MALL PLAN II
At a restaurant chain in an indoor shopping mall, two born-to-shop women sit at a table during a White Sale. Around them ghostlike people leave through various exits, exhausted and drained. It is Super Bowl Sunday. They nervously nibble on nachos drenched in melted cheese while sipping their favorite beverages: coffee mocha and coca cola. Like stressed white collar workers, they take their guaranteed morning break. After two hours of hoofing it on hard concrete and cheap carpets, their arms ache from carrying oversized bags. Resting their feet, they unwind and admire the contemporary kitsch decor, remarking how the plastic flowers in their condominiums, somehow, don't look as tasteful. The more aggressive of the two women caresses the table stand with her foot. Her leg moves back and forth against wood carved with the faces of anguished men working to support their wives' credit, as if by this gesture she is performing her marital duty. Like an undiscovered starlet looking for fame and fortune, she chatters away, never once looking into her friend's eyes. She gazes beyond her right shoulder and, from time to time, casually turns aside to examine each passer-by from head to toe. Inside this cathedral of consumerism, businesses fail like novice gamblers playing with loaded dice. Despite shops going out of business as they speak, the women plan their strategy and discuss the best sales, bracing themselves for the long hours of buying. These are modern day women living capitalism with a capital C.
He suspected it was going to take more than he could give. He already knew he didn’t have enough fuel to last the trip. Yet, he prodded himself on against all odds. Why? It was a question he’d asked himself constantly, over and over again. What was in it for him in the long run? Was it simply a matter of crossing the finish line? Being able to say he did it? Was it that personal? Wasn’t it the same for everybody else? Maybe it wasn’t. Maybe that was the rub. He was breezing through this thing called life moment by moment. Sometimes not even aware he was living life moment by moment. For years and years he’d risen from his bed. Automatically. But this morning when he got out of bed something was different. He was unable to tell the waking world from the dream world. Is this death or the dream world? He asked himself. He couldn’t tell. One moment he was being swept away into a surrealistic scene, the next he was looking at the clock registering 2:25 a.m. As far as he could tell, he was living in the waking moment. All of a sudden he saw people he didn’t recognize. It was as if he were looking out of eyes he’d never looked through before. Then he merged with a shadow. Under his breath asked for forgiveness. Here at this moment, he was on his own. No one could save himself at this point. Not the mortician, not the funeral director, not even the embalmer.
THE SHARD MAN
Clinton Oldfield came from a hick town not too far from another hick town. By the time he was fifteen, he had lived in twenty such places. Now at thirty, he was living his obsession entirely. For the past five years he had collected bits and pieces from each town and mining camp before the bedbugs and rattlesnakes chased him out: wagon wheels, horse collars, sarsaparilla bottles. Why, I heard him say, at least a dozen times, at lodge meetings, that he was going to start a town of his own. When the flood tides got to be too much and buildings started floating downstream, Clinton salvaged the ones that were too badly broken up for restoration. He decided to raise a church and a hall first. Next, for the social pariahs, he erected a restaurant and a saloon. And to keep his leading citizens in harmony, either taking ahold of their religion or swilling strong drink, he built the finest bawdy house in the Mother Lode. Feed the heathens was his motto. The Shard Man acted only in faith.