The T-shirts smelled.  A miasmic scent combination of half-rotted ink, completely rotted dreams and antiseptic newness wafted up from the box like undead fingers questing for new bodies to pull beneath the peat.  The plastic wrapped around the inside of the shirts crinkled like fallen synthetic leaves as she reached inside.  A thirty year old cartoon pig winked up at her in a way the character’s creators had never intended.

“I hate irony.”  A heavy sigh followed this pronouncement, followed by a truly unsatisfying swish as she slammed them down on the grey, pseudo-industrial shelf.  When one is truly irritated at the articles one is shilling, a swish is not the sound to be produced by one’s utter disdain and lack of respect.   There should be a crunch, or a crack, or some other onomotapaeitic construction, but not a swish.  Swishes are for over-muscled jocks to make on basketball courts or satin skirts to make as the slide down the legs after a little too much wine—

No, she told herself sternly.  She wasn’t going there again.  Mistakes could be dealt with, just not first thing on a Tuesday morning after rebuilding a computer all night.  Scowling, she grabbed the empty boxes to pull them through the store before (GASP!) a customer saw them and realized that the crap on the shelves wasn’t dropped there by elves that couldn’t find a cobbler to help next door at Thom McCann.

The door grated across the irregular floor tile just like always.  Eventually, it’d break, but today it just worked to break her spirit.  As the door swung closed, it caught in the same spot again.  Absently pulling it closed, she began the ever-longer trudge to the register in the store’s center.  The blue pen began tapping absently against the paper as her sightline travelled across the wares being offered.

“This stuff is all crap,” she declared, not for the first time.  Somewhere, nostalgia had met irony on a singles cruise and the two were wed.  Their progeny, truly fruitful, wanted to move out amongst the rest of the world to taint all recollections of the Good Things from the past.  There was even a stop motion character lifted from some Christmas special she half-remembered emblazoned with “You Just KNOW I’m Gonna Lose AGAIN!” on one of the shelves.  Shaking her head at this, she absently played with the turntable displaying the pseudosilver jewelry under one of the store’s only white lights.  Every so often, the light would catch a plane on a crucifix or some other piece, briefly glaring in the eye.

“Apparently you CAN shine turds.”  Another sigh.  Just to break the monotony, she decided to walk around the store.  Older people in sneakers designed especially for walking around malls walked around the mall.  Unsurprisingly, none came into the store.  Perhaps they were put off by the synth-heavy synthetic corporate metal droning from the hidden speakers.  Maybe it was her attitude putting them off.  Probably, though, they felt a retro-punk concert replication from the British Underground Punk Scene by way of a Malibu studio wouldn’t blend well in the nursing home.

“There’s that irony again.”  She straightened a few posters.  Makeup clad punk bands, bikini clad supermodels, and rainbow clad cartoon animals were all sorted into their own bins.  She distantly wondered what a punk band, piercings-laden, would look like in a polka-dot bikini on a cartoon unicorn.  Eventually, after turning on the tiny concert light replicas, she resumed her oracular post, looking around for a sign to show her how far Delphi was from this place.  None was readily available.

Hours went by.  A poem, begun days ago when she was supposed to be studying neuropsychology, teased, unfinished, from the doodle laden page.  She glanced through the lines, but the only emotion stirred was ennui.  It was similar to too many of her previous writings.  Certainly, one or two new lines distinguished it from previous efforts, but they all screamed, “I WAS WRITTEN BY HER!!”  The only thing that showed this wasn’t an old piece was the clear, oily ink smell.

Another circuit of the store.  An irritation began to grow at the back of her head.  Everything in the place was recycled, new trash being layered on old garbage slathered on older refuse.  There wasn’t a single thing to explore, to experience, to make uncomfortable.  The store specialized in marketing the Reused in New, Sparkling (Or Pre-Weathered) Ways.  The tin pails across the back wall, exact size and designs of the lunchboxes kids had taken to school, held a thin grey dust layer.  What would happen if she actually put her lunch in one?  Surely, the manufacturer had spies hidden in every corner of the country to leap out in case one of these nostalgicans were used for the original purpose.

The security buzzer sounded.  Her midshift employee was here, early this time.

“Hey,” he muttered.

