It was my favorite mall as a child, and the place that I first met Santa Clause. They would cascade streamers down the stairs and hang happy photographs from the frost bitten windows. People would be adorned with red, and silver, sequins and glitter. Christmas music would be playing, most definitely. It was the place I went with my family when it was time to buy gifts. Store after store, always looking for just the perfect thing. I’d end the day on the fat mans lap, sharing stories of what we wished for most of all. A fair balance to the Thanks given the month before, I suppose.
This year we’d packed the car full to the rim with packages. My little body crammed itself in between the boxes and bags, content to peer into the crinkly paper that the delicates were wrapped in.
I remember knowing I couldn’t peak into the bags even though I wanted to so badly. I could pretend to be surprised, I knew I could.
The car started and I kept my fingers to myself –barely– teasing the bags with small shakes here and there, listening for a jingle or any other noise that would give away what might be inside.
We began our exit from the garage. A dark, damp, lonely place, that is quite different from the inside of the mall itself. Seven floors with numbers and letters haphazardly slapped onto pillars. We were in spot 346 on level C6, the numbers partially seared into my brain with careful repetition. I’d even made a song. 3-4-6, 3-4-6, do do do, 3-4-6. I’d hopped to the car quickly and begun to flick the handle to the locked door with a click click click until my mom hit unlock.
If you’re familiar with parking garages, which I suppose most are, you’ll know a bit about them. Aside from being dark, damp, and lonely, they are also a bit of a maze. You begin driving in one direction until you find the sign that points towards the exit. The difficulty in this, however, is that the exit sign is also usually accompanied by a “more parking” sign. After several loops following these signs, I noticed that it was not getting lighter.
Typically I wouldn’t be influenced by the light in the car. I didn’t mind the darkness. I even liked how quiet it was, the sound of the tires squealing as you turned about. But on this particular day I’d been gifted a small pre-christmas present. One brand new, slick from the press Archie comic book. I was quite the fan of Archie and the gang, and I was ready to start reading about who Archie had finally chosen. Would it be Betty, the sweet girl next door? Or Veronica, the raven haired seductress? But it was too dark, and I couldn’t see the pages.
My dad was at the wheel while my mom had shut her eyes already and started to nap. I thought it was interesting that she’d fallen asleep so quickly, but I’d also only started to pay attention to being in the car, and being in the parking garage. How long since we’d packed up our bags and turned the key? How many right turns had we made in an attempt to leave?
We’re listening to Chris Isaac again, I thought. Maybe that was a weird thought to have at ten. But I liked Chris Isaac. I really did quite a lot. I never dreamed that I meet somebody like you, I never dreamed that I’d lose somebody like you… The song was on repeat and so were we. We’d passed the same little girl twice now, I realized. I noticed her because she was all by herself and not standing by a car. I thought that was kind of funny but I didn’t say anything. As we drove past her again she looked at me without really looking at me at all.
Dad, did you see her? Did you see the little girl?
He must have been doing that thing where he’s really listening to the music because he didn’t respond to me so I didn’t ask again. I unbuckled my seatbelt and laid down in the seats, head at one door, feet at the other. I closed my eyes and thought about how safe it felt to be in the car. How protected I felt with the vibrations from the stereo against my head. I never dreamed that I’d lose somebody like you. I rolled my head to the side and peered into one of the open bags. Nothing for me here.
My dad was still driving, spinning in circles. I was getting a little worried, but maybe he wasn’t paying attention. Maybe I’d have enough time to sneak a peak at a present, maybe? I opened another bag. Nothing for me here, either. And another, and another. Nothing for me.
I sat up with a frown and the little girl was looking through my window. She pointed at me. How was she looking through my window while we were driving? The cement kept rolling underneath us. The pillers kept coming. I could hear that squeaking of the wheels as they turned each corner. Squeeeeak. The sound echoed against the walls, it almost sounded like we were going deeper. When were we going to be home? She pointed again. Was she following us? Was she running along? I blinked and she blinked too. She tapped on the glass and mouthed something at me. I looked up to my Dad to tell him that the little girl wanted something but he wasn’t driving the car anymore. He wasn’t there at all. No one was.
I wanted to scream but I couldn’t and when I opened my mouth to try, so did she. I realized how that she looked just like I did, if not for a little dirtier. It had been a long time since I’d last gotten dressed. When had I put on that little pink dress? Why was it all ripped at the seams, dangling, why was it red in some spots? She pointed again and I looked down in my lap. The comic I was holding started to burn from the edges. Slowly turning black, crinkling, and floating away.