Rae Snarlow pulled into the lot of the East Atlantis Mall and parked her car underneath the sign that said Live * Work * Play.
“One day,” she muttered, “but not until I make shift-manager, the rents are freakin’ high here.” Walking past the motionless vehicles, a monochrome rainbow, she hoped today would be slow.
The mall, which was a factory in another incarnation, had a water tower affixed to the top of its Hot Topic store. A Trolley Square in the making. According to Hal, the most decrepit of the mall’s security guards, that tower had been there since the beginning of time. As had he, or so he liked to tell Rae on her 15 minute break, while she braved the elements, to clandestinely smoke a pink Nat Sherman cigarette under an emergency stairwell. Still, it bugged her. Too flashy. God only knows what else . . .
Rae’s shift at the Flying Owl, which sold hastily made clothes to the forever-teen crowd, began ordinarily enough. She punched her employee number into the machine that reported all quantifiable worker actions to a central base buried deep within Corporate. Once on the clock, she reviewed the numbers – the day in sales last year, the 8%+ goal for today – and the week’s promotions, after which she was stationed as a Greeter at the front of the store.
We have another shirt similar to the one you’re looking at in black, would you like to see it?
All of our earrings are 2 for $15 today.
Cute shoes! Where did you get them?
And so on until her first 15 . . .
Hal wasn’t under the stairwell today. Instead, Ariana, the shift-manager of Lacy Stacy was sipping daintily on a cappuccino.
Rae wanted to hate her but found she couldn’t. On the few occasions she’d been inside Lacy Stacy, telling herself that she wasn’t cheating on her firm and that she was merely checking out the competition, she’d seen Ariana behind the counter, dressed in jewel-tones, glossy blonde hair framing her face like liquid gold, hands gliding over the register as though she were playing a piano concerto and not ringing up socks and shirts. In short, Rae simply found her too beautiful for words. At this moment, however, the lovely Ariana had lines stretched tight across her forehead.
“What’s the matter?” Rae asked.
“Hal told me you like to come here,” she said.
“You’re looking for me? Why?”
“This place is wrong,” said Ariana.
“Yeah – you heard me alright.”
Rae stared at her blankly, “Huh?”
“Didn’t you ever think there might be something funny going on? Monkey business . . . behind the scenes.”
“Not really,” said Rae.
“This mall is different,” Ariana continued.
“Oh come on!” Rae cut in, “I’ve heard that one before. Nothing more than mall-pride, the syndrome employees come down with when they don’t use their vacation time. It’s in the DSM, look it up.” Gorgeous didn’t excuse paranoid in Rae’s book.
“You don’t get it. His office is here. The Architect. If I could only get up there . . . some kind of leverage . . . I’d take him out. Watch me!”
But Rae didn’t have time to ask Ariana exactly what she meant. Break was over. “Well, I’ll be seeing ya!”
The rest of the day dripped by with too much coffee and kung pao chicken . . .
That night Rae dreamt about Paguay again with the darkness dissolved – no more Deseret, Xibala, or “which came first, the chicken or the egg” (for her at the very least) Instead she saw her sister, Jennifer, sitting on the toilet, door wide open, no lights on, grumbling into her cell phone.
“I can’t place your order Ma’am.”
Taking advantage of a lull in the conversation, Rae said, “Why don’t we get out of here? Go to a coffee shop? Have a gluten free croissant or something. I mean I’m unemployed and you’re not, but I can still spot you a $20.”
At first Jennifer wasn’t having any of it, but eventually she broke down, “Okay, I’ll think it over. But the pastries better be top-notch. A cinnamon cannabis soufflé or goat cheese fudge with that berry sauce you know I like.”
So Rae went downstairs to the garage to see if the car was available, but was stopped by her mother mid-flight. “Your grandma sent these chocolates,” she said, “why don’t you try them?” The chocolates were the size of golf balls with brown sprinkles on them. The box was staggered. Three rows. Reminded Rae of operatic seating.
“Will they work with my diet?,” Rae asked.
“Oh it’s better than that! About 10 or 15 minutes after you swallow one, you spit it back up. And when you do, a fairy comes out.”
I gotta try this, Rae thought, so she took the box back upstairs and ate one of the chocolates. Visions filled her brain, “the things we’ll do together!” First things first, she’d teach the fairy to dance. a synchronized routine would be best, that’d get attention on YouTube for sure. As she worked through the dance moves, mostly arm swinging, some minor footwork, she was transported to a small outdoor concert, with the Lumineers singing Ho Hey just for her and the twenty other people randomly assembled. Afterwards a Q&A session in the open air, but Rae was too shy to ask anything. Then, walking along Twin Peaks Road just off Pomerado, all the landscaped wilds mandated by the city, red veins running through the trees, pulsing as if to convey a message, shrubbery and serpentine concrete path drifting this way and that, thinking she really needed to find Melinda again … the dream concluded.
The next morning, dressed, back at the mall, and about to start her shift, Rae’d made up her mind, “I’ll have some maple syrup on my break. Maybe Ariana will want some too.”