Ugh. The mall. Even thinking the word gives me a bad taste in my mouth.
I used to be naïve to the true reality of this place. I used to think it would be a great place to take your kids on a Saturday when it’s too cold to play outside. Maybe buy them one of those huge lollipops that look like optical illusions. Walk around, look at stuff, buy them presents, laugh. I see lots of young moms doing that with their kids these days. There are at least three happy families in my peripheral vision right now. Are they happy, though? If every person has a dark side, every family must have a dark room to fill all their secrets with, bouncing around in pitch black, creating head-on collisions, spawning new lies to cover up old ones. An endless cycle.
What’s that perky new mom hiding?
Every smile has a fracture.
The shrill presence of a group of preteens snaps me back to the moment. Ugh. Teenagers. The problem with kids is that they grow up. Nobody stays four forever. Well, nobody should, anyway. I don’t know what’s worse—preteens or teenagers. They’re all insufferable. They all think they know everything, they all think they run the world. A bunch of thirteen-year-olds running around with top-of-the-line everything, thinking they’re top dogs even though their parents, the ultimate ATM, drop them off and pick them up in their identical minivans.
I turn the corner to step outside for a smoke. I fucking hate this place. Maybe I’ll take a leak on the side of the building just to say fuck you.
I misstep and snag my foot on the door, a quick reminder of the bracelet locked and loaded on my ankle. Maybe not. One step in the wrong direction and they’re coming to get me and take me back to the big house. What do I care anyway? Every house is a big house. I haven’t had a home in years. I dig in my pockets for the crushed pack at the bottom. I finger through without looking, preferring to use my eyes on the redhead sitting on a bench nearby.
I dig out a cigarette that’s a little beat up, but definitely smokeable. Just how I like my women. I crack a smile at my joke, surprising myself. I didn’t know my mouth still did that.
I light up and look around. Tons of people milling around, laughing, happy. Hundreds of fucking teenagers, playing with concepts of sex they don’t even understand.
I check back on the bench. The redhead is texting. Of course she is. Nobody is ever present in their own lives, huh?
I take a drag and close my eyes. Sweet nicotine, the only friend I have left. Friends. What’s the point? Every relationship has an expiration date, so why buy into something you know is gonna spoil before you’re done with it?
The best part about my life is that I know who I am. I know where I stand with myself, and with other people. That’s the thing. You gotta be self-aware. I’m standing here, surrounded by hundreds of people, all interacting with each other, but not with me.
You don’t need superpowers to be invisible. You just have to be like me. Gruff, hard, scraggly. Nobody will look twice. Shit, they won’t even look once. What’s with people and their refusal to make eye contact with people they consider below them?
Are they scared of me? Do they think I’m gonna ask them for money?
Fuck them. Fuck their money.
All these assholes our earth is infested with. All these sons-of-bitches that think money runs everything. I’m no idealist, and yeah, a little cash would be nice, but where did this infectious thought that money is God come from?
Then they call me sick. They lock me up. Why? Because I see through the bullshit of the world? Because I take stands for things that matter? Because that redhead with her little button nose buried in her phone would never look at me and I don’t give a fuck? Who needs her, with her creamy thighs, soft flesh revealed under her loose dress, small little body I would love to experience from the outside in. I clench my fist, imagining tufts of her deep red hair sprouting from between my fingers like springtime shoots of grass begging to be ripped out of the soil.
The pads of my thumb and forefinger find each other and I rub them together contemplatively, feeling the scar tissue build friction. I’m not the type of loony who burnt his fingertips off to escape the government. They’re old injuries—a curious experiment when I was one of the insufferable teens I hate so much. The smell of burning flesh has a bad rep. It’s not so bad, and there’s worse smells out there. Candy-sweet perfume coming off a child is sickening. Why taint their innocence? They’ll have plenty of time to dress like whores when they’re old enough to act like them.
My Newport is running low. I dig deep for another one, and glance at my watch. Time. Even I can’t escape that. Nobody can. I pull out a broken cig. It’ll do. I light up and find my eyes coming back to Red on the bench. I wonder how hot the inside of her mouth is. I guess it depends how hot the rest of her is. As the sweet cancer builds in my blood, putting me at ease, I try to imagine a world in which I could take her home with her consent.
My fingers twitch. I imagine the perfect opening line. Those fucks in the movies. When does it actually happen that a guy tells a girl, “you wanna get outta here?” and it works? Fucking never.
I exhale the precious smoke and take a step closer. Nobody sees me, so what does it matter? Nobody sees me but everybody knows I’m here. Invisible, but present. This must be what the elephant in the room feels like. I take another step, my blood rushing to my ankle bracelet, telling me I shouldn’t do it. Fuck you, blood. I take another step, I’m only three away from trying that line out for myself.
“Hey! Lloyd! Get back in here, your break is up!” I turn around, trying to contain my cool, but my blood is on fire, ripping through my body like acid. My fucking bastard manager. Twenty-three and thinks he owns me. He would be begging for mercy if we were living in a different world. In the big house. The big home. The place where I fit in most, I guess. Funny.
I flick my butt at Red. It lands close enough for her to jump. She looks up at me, and we lock eyes. My mouth melts into a lascivious grin, out of my control. Tricked ya, bitch. Made ya look. Here’s my chance.
“I’ll see you around, sweetheart.”
I walk back towards the mall. The gateway to hell. I turn around for one last look and see Red climbing into the back of her mother’s minivan.