Filed under: Chapter 01 | Tags: Chapter One, hot dogs, Josh Bates, Kevin Wilder, Kujo's, Macy's
YOU ARE HERE :: BY KEVIN WILDER
I CAN HEAR YOU LOUD AND CLEAR, Bryanna Summerson, even though you’ve never fired off a single word in my direction.
The language you’re speaking is one I’m not too fluent in, and honestly, it’s kind of hard to decipher. From what I can tell, you seem to be telling me I don’t exist. But the truth is, I do.
Because if Josh Bates wasn’t living and breathing right now, who else would be price-checking these items?
And if Josh Bates wasn’t price-checking these items, what other friendly sales associate would notice your absence (that is, if you didn’t wander in at some point to try on shoes)?
I look down at my shoes, planted firmly on the ground. They’re looking a little dirty at the moment. I tap the pale carpet with my foot. Still here. Never hurts to double-check.
Where I am, locationally-speaking, is in the far back corner of a room, on the bottom floor of a two-story building, which is part of an even larger building still. There are no windows to the outside world apart from four sets of tinted glass doors (this morning, I remember, was my turn to Windex them—whoops). Two sets exit to a parking lot, and one to a garage. The biggest is a hollowed-out grand entrance doorway one will walk through before entering yet another world. Two expansive floors are filled with over 110 retail shops, containing enough expendable items to satisfy anyone’s appetite. Almost anyone’s. Today is not unlike others in that I’ve chosen to stay removed from it all. I’ll stand where I belong, marking down items in the one place that pays me, thinking about saving each dollar by avoiding contact with the chaotic shoppers making their daily rounds.
Plus I forgot to bring an extra shirt, and hate walking around in these starched black dress pants.
Hidden behind more than a dozen racks of clothes, I stand on my tiptoes and squint to make out the digital numbers on the tremendous screen. 12:03, the clock above the Food Court fountains reads. Next to the time is a picture of a sun, meaning it’s sunny out. Too bad I won’t be leaving this place until dark.
12:03 could mean many different things to many different people. To me it means we’re one hour closer to your arrival. And you? You’re probably thinking about what hot new shoes you’ll need for the weekend. I glance at the perfume counter and am reminded that the more beautiful a woman is, the more unpredictable it makes her, so perhaps you won’t be visiting at all.
A job spent in solitude is not necessarily a bad one, though when one is left alone long enough, their thoughts can turn against them.
My right hand (which also exists, Thank You Very Much Bryanna Summerson) clutches a markdown gun. That’s what Todd, my manager, calls it, anyway. If I were the creator of this tiny mechanical object, I would have given it a less harmful-sounding name, since nothing in it suggests violence. But then again, I’ve been holding it for six days straight, and my finger’s painfully numb from pulling the trigger several thousand times. So perhaps the device is a gun, but only one seeking harm against its user.
Last night I tossed in bed, witnessing red-orange stickers with dark ink prices dance beneath my ceiling fan. (I also saw you, Bryanna, at the beach wearing a neon green bikini.)
Where were we?
In the far back corner of the two-story room, in the far back corner of the mall, in the far lower-right corner of the continental U.S. In my lonely department..
Promise you won’t laugh? It’s the Women’s department.
And if that’s not bad enough, most of my time is spent in Intimates.
To be fair, I imagine one day I’ll reminisce on more fond memories from here in Intimates than from every single moment spent at Twin Pines High. In that sense it’s my true alma mater. And like I mentioned earlier, it does pay, in legal tender. Just not large amounts.
The bottom floor’s measurements are—and these were roughly compiled by pacing from one end of the store to the other—640,000 square feet. Not a horribly designed structure, if you ask me. Could be worse, like the Belk directly across from us.
But who am I kidding. It’s pretty monotonous here (just like Intimates themselves can be, when you’re staring at them and wondering how they look when actually worn by somebody). The walls are mostly off-white, though that changes every season. Closest to me, above the jeans, hangs a poster of two skinny brunettes. They’re hunched over as if constantly bothered by idiopathic scoliosis. With supersexyness in tact, they stare off in the distance at God knows what. Every imperfection, minus the scoliosis, has been airbrushed into oblivion. I have to admit, even though the Poster Ladies aren’t smiling, their lives seem pretty great. These girls have been keeping me company, wearing their navy cashmere jackets—items impossible to convince Floridians they need in the summertime—and just hanging out, sipping Earl Grey in some sort of English garden. The setting is hard to imagine if you’re like me, and haven’t traveled more than a few states north. Still, they’re all I have to keep me company while I stand here and wait. They don’t talk or have names. Yet.
I know you exist, Bryanna Summerson. We used to pass one another in the halls at school. I wore cologne and everything. Don’t you remember? You’ve walked in here plenty of times, just like I’ve decided you will today. And soon enough you’ll realize I do exist.
