The mall at 2:00pm on a Thursday can be surprisingly crowded. It’s enough to make you wonder if anyone works anymore as you watch people grabbing trays of pizza and drinks from the food court and carting them back to their tables. Who eats at 2:00pm? Is it lunch or is it diner?
Myrah Markoff sat at one of the booths drinking a coconut smoothie and examining a new pair of sunglasses that she’d found on sale that morning. They were brand name and half of their normal price. She wondered if she would look good in them.
She was sitting in the quietest corner that she could find near the entrance to the movie theater and just off the ice rink. A zamboni hummed quietly behind her laying down a fresh coat of water on its surface. It was cold over here despite the blazing sun outside.
The mall was white, polished and still relatively new. In fact, most of the spaces in it had yet to be filled with stores although they seemed to get a new one in almost every week. Three levels and four football fields in length was a lot of space to grow but the businesses just kept on coming.
A wizard shop for kids and restaurant that was designed to look like an Aspen ski lodge would open next month. The last time that she’d gotten her husband to come shopping with her he had stopped to admire them both. He stood running his hands across the plastic rocks of the castle outside of the Wizardry and paused to feel the molded snow on the steel tree limbs hanging in front of Slopes. He’d told her that these materials were the future of construction.
Myrah didn’t care about construction but she did understand land acquisition. Her life was divided up between her home, the mall, the hospital in Galveston where she volunteered to serve meals to the elderly and her kid’s school. If she happened to be in a position going from one of these places to the other, and suddenly found herself in need of a drink or gas with nothing around, she’d note the nearest exit and tell her husband about it.
It always took Jack a while but sooner or later she’d find pictures of the empty lot, small farm or whatever else was on the land lying on the desk in his office. Next to them would be financial estimates as to how much it all was worth. Within a few weeks he’d have begun his architects to sketching designs for an upscale shopping center to fill the rural void. In a year, he’d have secured a bid, completed construction and she’d be able to stop at that very spot to fulfill her every need.
The couple had managed to eek out a pretty comfortable existence using this unconventional arrangement of desire and procurement. Neither one of them could yet call themselves rich but they were able to buy nice things and the company that Jack ran was growing in reputation. Overall, life was both simple and good for the Markoff’s.
Someone sat a tray down next to Myrah causing her to look up. Tara Biggs was smiling down widely in her direction. “Oh my God!” The woman exclaimed looking at all of her bags. “How long have you been here?”
“Since they opened!” She said pulling off her clear frames and tossing on the glasses. “Do you think these make my nose look too sharp?”
“Not at all.” Tara said as she sat down next to her. “I’d kill to look like you.”
Like her husband, Tara was plump, plain face and short. She wore out of date wire-framed glasses and too much lipstick but still everyone in the neighborhood liked her. The woman had a heart of gold and she was good with kids.
Tara had come to the mall directly from the elementary school where she taught computers. She wore a bulky green jacket over a pink blouse. Her security badge was still attached to the lapel.
In a former life, she’d been a programmer just like Gary but when their product began to sell enough for her to quit, she’d gone off to pursue her dream of educating primary school children in the art digital interfacing. She taught them how to load files and use software to express themselves in a connected world. She discussed safety online and warned them against talking with strangers.
Myrah smiled as she pulled the shades from her face. “You’re so nice.” She said. Absently she tossed the sunglasses into her purse before putting on her own stylish plastic frames.
“What else did you get?”
She plucked at a few of the bags. “Most of this stuff is for the kids.” She replied without much interest. “There’s too many Back to School sales going on to pass up a chance to buy them new clothes.”
“I need to take advantage of that.” Tara said as she squeezed ketchup onto her burger. “I need to get Gage some new pants. He’s outgrowing them so fast anymore. Do they even have Back to School sales for toddlers.”
Myrah nodded her head. “I think it covers all the age groups.”
“Then we should go down to First Year and get a look around as soon as I’m done.”
“I didn’t see any sale signs in First Year.”
“That’s okay.” Tara said placing the bun back on the burger. “I like their clothes. I think that they make stuff that will last.”
“Has he learned how to say momma yet?”
Gage was the Biggs’ ten month old son. He was a chubby kid with rosy cheeks and a perfectly round head. He spent the mornings at a day care with high columns and a weathervane on the roof. It was called The Learning Plantation.
Tara grabbed a container of salt off the table and shook it over her fries. “Have you heard from Clara?”
“She’s not going to be able to make it.”
“She’s so busy all the time.”
“What do you think she gets that we don’t?” The woman said. She extended her arms, still holding onto the salt. “All of this! It’s not that confusing but she’s made a science out of the whole thing.”
“They pay her a lot of money.”
Clara Wells didn’t just shop. She ran a consulting firm that helped brand products for mass consumption. Part of her job was to do market research. She’d once spent an entire week buying different brands of cereal and drawing half-inch grids over the pictures on the front of their boxes.
What Clara had found was that that each spoonful of flakes be they frosted, multi-colored, or whole wheat was, on average located four, half-inch squares from the mouth of the model that was posing with them. She recommended that the distance be reduced to two squares in order to build anticipation. Sales had gone through the roof as a result of the changes.
“She’s been buying a lot of laundry detergent here lately.” Myrah commented grabbing one of the woman’s fries.
“There she goes!” Tara laughed. “Is Jill coming?”
“Jill’s actually here already.” Myrah said nodding in the direction of the China Hut. “She wanted an eggroll.”
Jill Grey stood at the counter watching as a young Asian man placed her food in a bag for her. She was a tall redhead with big hips and long legs. She was Thom’s second wife and was largely considered young, pretty and uninteresting by the rest of the women in the neighborhood.
“Who eats an eggroll in this heat?” Tara said in a conspiratorial whisper as she leaned forward.
“It’s cold here.”
“But, I mean outside. The sun’s vicious.”
Myrah glanced up at the skylights then grabbed another fry. “Jack loves it.” She said. “He’s got everyone working today.”
“I can’t wait for them to open up the Taj Mahal.” Tara smiled. “It looks so exotic.”
Jill came walking up and sat down to join them. “Who’s ready to look beautiful?” She asked.
The women giggled to one another and consumed their bounty.