Myrah swung the vehicle off the highway. She cut across two lanes of traffic with whining tires and groaning gears as leapt onto an exit and downshifted for a light. Cars streamed past headed into the interior of the suburbs. She was livid.
“This ain’t the right place.” The astronaut muttered distractedly.
She pawed on the blinker.
“Where are we going?” He asked. He was struggling to straighten himself. Her sudden maneuver had caused his relaxed body to fall sideways in the seat.
“We’re going to the mall.” Myrah spat. “We’re going to get a table at Slopes.”
“I need to get home.” The astronaut said swallowing hard. “I think that last big turn you made is going to make me throw up.”
“Don’t hurl in my new car dude!” She shouted.
“Driving with you is worse than riding the vomit comet.”
“And don’t criticize my driving man.” She continued shaking her head.
“I thought you were going to take me home.”
“I will.” She answered. “First you’re going to sit down and look me in the eye and tell me why you don’t think that I’ve ever had a moment.”
They parked. They entered the mall. They walked among the shops and kiosks. A sale was going on at Decoys and Deer.
They entered Slopes through the door that was usually reserved for the elderly and the invalid. The astronaut was worried that he wouldn’t be able to make it up the ski lift. He said that given the amount of alcohol that he’d drank along with Myrah’s wild driving he still felt unsteady and more than a little queasy. They were seated right away.
At the table Wallace squinted down at words printed in the menu. John Denver was singing Rocky Mountain High over the sound system. The lights swirled around making it appear to be snowing.
“Bison burger?” He said lifting the laminated tablet towards her in disbelief.
“They’ve got cheese fries and potato wedges too.” Myrah nodded. “You should order those. They’ll help you sober up.”
“I’m just getting a drink.”
“You’re getting a coffee.” She corrected him sternly. “I’m getting a drink.”
A waiter came by wearing a thick padded snow vest and a black knit cap. He looked down at the pair as if he’d just noticed them coming off of a run on the slopes. “Conditions are harsh today.” The boy commented using an overly jocular tone. “I’m telling you straight up that the Black Diamond with tear your ass up.”
“Is it happy hour?” Wallace asked.
“The run is clear and the powder is tight.” The kid nodded.
The astronaut laughed.
“I’ll have a Black Diamond.” Myrah said handing the waiter her menu. She nodded towards Wallace. “He’ll have a coffee and some potato wedges.”
The kid smiled. “Awesome!” He said giving her a quick jab on the fist as he left.
They watched him wander back through a forest of plastic and steel trees in the direction of the bar. A girl that was dressed as a snow bunny slid down a slide in a corner of the room. It had been molded into the form of a snow bank. She carried a tray of food and somehow managed to keep it balanced as she thumped to the bottom and stepped out of her clips.
“Funny place.” The astronaut quipped.
Myrah nodded. “So why do you think that I haven’t found my moment?” She asked leaning over the table. It was made to look like it had been constructed out of skis and poles. It had lift passes glued beneath its surface.
He sighed. “What do you do at this mall?” He asked throwing his hands out to indicate the world around them.
“That’s not what I want to talk about.” She argued.
“This is part of it.” He said. “This is part of the problem.”
The astronaut leaned back in his chair. “This is nothing but a great distraction.” He said. He sounded more authoritative and in control that he had moments ago in the car. “This is the vessel of misplaced love and ambition.”
“The mall, the grocery store, frozen food.” He nodded. “These things are amusement parks that are built to distract us from what truly makes us happy.”
She lifted her eyebrows. “You realize that Jack builds a lot of those things?” She said knowingly. “He eats a lot of frozen food too.”
Wallace smiled. “Jack built the Taj Mahal.”
“It’s an interesting model to build a shopping center around don’t you think?”
She waved his words away with her hand. “He’s just finished The Peak.” She answered dismissively. “The Japanese are going to run a slick poly-coated fiber down the side of it to let people ski on the thing. It’s a damned mountain top village right in the middle of the Gulf Coast of Texas.”
The waiter brought their drinks. He sat a plain cup of coffee in front of the astronaut and a tall glass with flashing lights and plastic skis as stirrers before Myrah. “Your potato skins with be finished with their run in a minute.” He said leaving.
Wallace took a look around the restaurant. He seemed to be genuinely amused by all of it’s props and anamatronic decorations. A moose head chatted with children from a mounted plaque above a raging stone fireplace. A bear turned on hidden servos and roared at passers by near the bathrooms.
“How long has this place been here?” He asked.
“They started building it over the summer.” Myrah answered. “I guess it got completed around October.”
“Nice place for kids.” He nodded.
“I love their food.”
The astronaut put both hands around his coffee mug and began turning the cup around with the tips of his finger. “When I told you that you were unhappy, I didn’t mean for it to be such a huge thing.” He explained. “I didn’t intend for you to think about it all the time and go around hating me for saying it.”
“Well it was a hell of a thing to say.” She spat.
“What I wanted was for you to evaluate where you direct your love.”
She took a drink and scratched her ear. “Where do you think I’m directing my love now?”
“Not where you need to.”
“Quit being so cryptic.” She said angrily. “I built a God damned sign and everyone loves it. Isn’t that enough of a moment for you?”
“Funny story.” The astronaut laughed raising a finger. “I was visiting with Dan Wells just the other day and his wife was there. We got to talking and it turns out that she’s real proud of that butterfly that you put on that sign.”
Myrah slapped at the table. “That’s not her butterfly!” She argued. “That’s my butterfly and that’s my freaking dog.”
He nodded still laughing. “Do you know how popular dogs are right now?” He asked grinning from ear to ear. “I didn’t until Clara pointed them out to me. They’re on everything!”
“Just because someone else uses a dog and a butterfly doesn’t mean that I can’t.” She said angrily. “The Shady Acres sign is mine. I made it and that’s my dog and my butterfly on it. They’re mine. That was my moment.”
“That wasn’t your moment.”
“Well what the hell is my moment supposed to be?” She asked.
She watched as the astronaut took a deep breath. It almost seemed as if he were preparing to dive beneath some unseen ocean in search of a rare seashell or tropical fish. “This isn’t what I do.” He said exhaling.
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t deal in specifics.” He explained. “I don’t show people what they need to do that’s exactly right for them. I don’t point them in any exact direction to make them happy. I don’t give career advice or engineer lifestyle changes.”
“Well what do you do then?” She asked. She pushed her drink aside as if it were something offensive.
“I’m an inspirational speaker.” He answered tiredly. “I work with crowds. I help people in large groups to direct their affections in the proper ways. I tell them to love every moment and seize the day. It’s broad terms that I use. I say, ‘Look around you and feel the warmth in this room.’ It’s not something custom built and tailor made. I’m just trying to get people to look past all the distractions and make them aware of themselves again.”
“Is this what you’re doing with Dan?”
Wallace nodded. “Dan’s been involved in something for too long. He doesn’t even know who he is anymore.”
“What’s the matter with him?”
The astronaut shrugged. “He had his moment.” He answered.