You could say I’m a Macy’s employee. Most everyone would say this, and if they didn’t they’d be lying. It’s hard to deny, since whenever someone sees me, I’m usually wearing the aforementioned starched black dress-attire. Above my chest pocket is pinned an often-lopsided shiny brass nametag, reading JOSH in thick etched letters (the last one said JOSHUA, and it took months of fighting to get a corrected one).
As a child I only knew of Macy’s from the big yearly TV parade. Stephanie and I remember wonderful memories of the whole family coming over, the two of us sitting cross-legged on the carpet watching Snoopy fly through the sky, smelling Mom’s turkey dressing cooking to perfection. It might sound silly, but at the time it never occurred to me that Macy’s was a retail store. Macy could’ve been the mayor of New York’s daughter for all I knew. When I finally realized Macy’s was a store—probably around the age of 9 or 10—I still believed the only one was located in Manhattan. We didn’t go shopping much. Still don’t. (Did I tell you I think shopping is lame?) Before high school most of my clothes were hand-me-downs from the senior pastor’s kids. During training (or as my boss calls it, “Boot Camp”), I learned there are more than 800 stores nationwide. This includes the one that pays me to press red-orange stickers on tags attached to women’s clothing.
A fist hits my back, causing me to fall forward. I almost knock over a rack of lingerie, and grabbing for something, latch onto a silky one that catches my fall. This startles me. Should my boss be doing this? Hitting employees is no joke, as it violates more than three indecipherable codes from the Macy’s Employee Handbook, Chapter 6: Physical Conflict.
I turn around to find it’s only Will Sharp, laughing his ass off.
“Pipe down,” I tell him.
“I’m trying,” he says, choking a little. He does this when he can’t put an end to his laughing convulsions.
He slips a plus-size negligee over his jeans and leans against the rack. He’s trying to act seductive, but even in a mimicking sort of way is failing miserably. “How are things at R.H. Macy and Co.?” he asks.
“Not bad,” I say, checking the item I tugged on for damages. I perform a quick sweep to check that no department managers can see. “How’re things in the outside world?”
“Not bad, considering. 2 for 1 smoothies at Kujo’s today.”
“Cool. Wanna go there on my break? We can split the price.”
“Right, I would, but—” he slips the negligee off and tosses it, “I used the coupon already.” He looks toward the escalator, ashamed. “And I drank both of ‘em.”
“You’re ridiculous,” I say, and pick the skirt back up to hang properly.
“Or eat, I mean. Do people eat smoothies or drink ‘em?” He shrugs. “Anyway, what else is new? I take it you’re probably still obsessing over you-know-who.”
I wonder how he does it. Guys like Will shouldn’t be born with creepy powers like telepathy.
“No,” I say, and then add, “Well, yeah.”
“Don’t worry,” he says. “I’ve been thinking of something that could help with your dilemma.”
“Well, I don’t think we should call it ‘a dilemma’.”
He raises his arms like a conductor, or someone about to give a lengthy presentation. He could be holding an imaginary yoga ball, though it’s hard to say. Considering I’m the only one that ever listens, I’m sure these words will hold little merit.
“What you need to do is this.” His eyes get wide, start glowing. “You bake her a cake, frosting and all. And then leave it on her doorstep!”
I yawn, then spin the price-tagging gun around my finger like a cowboy. “Dynamite plan,” I say, resuming my business with the clothing.
“I’m serious, man. Listen up. Chicks dig cakes.”
“Oh, you’re right,” I say with great emphasis, “I’ve heard this before!”
The loudspeaker above our heads gets louder as it begins playing a new selection of Muzak. Todd must’ve changed the tape. Not a bad execution of a Billy Joel song, if you ask me, though I can’t recall which it is. I hum along as the chorus comes in.
“I’ll even help. Not just with the cake, but with finding out where she lives. I’ve totally got access to this database containing everyone in America’s address.”
I nod, letting him know that he does have a point, then say, “That’s the second stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”
He cocks his head as if taking my comments into consideration, then asks, “And the first stupidest would be?”
“Oh I dunno.” I point to the image on his faded green shirt, and say, “That.”
He looks at it, then looks at me looking at it, and then looks at it again as if observing it for the first time.
“What’s wrong with it?” Were he an emotional man, I’d say he looked somewhat sad. On Will’s shirt is a photo of him riding a tricycle, circa 1996. I know it’s him because I’ve seen it on his refrigerator, lodged in between a pair of casserole recipes.
“Just printed two of these guys yesterday,” he adds admiringly.
Something to know about Will is, ever since I’ve met the guy, he’s launched something like seventeen private businesses. From what I’m gathering, this one is a t-shirt company. But before I can ask what type of person would buy clothes with a lo-res photo of a kid riding a trike, he says, “And funny you mention it, ‘cause that reminds me of something else I’ve been meaning to talk to you about.”
