Forever 21

The long hallway was completely deserted save for the flotsam and jetsam of past customers which littered the tiled floor. The body of an electric sign which read “Forest Hill Super Mall” lay broken and dark in a corner. The only sound was the whir of a dusty air conditioner which buffeted the scuttling newspaper clippings of “THE END IS NIGH!” with blasts of canned air. Even Randy was silent as he pondered his figure in one of the mirrors of a Super-Gap. He twisted slightly to see his backside. He turned to a mannequin beside him and asked earnestly, “What do you think?”

The mannequin’s plastic eyes reflected the soft folds of Randy’s face. Randy nodded vehemently, “I totally see where you’re coming from. These jeans do make my butt look big.”

He started to take off a pair of tactfully shredded jeans, his gnarled old fingers fumbling with the tiny zipper on the crotch. He quickly slipped on a pair of sweatpants which read, “JUICY” on the seat of the pants. He wore them backwards. He was tightening the elastic band when something crashed in the hallway outside the store. Randy rushed to the hallway, pausing to grab his skater-boy Volcom hat off the mannequin’s hand.

Peeking timidly from behind the massive plaster columns which framed the Super-Gap’s yawning entrance, Randy saw a young woman in hiking gear cocking her arm to throw a rock at the glass window of a Forever 21 store.

“No!” rasped out Randy’s voice before he could cover his mouth. The woman looked over, could only see a tuft of snowy white hair and two blue eyes, and shined a smile as she dropped the rock. She started to walk over. The butterflies in Randy’s stomach started churning a stew of anxiety which he hadn’t felt in many years. Her echoing footsteps halted before him, at last and she thrust a dirty hand towards Randy, “Hi! My name’s Christie Candle.”

Randy lowered his eyes to the grimy hand and said simply, “Hi.”

Christie withdrew her unrequited hand and pointed enthusiastically over her shoulder, “You like that store?”

Randy raised his eyes with a gleam of defiance and screwed on his hat, “I love it!”

Christie shrugged, “It doesn’t have much for survival. You should check out the LL Bean on the other side of the mall.”

Randy sighed, “LL Bean, more like LL Has-Been. Forever 21 has one of the best selections of tops I’ve ever seen. I go there almost every day.”

Christie laughed and shot him a quizzical look, “Every day? You mean you live in this dump?”

“I have lived here for 50 years and it is not a dump.”

“But they’re no windows! Don’t you want to see what it’s like outside? It’s certainly not the way it was when you came in here. My mom told me everything used to be gray, but now everything is just bursting with green. You ought’ta see it! It’ll probably blow your mind, man, come on!” she said tugging at his arm.

“Don’t want to”, sulked Randy.

Christie’s smile faded. She put a hand on each of the old man’s slumped shoulders and said sympathetically, “Don’t you ever get lonely? There’s nobody around here anymore.”

Randy looked around. The mannequins were all frozen in their poses, serenely strolling in Capri shorts and petting stuffed dogs. He turned back to Christie, “It hasn’t changed that much. I’m no lonelier than when I came in here,” he paused and stared off into space “, no less either.”

“How old are you?” asked Christie.

“65 and a half,” he responded proudly.

She hit his shoulder “, C’mon you’re gonna die soon! You gotta see how the parking lot is full of grass. I saw a tree that had grown right on top of a car, bending the car into a “V” almost. It looks like the tree just hopped right up and squashed the thing like it was a bug,” she pressed a finger to her lips “, in fact, I think it was a Volkswagen Bug.”

“What?” Randy craned his wrinkled neck.

“I said you’re gonna die someday, you might as well go out now!” she shouted, exasperated.

Randy took a step back “, No! That’s impossible!”

“No, no. The air’s all better now. Just look at me,” she did a jumping jack.

Randy wagged a finger at her “, It simply is not possible. I have too much shopping to do today. Besides, Everfre$h gets a new line of perfumes tomorrow. And in only a month, Best Buy gets the first shipment of PlayStation 5’s! By the way, I’m dying to see how it compares to Microsoft’s new console. Microsoft always has great games, but I like the feel of the PlayStation controllers.  Don’t you agree?”

This time Christie took a step back. She tried to put on a smile “, Ok. Maybe next weekend.”

“But next weekend the new…”

She was already striding down the hallway, navigating around the trash on the floor, moving down the neon-lit tiles toward a red exit sign.

Randy Smiled and waved “, Bye!”

Randy stared at the wall for a moment. Everything was quiet again. He went back into the Super-Gap and took his mannequin by the wrist “, C’mon!”

The pair of them shuffled across the vast hallway, plodding slowly towards the shining gates of Forever 21.

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