Music At The Mall (2)

On Sundays as a child, we might go for a pub lunch after church in some perpetually dim Lion or Compass set in the middle of tilled fields, flat and ridged, extending out to a horizon of Rorschach trees. If our car had course to run a small bridge over a stream, my father would accelerate and that brief flirt with gravity would cause our stomachs to ‘go’; my brothers and I would giggle and cheer. Nowadays, I cannot handle theme park rides that make my stomach ‘go.’ A ninety-minute wait. I encouraged them on without me. There was time to kill.

I asked a man sweeping the streets where one could buy a cup of coffee. The coffee shop’s queue curled like a cochlea into the centre, then revolved and spun out into a small bunch of those waiting for their order. Names were called out, so one listens to the names and then puts a face to the name, as a hand extends towards the cup.

My grandmother had an iron tongue, and would waste no time in letting a cup of tea or coffee cool before putting it to her lips. It was startling to me; her tongue somewhat like a parrot’s, scaled and strong, insensitive, dry. Instead I took my cappuccino out underneath the sun that boiled down. It was hot. There might be somewhere to sit in the shade, somewhere that would not remain in shade, but twirl it like a baton. Underneath the leaves of trees, all was speckled. Perching on the edge of a flowerbed; who might intrude? The FA Cup was taking place back in England, coming through in frozen images on my mobile phone that I soon abandoned as it stuttered and blocked into obsolescence. There is a particular silence that one can find when on the border of a crowd moving in excitement. I looked outwards and attempted to sip the hot coffee. The air was not far off the temperature of the human body, a degree or two; simulating the unique sensation of nudity. A couple sat down next to me, causing me to turn my lip for I just wished to sit undisturbed for a moment. They were a few years older, and on a date. They laughed. They were having a lot of fun. The man had drunk his drink too quickly that he had brainfreeze, groaning, clutching his skull, as she giggled. Although I pretended not to listen, we huddled together beneath the same shaded tree, and this audience could not be helped. They were very sweet, though, like children and they seemed as happy as I had ever been.

For the next two hours, I passed the time and did not become bored. The coffee swallowed; a cigarette; a walk around the park; a bottle of still lemonade; wandering into shops; a parade of Toy Story characters singing past; You Got a Friend In Me jazz shuffling by and stuck in the head.

Lunch was taken in a café as the nine of us sought to gather around a long table, elbow-to-elbow, the air turmoiled by cold draughts and interrupting walls of brutal heat from beyond the open door. At an adjacent table, a young man and woman took their lunch together, from trays, crumpled napkins and so forth, fruit salad, a sweating cup of soft drink. They did not say a word to the other. Who knew the words that bloomed and wilted in them as they took fingers to their mouths and chewed with tight lips? To be young and together, to have nothing to say! Was it a row, or a rot that was in them now? Perhaps they did not care one jot; but it upset me tremendously. A couple of nights previous, I had become distracted by a couple on the table opposite, who, too, appeared to be on a date. The lady enthusiastic, her face smiling through it; both well-dressed in tired clothes; the man on her left his cutlery erect as he chewed without reflecting the chatter she forced out of herself. It was a busy and delicious restaurant, festooned in conversation. And so he stared out, his eyes upward, at the window as a storm, which had been brewing the past hour, finally unbridled itself over the lake in a fury of rain and lightning, lightning that rocked the timbers with slow thunder.

It was cause enough for one to turn away and reflect sombrely at the very chance that someone not so far from them was having a sad time in love. How can one be happy when such situations are presented as though behind museum glass?

American malls are a faint source of interest to me, in the sense that they have been presented so many times through film and television that to step foot in one feels as if I am entering a filmset. However, once I had entered Macy’sand made it onto the concourse, I was decidedly bored and without purpose. Everyone else hurried off to shop. I searched for somewhere that might sell books but was unsuccessful, then found a kitchen shop and looked at their selection of utensils and chopping boards. The chopping boards were, on the whole, unexceptional, and there was the matter of suitcasing them from one country to another. I wondered around. I went for a smoke in the heat, There were only so many times I could go for a cigarette, besides I grew increasingly paranoid that some sunmad bastard might open fire on me for indeterminate reasons (Buffalo, NY having occurred the day previous; these events not headlined by the incident or deathtoll but the location in which they took place; a map full of tragedies).

Because my anxiety was not so overwhelming – and I was on holiday – I forgave myself the sin of a third cup, and returned to the coffeeshop where I politely chuckled at confused old people with New York accents screeching loudly at the baristas, before taking my paper cup to the concourse, sitting down, and watching the shoppers passing me by with bulging bags. My mother messaged me, that I might be bored, that she was watching my nieces in the centre of the mall, below the balcony of the foodcourt, I went. The girls ran around there, chasing each other.

And one evening, my brother and I had an argument that left me feeling blue. My victory in the confrontation, and his self-inflicted humiliation brought only the smallest of satisfactions. My mother chided me, but I waved her away—‘I know what I’m doing,’ I said. ‘I know what I’m doing.’ Impatience had got the better of me! I darted away into the night. There was no good feeling. I had lost it. The next morning I learned that my brothers and their partners all went out together that night and I had not been invited.

I woke up fresh. There were sour thoughts of how things had gone, but I pushed them away. The application of suncream was performed carefully in front of the bathroom mirror. Quickly I dashed after my parents who were on their walk to a hotel some distance away for their morning coffee. Much to my dismay, I never caught them up but found my father sitting in the shade next to the coffeeshop as my mother used the toilet. He was thumbing his phone. I pulled a limp tissue from my pocket, wiping my brow and neck. I sat down and sighed. A bird came over the lake, swooping, its shadow below, and then elevating away.