The Mall by Aaron Levy
When you’re Jewish, you don’t really believe in hell. I do, though, cause I’m in it now – trying on summer clothes for sleep-away camp.
“I don’t know why we have to do this,” I say. “Obviously, I haven’t grown.”
“You’ll grow, Larry. This summer you’ll grow like a weed. Nature will take its course. Now, here, put this on.” It’s a terrycloth jacket that you wear over your bathing suit. It’s got a duck on it.
“I don’t want to wear that,” I say. “Ever.”
“Why? It’s brand new.”
“It’s got a duck on it.”
“So what’s wrong with a duck?”
My mom just folds clothes and puts them into different piles. Her hands are like hummingbirds, folding and piling; I just can’t figure out her system. But I know there will be an announcement coming at the end of the folding and piling that will decide my fate.
“You need jeans,” she announces.
“Oh no,” I say as if she’s about to put me in the dungeon.
“You can’t go to camp without any jeans. You’ll get eaten alive.”
“Oh no.” It’s washing over me. I know it’s coming and I hear my mom’s next statement like I always hear it. Her voice becomes the deep sound of Satan in slow motion.
“We’re going to the MAAAAAALL,” she says. The Cherry Hill Mall, my Mother’s favorite place. I hate it. Marna hates it too, even though she’s a girl and is supposed to love shopping. But going to the Cherry Hill Mall with my mom is not shopping. It’s more like invading, cohabitating with the racks, burrowing or hibernating. It is jail.
See, we never just go to the mall, buy me a pair of jeans and leave. “Well, I don’t know what size you are,” my mom says. “I’m not making a million trips,” she says. And I just think, why not? It’s your favorite place to be in America.
If my dad were allowed to, he would hate the mall too. He just drives, holds bags of new clothes, and gives opinions about whether things fit. Most times my mom will take the opposite of his advice. When we try on shoes, his job is to see where our big toes come to. That’s a good job.
And somehow when the glass doors open, there are racks staring me in the face that are totally unrelated to what our mall purpose is, which doesn’t help my mom with her focus.
“Mom, we’re here to get jeans,” I protest.
“Thirty percent off,” she says like a zombie. “Just one second.”
“We’re here to get me a bathing suit,” Marna says without much umph to it. She knows that my mom will be fully hypnotized in 3, 2, 1…
“Clearance,” my mom slurs.
“And she’s gone,” Marna says.
“Yup,” I say.
“Lights out,” my dad says.
“Dad, you promised that we would just get me jeans and Marna a bathing suit and then we’d leave.”
“Yes, but how were we to know that there’d be a sale? Hmm?”
“I’m so bored,” Marna says. “C’mon, Larry, let’s go sit on a bench and watch time specifically disappear.”
“Now you’re thinking.” My dad is proud.
“I don’t want to watch time disappear,” I say.
“It’s good for your coordination, Boy,” my dad says.
Marna grabs me and takes me to this bench that is away from the forest of racks. I see somebody I know come in the front door. It’s Robert Bullock from school and Hebrew School. He’s with his mom and his mom is tall and I’ll bet his dad has to duck just to get his tall head into a room or a car. My parents are the same size: short.
Robert sees me and of course he looks up and down at Marna, which is way irritating.
“That kid’s in your grade?” Marna asks me.
“Cause he’s like two feet taller than you. Are you sure you’re going into eighth grade and not, like, second?”
I ignore her. That’s the only way to bother Marna, to ignore her. I learned the trick from her.
“Okay, I guess you don’t want to hear the secret I know,” she says. It’s her anti-ignore-me trick that she learned from herself.
“Mom and dad…just forget it.”
Marna looks all around like were being followed by the F.B.I., “They’re getting divorced.”
“What?! They are not. You lie.”
“Why do you think they’re sending us off to camp again?”
“You’re full of crap.”
“Okay, you’ll see.”
She is driving me crazy ‘cause you can never tell if Marna is lying or not.
“Think about it,” she says.
“Well, they have been fighting, like, a lot,” I say.
“But I thought that was about money or something.”
“Why do you think people get divorced? Duh.”
