Friday’s Story #8
By Keith Wilcox
The mall was organized chaos. There were no signs saying walk on the right, but people, for the most part, walked on the right. Every so often there would be a guy, usually a guy, who bucked the trend and walked against the flow. The flow was ambivalent; it treated the man like blood treats artery plaque; it went around. These occasional obstructions added to the chaos and caused the otherwise orderly procession of people to, at times, log jam. Some people moved out of the way by turning their bodies so as to barely brush past the intruder. But some people stopped in their tracks, waiting for something to happen. The people from behind impelled them forward, and they all eventually got to where they were going. Like all things in life, order was always restored — barely. The whole scene, from above, must have looked remarkable with such a mess of people and none of them colliding. Some people were going somewhere, but most people weren’t. They came to the mall to watch other people or to eat at the food court, or to just escape the summer heat. They seemed to enjoy looking at store windows, admiring the things they could buy but chose not to, or admiring the things they wanted but couldn’t afford.
Andy came to the mall with his mom who was looking for new jeans. He wished he could see above the crowd because he didn’t like being led by the hand, past people who weren’t aware he was underfoot. If they did know he was there Andy couldn’t tell. He just wanted to stay away. Andy kept in back of his mother but still held her hand. He tried to use her body as a drafting object to avoid collisions with other people. It worked, but he kept his eyes up and looked at the upturned faces of the people passing. They were fat, for the most part, and a little gross looking. Andy thought so at least. Some were friendly looking. It was always the old ladies who noticed little kids. They noticed Andy. They would each pass with a glance and a smile, walking slowly as if stupefied by the commotion yet blissful of their place. Andy liked the old ladies. His mother paid no attention; she wanted her jeans.
They entered the Macy’s, and the crowd suddenly vanished. Andy let go of his mother’s hand, but he didn’t go anywhere. He spent a moment to look back, at the bustling crowd outside the glass. He turned back to his mom.
“Don’t get out of my sight, Andy.” Said his mom.
“Okay, Mom.” Andy had no intention of leaving his mother’s side. Kids are always getting lost in department stores; they never have the intention to get lost. They just do. The two walked back, into the Macy’s and to the right-hand side, to the ladies department. His mom began the ritual of inspecting each pair of jeans to make a mental picture of how they might look on her. She picked a pair off the shelf, black skinny ones, held them at waste level in front of her, and turned sideways to the mirror. Even Andy knew looking at the pants in 2D wasn’t helping. He wished his mom would just pick a few, and try them on. She eventually did, and dragged him with her of course, to the changing room. He sorta liked the changing rooms. Andy liked to look into the changing room mirrors at the fractal images of himself disappearing into the distance. The changing rooms were nothing but miniature fun-houses to him. Andy wasn’t very good at telling time, but he got sick of looking at himself in the mirror. Waiting on his mother to pick out jeans took a lot of patience. Finally, she found a pair, that to Andy, looked just like all the rest.
The two of them headed for the register. While his mom waited for a cashier Andy saw, at his eye level, a stack of leather wallets. He picked one up and toyed around with it a little. He opened it, smelled it, twisted it, and checked the credit card slots. He put it back. He continued looking at different kinds from several bins. There were brown ones with designs, big ones and little one, plain black ones that were soft, others that weren’t. They all had a distinct leather smell. Next to the wallets there were key chains and pens, change purses, gift cards and greeting cards. There was even a small display of chocolates. Andy wanted a chocolate.
“That’ll be 87.95.” The clerk was telling his mom the damage. Andy had heard the damage before, when they were at a restaurant and his dad got the check. His mom dutifully paid, and the clerk finished the transaction by putting the jeans and the receipt in a fancy looking bag and handing it to his mother.
“OK, Andy. Time to go home for some lunch.” They headed back in the direction they came, and exited the Macy’s at the same place they entered. They slipped into the maelstrom, Andy behind his mother and watching the people. But, this time he did not watch out for old ladies. This time he glanced in back of him, back at the Macy’s. The further from the Macy’s he scurried, the less guilty he felt about the brown leather wallet he had tucked into hip pocket.