“Hey,” she replied.  A wealth of information about the current status of the corporation’s operations in the establishment was conveyed in those two words.   She continued to tap the pen against the unfinished work.   A sudden impulse, born like a fire under a magnifying glass, finally sparked into flame.   She pulled the page out, the popping tearing noise oddly satisfying.  It crinkled as she used her Ultimate Manager Power, balling it up into nothingness.  A quick toss that missed the garbage can completely ended its pointless exsistance.

After a moment, she looked at the balled up paper.  Truly, its existence WAS pointless.  Not just because she hadn’t finished it, either.  What hope did she have to add to the poetic lexicon?  What hope of adding anything to the culture of the world, or even her neighborhood, did she have?

“I’m taking off,” she told her underling.  “Don’t torch the place.”

“Well, THAT ruins my plans for the afternoon.  Love to watch this place burn.”

Ah, irony again.

She left, wandering the quiet mall.  It was a gathering place where no one was gathered.  She found her way into the music store, where people far younger than her in Polo shirts that were far crisper than anything she wore—or anything in her STORE, for that matter—waited with feigned chipperness.  She thumbed through a few CD’s, moving from genre to genre.  The store even had a small rack of vinyl in the back for the odd or the purists or the terminally trendy.  But even amongst the new releases, she knew what she’d hear.  Teen angst, or countercultural anger, or cowboys mourning their wives/beer/dog/beer/truck/job or beer, or slightly talented teens modified by AutoTune into pseudoprodigies.

“It’s all been done.”  Shaking her head, she walked out into the mall.  She strolled past fashion stores where the designs were new thirty years previously, or electronics stores where the only thing new was yesterday, only packaged smaller, or a previously unseen-by-human-eyes color, or just more expensive,  or a mattress store promising a new massage feature on mattresses apparently delivered from space.

No, she realized, they were developed FOR space.  For a space shuttle that was now a museum piece.

Even going past the news stand.   Even today’s latest newspapers delivered the same headlines as always.  Politicians sleeping with their cars, sports figures saying things they had no business saying, TV stars sleeping with politicians, reality show stars in rehab, blah blah blah.  Oh, but someone distantly related to the Queen’s hairstylist’s dog’s vet had a new diet!  They already dropped 360 pounds!!

Even the color scheme at the mall was dull, the same.  Tans, beiges, browns, the occasional splash of green.  The mall was peopled by people just as colorless.  No one smiled, no one chatted, they flitted about like dirty hummingbirds, intent on pollinating their flowers or buying some new pair of jeans that someone at a denim company designed for the Upper Pleistocene.

Somehow, her path took her past the movie theater.  Garish posters showing sequels to underperforming summer films sat next to comedies that had been made from old TV dramas next to animations that were supposed to have hidden jokes for the adults.  Irony again.  The smell of fake popcorn butter pulled at her stomach.

“I’m going home,” she said to no one in particular.  She pressed out through the Art Deco doors  into the sunlight.  The morning’s fog had burned off.  She walked over to the bench to await the bus.  After a moment in the sun’s warmth, she shed the black flannel shirt, sitting now in just her pale pink T-shirt.   It was so unlike the crap she sold.  There was even a tiny daisy embroidered into the center of the shirt.  A few leaves were different than the others.  It had been made by hand.  She contemplated the flower for a moment.  Glancing around, she saw a real flower, straining against the ground, reaching its petals up toward the sun.  The palest of pinks on the inside sat with the most striking red she’d seen in some time.  Thinking again, she realized the same red was across a dozen band shirts inside, either bloody letters or fingers or something—but THIS!  This was just RED.  It conveyed more of a feeling than the shirts ever would.  It communicated volumes more than the people who wore the shirts would ever know or say.  Her eyes traveled again, under the blue sky.  Yellow shrubs, a robin’s red feathers, green grass.  She began to walk, experiencing all this.  She’d seen it all for years, but never like…like this.

“I’m coming home.”  She walked, the fresh, moist air filling her lungs, the fresh, moist world filling her soul.  There was a patch of cleared earth, the dirt the same color brown as the inside walls.  It was so much richer.  Her steps carried her through the world, each one a new familiar experience.   Somewhere, the unfinished poem gained an end, standing separate from all her other work, as individual as all the unique blades of grass beneath her feet, but combining into a whole.


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