I flip through the magazine on my lap, glossy pages filled with articles and page after page of beautiful women in shiny gowns, their hair perfectly placed. “Buy this cologne,” one ad says. “It will make you beautiful.”
“Huh,” I laugh.
I turn the page. A man and woman walk a beach, holding hands and smiling. “If you wear this brand, this could be you,” it says.
“It’s true,” says a voice over my shoulder.
I jump. “What?”
“It’s true,” he says again. His emerald green eyes dance with a fiery blaze. I pull back. “Who are you? What do you want?”
“You know who I am. I am your old friend, the one who helps you stay in style, who finds the clothes that make you happy, who helps you discover a better life.”
He smiles slyly. “Look at that picture, the pretty girl with soft pearls and creamy white coat. See that bag over her shoulder? It’s so much nicer than the one you have. And look at the beach. Can’t you imagine yourself walking on that white sand, your hand tucked inside your husband’s?” His voice is gentle, calm, soothing.
“What beach is it?” I ask.
“What difference does it make?” He becomes annoyed, then quickly softens his voice again.
“It can be any beach you want. It can be the southern coast, or the Virgin Islands. It can be Hawaii. The fact is, if you wore those clothes, if your husband wore those new jeans, you could have the ultimate vacation. You could be that couple.”
I look at the picture. I loved the bag she was carrying. It was a lot like mine, only bigger, darker. Newer. Her hat, tan, the brim curled slightly over her bangs. And her sandals, oh, how I loved the twisted pieces of leather that wrapped around her ankles.
I glanced at the man, his outfit a combo of dark jeans, white shirt, and black shoes. Upon his wrist was a silvery band, matching the one the woman wore. The perfect couple. The perfect attire.
A green haze covers the room. I hear myself saying, “I want it. I want it all.”
“Of course, and you shall have it.” My friend slips out the door, returning with a plastic card in his grip. He waves it over my face. “One swift motion, and it’s all yours. The shoes, the clothes. Even the vacation.”
I smile. “They do have nice stuff,” I say dreamily.
“And they look so happy. You could be that happy,” says my green friend.
I glance up at him. “Aren’t I happy now?” I ask.
His eyes become tiny slits as he breathes a dark green cloud over my face. “You could be happier.”
“I could,” I say. I flick the power button on my laptop, type in the web address my green friend reads to me. Easy. Simple. Quick. The room gets hazier, blurring images across the computer screen. “I can’t see. The numbers, the pictures, it’s all so hazy.”
“It’s okay, I’ll guide you.” He places his hand on my shoulder, guiding my arm and wrist from place to place, dropping images into a virtual cart.
“What am I getting?” I ask.
“It doesn’t matter. Everything is new, guaranteed to make you happy.” The green smoke becomes thicker. “Style. Grace. Charm,” he whispers in my ear. I am floating.
I place my hand on the desk and a piece of paper crunches beneath my fingertips. As I lift it, my friend snatches it away.
“What is that?” I ask, ripping it from his claw.
“Don’t look,” he says, a sense of desperation in his voice.
I stare down at the paper, a long list of numbers, dollars after dollars. Money spent on shoes and clothing, glittery jewelry and soft pink sweaters. Books, movies, magazine subscriptions I never read. I’d worked hard to buy those things, and harder yet to pay them off.
My friend is restlessness. He leans into my ear, “Remember how happy you were. Remember the feeling of euphoria, the touch of a new silk shirt, the rush of adrenaline as you slipped on a new dress. Remember. You can be that happy again.”
Green smoke billowed around my head. I looked at the list in front of me, thinking about the boots I’d placed on my feet, how I danced and twirled in my new skirt, how elegant I felt with new beads around my neck.
But where were those items now? Tossed in a drawer? Or had I given them away, already weary of the color and style? I wondered if I’d even worn them. It seemed all that remained were memoires, and the paper in my hands.
I twirled around and faced my friend. “You did this,” I said.
“We did it together,” he sneered. The fire in his eyes was fading, a harsh gray etched across his face. “We can do it again. You and I, we could be happy.”
I looked around my home, at every chair and picture, at every shelf that once was filled with piles of books and tiny knick-knacks. All the stuff I’d released was hard to let go, but once it was gone, I’d never felt so good. And now, my friend, my green-eyed monster, was trying to get me to buy it all back.
I turned off the computer, and slowly walked away, turning back for one last glimpse at my friend. “I am happy,” I said.
“Remember me,” he whispered, his voice barely audible.
“How can I forget?” I said, looking at the statement in my hand.
Occasionally, I see the green monster, though he is no longer my friend. He peers at me from behind a rack of clothing, or peeks at me between pages of a magazine. I am no longer drawn in by his soft voice, no longer glazed over by a bright green haze. But he smiles slyly, as if he knows temptations will never end. He waits. And he waits.