I stand in the middle of the Megamart breezeway, frozen. Four massive doors open and shut like robotic mouths. Dozens of people roll through them as though riding a conveyer belt, drone-like shoppers who have no care for the germ-fest that lay beyond.
A mother places a baby in the cart’s safety seat, without wiping it down. At least, I guess you can call it a baby when it still has one of those pacifier thingies. The woman streaks by. The pacifier drops. She picks it up and…
I gasp. The mother dips the pacifier into her own mouth, then slips it between the child’s waiting lips.
I look at the floor. It’s covered in some unknown black gunk that grips the soles of passerby’s shoes, making a peeling sound with every step. Is she that ignorant to the cesspool festering inside her incubator of a mouth…and now her kid’s?
What is she even doing with a child that young at – I check my watch – 11:21 at night?
In fact, why are there so many people here this late at all? I had one objective: buy something from my Christmas list at a public store. My psych didn’t tell me that it had to be during the day when it was busiest, so I picked tonight, a night as far away from December 25th as possible. I don’t get it. Am I tripping or should half these people be…I don’t know…sleeping?
A large family parks their cart beside me. Five children and a husband crowd around the mom who’s holding a Megamart flyer. The woman begins addressing each member of her family one at a time, pointing her finger and barking orders like some sort of Drill Sargent.
“Geneva, you are in charge of getting the double waffle maker for grandma. Grab two if you can. And whatever you do, don’t let go. Chloe, here’s your list. You can get everything if you don’t dilly-dally.”
After a few more instructions, they break apart. As they do, I get a good look at the Megamart ad crumpled in the woman’s hand. The words filling half the page nearly send me sinking to the gummy floor. Black Friday Sale!
I can see the look on my psych’s face when I tell her. That thoughtful stare which really says, “I get paid to laugh behind your back.”
I move past the sticky tile and beyond the gnashing glass and metal teeth. Down the main aisles are six-foot towers of cardboard coated in cellophane. Taped to the heaps are pieces of paper that introduce the trophies beneath. They may as well be those lame stickers you wear at conventions. “Hello, my name is Polly Wiggle Gift Set.” Complete with smiley face.
Every ten feet is another pallet surrounded by an array of sleep-deprived, under-the-weather, or crazy-eyed customers who look more and more like extras in a zombie apocalypse movie than anything else.
I walk past, leaving plenty of leeway, then head for the back. I spot the row full of books. Thank you universe, the aisle is empty.
It doesn’t take me long to find the top selling YA novel, Brain Food. You guessed it, zombies. Caleb will love it. Cool sister point? Check.
I reach for my hankie, but I don’t feel it. I dig through my purse, moving my wallet, shoving aside my sanitizer, checking every zipper pouch and pocket. It’s not here. I glance back to the shelf. The cover art – a pink brain on a silver platter surrounded by a carving knife and fork – stares down at me. Daring me to touch its grubby edges.
A hand reaches past me then nabs the book, leaving nothing but the cream-colored metal of the store’s shelf. I turn to see a man walking away with Caleb’s present. My therapy homework. My proof of being here.
“Wait!” I jog over, but stop about three feet from him. He’s bundled in a thick wool coat, matching grey sweats, and a tripled-wrapped scarf. His skin is ashen except for some random splotches of red. In his hand is a balled up kleenex, shrunken to oblivion from overuse.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” he says with a croak, extending the book to me, “Were you wanting this?”
My stomach turns. I retreat back. “No. My mistake.”
He shrugs then leaves.
That’s what Shopline.com is for. I can purchase, pay for wrapping, and have it shipped anywhere I need it to go – all from a cloroxed environment. Stupid assignment. What was it supposed to prove anyway?
That a little bacteria won’t kill me. That I can participate in society. That I’m not crazy.
I hate my mind. Why can’t I be that oblivious mom who can stick a germ-dipped pacifier in her mouth? Or even someone who can stand breathing the same air as…people. None of them need a hankie for touching things. They don’t need to wash their hands until they bleed. Why did I get the broken brain?
I can almost hear Dr. Morris’ chipper voice. “Positives.”
There are no positives for a defective mind. Well, fine. I guess if it did come down to a zombie apocalypse, my imbalanced brain would probably be the last one devoured. Mental illness point? Check.
* * *
“Dr. Morris?” Pam peeks through my office door. I motion her in. “Your eleven o’clock cancelled and here’s yesterday’s mail.” She slaps the clump of envelopes on my desk.
I nod. “Thanks. Is my nine thirty ready?”
Pam grimaces. “She just called. She’s running behind.”
My mouth tugs up. “What else is new? Send her in when she comes.”
Pam smiles back. She walks out the door, gently pulling it shut. I reach for the stack of mail. A red envelope catches my eye, so I isolate it from the others. It’s from Jenna Hicks, OCD patient. I go to open the seal, but there’s bold writing on the back.
Before opening: Go to www.videoshare/watch.slt1226.01
I look at the time on the corner of my computer screen, 9:32. I should have enough time. I open up the browser, type in the address, and click ‘Enter’.
The title says, “Trampled Customer Scores” then the video streams to life. Through shaky phone-cam, I notice the tale tell signs and banners that signify a Megamart shopping center. People are everywhere, like a festering beehive. Then a voice cracks through the store’s PA system.
“Attention Megamart shoppers…”
The rest of the announcement is cut off by voices overwhelming the phone’s speakers. I just see a mass of individuals swarming, pieces of clear wrapping and brown paper are strewn into the air. The man holding the camera laughs at the chaos. Women ducking, men diving, people running away with clutched items. It was like watching a white trash football game. Why would Jenna send this to me?
It was as though thinking her name made her appear. There she was, walking across my screen. She was out. At a Megamart. On Black Friday. I think of the assignment I gave her a few weeks back then put two and two together.
I watch as she tries to scoot around the frantic shoppers. Then she’s clobbered from behind by a frenzied teen.
I lock my hand over my mouth. She was gone. I couldn’t see past the swirling bodies. The offending teen got up, darted over three people, a small box gripped against his torso. But where was Jenna?
Whatever thing those people were after was emptied within thirty seconds. The crowd began to dilute bit by bit. I see Jenna, hugging herself on the ground. She would hate that. Knowing Jenna, it took an entire day to decontaminate herself – and I’ll hear all about it.
Jenna looks at the camera, propping herself up. “Are you okay?” the camera-holder offers a hand. I’m not surprised when she doesn’t take it.
“Fine,” she says. “I just need to jump into a vat of bleach.” Then I notice something in her hand.
The cameraman’s voice peaks with surprise. “You got one!”
Jenna holds up a new eRead. “Yeah, I guess there’s benefits to being trampled.” I can see the disgusted shiver run down her spine, probably thinking about how many dirty shoes touched her and all the revolting places they may have been.
“Can’t beat thirty-five bucks,” the man chimes.
Jenna examines the eRead, as though she just discovered she was holding something. Her eyes pop wide. “Caleb will love it. Cool sister point? Check.” She makes a check in the air.
The video stops, stuck on Jenna’s smile, her index finger held in place.
I rip open the envelope and retrieve the card. The front is filled with words of alternating red and green metallic colors.
Schizophrania, Bipolar, Tourettes…
A list of psychotic illnesses and mood disorders flow down the page.
I flip it open. A ten dollar Megamart gift card is taped on the left flap. My eyes drift to the right side of the card to read the factory printed words.
Don’t Worry. The Holidays Make EVERYONE Crazy!