measuring. “I cannot take this from you, but know you this – your magic will fade here. You are tied to your river and the forest, and you will diminish as do mortals and fade into nothing.”
She knew that, knew it and despaired. He let her think and she did, and finally she said, “What if we come to an accommodation? Each season, a brief visit, I there and you here.” The two of them together, turning the leaves into burning gold and red, laying the woods and streams to rest under a coat of snow and ice, coaxing the green tendrils of spring, gently singing the insects in the dreaming summer. She and Tom, singing the magic into the world.
And then here, the two of them singing the songs of power in this city of steel and glass, combining the power and magic with the science and technology, remaking the new world into something strange and wondrous. Already she could sense the wanting of it, a beaten and downtrodden earth longing for rebirth.
He stuck out his hand. He was not jolly, and he was not smiling. By that she knew she could trust him. She shook his hand.
“Welcome back!” The leasing agent said as G stepped inside the office to pick up her key and her mail. “How was your holiday?”
Holiday. Holy day. A holy day to bring about the return of magic to the wood and the lodge. When she arrived, the woods had been silent, empty of life, only a few pallid birds flitting among the barren trees. She and Tom sang together, and by the time she left, the magic had come back into the greenwood and the fields, and poured itself out into the glowing shafts of sunlight piercing through the trees. It crackled in the air, an invisible fire, and she could smell it in the rain on dry earth and with each crack of lightning.
Tonight Tom would come through the glass and steel doors and they would begin their work anew. Already with her return she smelled the approaching thunderstorm and the wetness in the air. The earth prepared itself with petrichor and ozone, awaiting the magic of two nature gods, genius loci of a steel and plastic world. G smiled, flush with power, ready to begin the remaking of the world.