I look at my curly-headed friend, and almost feel bad for giving him a hard time. It’s his face that does it to me—the one he makes when trying to act sincere.
“I had an idea,” he says. “A real one.”
Will’s been with me through it all, ever since the first day—wait, make that first hour of high school. I remind him to make it quick.
“It’s not about girls or anything. It’s about our future. About our well-being, about our livelihood—”
How embarassing it would be if you saw me here first. In Intimates. I can’t believe the entire school year is gone. And like a wuss, I never got up the nerve. What would I have said? I thought about asking to carry your books, except that nobody does that anymore, not since the Women’s Lib movement and all. I wonder if you prefer men who drive motorcycles? Mom told me not to even think about it, but I’ve considered saving up for one after I finally move out.
“So about these shirts I’ve been printing in the basement,” Will says, optimistic as ever.
“Yeah, I know, I was just kidding. I think they’re turning out really well.”
“Thanks. But that’s not what I was gonna say.” He pulls up his Levi’s, which have been falling off his waist ever since he started the summer’s hip new diet program. “I’m starting a company.”
“To sell all these shirts—”
Take it from one working in retail: there are already too many t-shirts in the world.
Truthfully though, can there ever be too many?
“—like us.. who are always looking for something cool and unique—”
The thing is, neither of us have ever talked about looking for what he’s mentioning now.
“—and original to wear—”
You’re losing me, buddy.
“—that can be fashionable yet sexually stimulating.”
Will’s parents, who are as different from mine as parents can be, have supported their son’s “businesses” by entrusting him with a credit card. I used to believe this was one of many fortunate blessings bestowed upon him. But now I’m not so sure. You’d think they’d put some limitations on these expenses by now.
“I’m gonna need your help for the designs. Let’s face it, dude. Mine kinda suck.”
“No,” I say, “that’s definitely not true.”
“Shut up! They do. But I’m fine with it.” He scratches his head. “I’m willing to take on the day-to-day operations, but—” he laughs an unsettling corporate America kind of laugh, “I’m only one guy here!”
I try to explain that I don’t even consider myself a real artist, and that architectural design, which is already a struggle as it is, is a little different from designing t-shirts.
“No way,” he tells me. “Your stuff’s amazing.” He spits on the carpet.
“Don’t do that,” I say, and then “You really think?” referring to the compliment.
“Sure. Don’t be discouraged. Remember that drawing is kinda like this photo of me riding a bike. You gotta practice all the time if you wanna remember how.”
I wonder where all the customers are. For once I wish they’d come, to escape this current conversation. I wish she’d come.
“This week I’ll set up the website,” Will continues, “and help get ideas together for some preliminary sketches to work on. Our designs will be the best to ever adorn an organic cotton double-V.” He pauses, then says, “You don’t wanna work in here forever. Plus it might help you save up for college.”
And this is where he gets me. Must be the telepathy kicking in. The whole reason I took the job in the first place, and the whole reason I act professionally 90% of the time (the other 10% Will comes in to distract me) is this: Next year I’ll be a senior, and after that I’m hoping to enroll in a top college. I’ve thought about Illinois Institute of Technology, or Rhode Island School of Design. We’ll see when the time comes. School’s expensive, and research has shown only the Christian ones generally offer pastor’s kids like me full-paid scholarships.
“Sure,” I say. “I’ll help you get some designs together. If it’ll get you to leave.”
“Awesome,” he says, patting my shoulder. He picks up a bra to try on, but I snatch it from his hands and push him away.
She should be getting here soon. Shoe shopping. Maybe today she’ll walk by Women’s to check on Sales. I’ve got the perfect dress she could wear on our first date, God forbid if I’m that lucky, for under 40 dollars.
You’re coming, aren’t you, Bryanna?
How could I forget? You talked to me once!
It’s estimated there are over 625,000 words in the English language, yet the only ones you’ve said to me are “excuse” and “me,” and only consecutively after we bumped into each other in the hall that day. Your skin smelled like sapphire, if sapphire were a smell and not a precious stone.
Maybe I can’t hear you loud and clear. I’ve probably said more to the Poster Ladies than I have to you.
And then something pops in my mind. I’ve never thought of it before. It’s so stupid it’s kind of amusing.
It’s me that’s never said anything to you!
As Will wanders out the mall’s entrance, I begin fabricating a flawless diagram. A long blueprint unfolds in my mind of the old patterns a man must trace and re-arrange to get ready for love. It’s true that I’m young. But still. I’ve lived enough to learn some things, and one if them is this: in a less-than-perfect world it would take nothing short of a carefully-plotted miracle to cause a girl like Bryanna Summerson to fall desperately in love with me.
24 Comments so far
Leave a comment