This installment of the serial story is brought to you by my good friend Kevin Still. Kevin has a penchant for horror films and long walks on the beach (litterally). He was made to spin yarns. He just was. Enjoy and visit his work at Three Hands in the Popcorn Bag. To read the entire series , click here. ______________________
Frank’s thoughts turned once to the last time he saw Janell and then to toddler Mary’s face in their Millwood window before he finally turned to follow them out.
He hurried. Past the calendar store. The sausage kiosk. The air-brush custom T-shirt stand. The Nail Salon. The ten minute massage chairs. (He waved a friendly “No, thanks”, once again, to the overzealous Oriental man’s, “You look so tense, Mista Flank”). The tuxedo depot. The rent-a-cart center. The mall directory. The lingerie ads. He glanced back a little. The community theater. And the rip-jeaned skater kids bustling in without boards.
Frank hurried, although he could not run inside the mall. Thornton told him specifically: “Frank, there are things you can and can’t do in the mall. You can shop. You can eat at the food court on your dollar, and you can put your coffee on my tab at the Maui Waui Coffee stand – not at the Starbucks. You can use the public facilities. You can make friends with the temps and try on clothes where they let you to try on clothes. But, Frank, you cannot run in the mall. You cannot chase tail. You cannot yell. You cannot use Apple Store computers for personal mail or porn. Cannot gamble or cohort business ventures. And you cannot flip through magazines wrapped in cellophone. Not even the car or cooking magazines. Ernie Sawyer nearly lost his job for jotting down cellophane-concealed meatball recipes from a skinny lady journal on his break. So don’t do it.”
Frank didn’t even like the mall bookstore.
Kendall at the cellular phone stand, seeing Frank rush by, tried to grab his attention. “Dude, you see Melanie at the Cinnabon this morning? Man! I don’t even need coffee, bro! Bro?” Frank waved at Kendall. He liked Kendall, but he didn’t have time for lady-praising at the moment. Right now, he had to catch this woman and the little girl. This Janell and Mary.
The exit door pulled instead of pushed, and Frank cursed himself for forgetting. A young mother scuttled a stroller through the exterior door as Frank held the interior. He wanted to bypass her and her brood, looking over her shoulder into the parking lot, looking for hair that drastically challenged the bundle in front of him. But the lottery ticket burned his breast, and Frank knew he deserved nothing. So he stepped back. He waited. And he smiled at the young lady as she slowly crossed his path. Her shirt read “GIRLS DO IT BETTER”, and Frank questioned her “mother-ability”, as he’d questioned Janell’s many times. He considered himself open minded, but all bets were off at the mall. After all, he kept an office here.
The young woman pressed though his held door and looked crossly at Frank, chewing gum with artillery quickness. “I didn’t ask, noodle boy.” Frank squinted back but held his tongue. He’d learned to hold his tongue. He’d also learned not to run in the mall. And it was these rules that allowed Janell to get away. Janell and Mary. Janell and Mary and this rare chance.
Stepping outside, Frank approached the sidewalk’s edge. Yellow curb paint under his feet. He scanned the lot. So many heads. So many faces. None he knew. Janell’s head gone. Mary’s head tucked away, watching the city skitter by fast as time. Over the lot, black birds hovered, fell, and kicked each other off street lamps. He wondered what song was in their car, what outfit Janell bought for Mary. Red or black? Lollipops or skulls? Sneakers or sandals? Questions, like tumbleweeds, over the borders of his mind. Voices rolled around his head from ear to ear and behind his eyes. He was not sure if the words were his own, but his feet shuffled back indoors, back to his story, back to his thermos and his booth. Since Mary, Frank had forgotten how to want.