Just then, my dad appears, points at me, grunts and I go. Minutes later, I’m trying on jeans in the fitting room.
“Dan, look at these,” my mom summons my dad over to the mirror right outside the fitting room. Her face crinkles, “I don’t like ‘em.”
“Why?” I ask.
“It doesn’t look good in the back. Too much slack.”
“I like the slack,” I say. “I do. These fit.” This is the sixth pair. She’s found another jean tree. It’s getting dark outside. Enough.
“No, they don’t. There’s slack.” She grabs a handful of jeans at my butt. “You have slack butt.” She reaches into the rack tree. “Just try this on right here.”
“I’m not going to try it on right here in front of everyone.”
“Real quick. Nobody can see. I’m blocking ‘em. Just go fast. C’mon. C’mon.”
My mom is starting to get impatient too, but that doesn’t mean we leave. We just
go faster, no longer time for fitting rooms.
“No. I don’t like it,” she says. “Dan!” she calls.
“Hmm?” My dad is at the end of being goofy and the beginning of one syllable utterances.
“Do you think there’s too much slack?”
Now my dad is pulling the slack at my butt. “Hmm.”
“I just don’t think these fit,” my mom says.
“They do fit,” I say.
“You’re just saying that.”
“I’d like to go home,” I say.
“Fine,” she snaps. “You act like I’m here for my health,” she says loud enough that I see Robert Bullock take his eyes off Marna. “I’m not here to buy me clothes! Dan, it’s our fault. We give and give and GIVE!”
My mother is amazing because she can get angry and still shop. Before I know what’s happening, she’s putting another pair of jeans on me while she publicly berates me.
“We work our fingers to the bone. To the bone! Just to give you the best jeans! Now, pull up the pants!”
Everyone not only hears her give me the business, but they also see, because we are not in the dressing room, that my mom, my mommy, is dressing me.
Something comes over me. I grab at the pants and push them back down around my ankles.
She looks at me. I’m breathing hard, trying to hold it all back. “What’s your major malfunction, Buster?”
And I say it: “You just want to buy me all these clothes and send us away to camp so that you and dad can get divorced.”
My dad just shrugs his shoulders as my mom asks me, “Where do you get these big ideas?”
“I just know it.”
She looks at Marna who says, “Ah, mom, the kid’s got his pants down around his ankles in the middle of JC Penney.”
My sister grins and sticks her nose up to the ceiling. I look at my mom and then atmy dad. “So you’re, you’re not?”
My dad says, “Nope.” My mom says, “Uh-uh.” And then she says, “Besides, Larry, like we’ve always told you…we’ll never get divorced because…” This part they both say together, in unison, like they’ve been practicing for years, “Neither one of us wants the kids.” They laugh ‘cause saying it at the same time is funny to them.
“Now, c’mon.” My mom says, gesturing at the jeans crinkled down at my feet.
I pull up my pants and my mom, in the interest of speed, zips.
“Ouuuuch!” I cry.
“What?! Oh my God. Dan?! He’s stuck!”
My dad reaches down to shimmy the zipper—
“No!” I scream. “I’ll handle it,” I say softer. I want to get back to the dressing room, but I realize I’m not goin’ anywhere. I draw in a giant breath, gently pull. Mission accomplished. I’m unstuck. As I continue to hold my breath, I feel tears well up like what happens when you get hit in the nose.
“Are you okay?” my mom asks.
“I’m okay,” I exhale.
“He’s okay,” my dad agrees.
My mom looks at the seven pairs of jeans draped over her arm, then back to the rack. The jeans, me, the rack. Again. Jeans, rack, my dad. Jeans, rack. And then, “I want to go home,” she says.
And we do.
Aaron Levy currently teaches creative writing and English Education at Kennesaw State University in Atlanta, GA. His award-winning plays have been produced nationally and internationally, and published by Dramatic Publishing and Smith & Kraus. Recently he has had or will have shorter work appear in Eleven Eleven, The Kennesaw Review, and Apollo’s Lyre. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, and soon visit his new website at www.aaronlevy.net.