This One Time, 62

This one time I was sitting on a bench in the mall having my usual fantasy about a zombie invasion. It’s one of the few things that makes visits to the mall tolerable.

It’s not that I don’t like shopping. I need something, I go to where the stores are. When I get there, I look at the selections. I even try stuff on. I make my choice, taking as much time as it takes to rationalize to myself what I’m getting for my money. And then I take my bag and go home.

And that’s exactly what everyone else is doing. Why would that be bad in any way?

I’ll tell you why. It’s the most crowded place in the world where you can be absolutely alone. If you rip the roof off the place and look at it from above, you see an intricate dance of thousands and thousands of people who pretend nobody but themselves exists. Okay, maybe a few of them are there in pairs or small groups, but even those are isolated, traveling around the place separated from everyone else’s reality with little invisible walls. They all see one another, but no one makes eye contact, almost never, and when it’s your turn to get help from the someone on the floor or behind a register, the rest of the world vanishes. No one cares about who they’re interrupting or who’s in line behind them. All the little niceties and protocols that we use to tell one another we’re all in this together vanish. Suddenly we’re all alone.

I wonder if that’s why malls are such popular settings for zombie movies. On the one hand, you get an assortment of resources from all the stores and kiosks and a near infinite number of places to hide — or to have zombies jump out from. On the other, it’s one of the places we’re used to seeing blank stares that look right through you from someone more likely to smear a handful of your brains on their tits than offer you a friendly smile.

I do my part. I try to meet people’s eyes. I smile. I help people pick up things when they drop them. I offer directions to people looking for things and summon help from the floor staff for people who are too shy to ask for what they want. And I live for the day when someone finds that so suspicious that they have security eject me. Because I’m a man here, alone, a bit on the large side, aging, unaccompanied and unsupervised, and that apparently, by popular convention, makes it 90% likely that I’m some kind of would-be predator. Working up the nerve.

And the truth of it is that every time I see that fear, that assumption on someone’s locked-down face, it brings on the fantasy. Because zombies at least want to interact, to take something from me that they need. I would be important to them in some direct and straightforward way, if not exactly special. And I wouldn’t be some object of casual fear.

Some days the fantasy is pretty strong in the direction of raiding the sporting goods department for a baseball bat and starting swinging. So maybe that’s what people can smell on me, on the other side of my friendly and helpful smile. Maybe that reinforces the fear.

But sometimes the fantasy runs the other way. Sometimes I imagine them seeking me out, converging, pushing me down, tearing strips of skin and flesh off of my body as I struggle involuntarily from the pain, and they feed, impersonally but hungrily. Maybe they’re aware in some little kernel of their empty heads of the horror of what they are doing to me. Maybe they’re not. But they notice me. They want me. They cooperate with each other by sheer dint of numbers, giving each other whatever room is absolutely required for motion, cutting off my escape.

And this sham of life where we all pretend we are walled off from one another ends.


March 3, 2011 · by xalieri · Posted in This One Time  


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