Everyone is laughing.
Pointing and whispering to each other as I pass. Looking down at my lower half, making brief eye contact then turning away and snickering. Huddled masses giggling between hushed murmurs and double takes. I feel confused. I’m afraid to look down. I don’t want to know, it’s best if I don’t know. I employ a sideways glance at the enormous window display, a portal into the Abercrombie & Fitch. Not slowing, not obvious, super sly, sneaky I think.
I’m not prepared for the reflection, my reflection. I’m wearing a pair of shimmery gray athleisure shorts, probably Reebok. Bare legs and feet slipped into a weathered and well loved pair of Birkenstocks. Up top, a plain black light-weight hoodie. I’m even more confused than before. Why the scorn and ridicule for something so innocuous as shorts and sandals? Is it my pale legs? The series of scars and scratches adorning them, participation ribbons from my time in crossfit? Are Birkenstocks no longer cool? No socks present so that can’t be it, can it? My mind is racing and snowballing now.
I’m nearing the food court and still anyone that pays me any attention is rewarding me with negative, even cruel feedback in real time. I have to get out of this goddamn mall. I increase my pace slowly at first to not draw more attention, but I feel the heat of a thousand eyes on me as I break into a jog, then a full sprint towards the light pooling at the exit. The panic is settling in for the night, I can feel the heat rising from the bowels of my psyche outwards into my bones and muscles then bursting forth in tiny salty droplets beading every exposed surface of my skin, soaking through my clothes where possible. Just outside the exit I stumble, but catch myself on a stone and stucco column, palms sweaty. My breathing is labored, my heart and head pounding in unison. I’m for sure dying this time.
As I emerge from beneath the awning that’s framing and enclosing the the only way in or out of this monolith to the 1980s I feel the sun start to lay her gaze upon me, soaking into my skin, immediately warming my neck and shoulders. The panic is retreating now, back to its caves in the depths of my mind.
Where did I park? I don’t even remember why I’m here, or even how I arrived, I was just here. As I wander the parking lot the trauma of the recent past is fading, still present, just translucent.
As I pass from parking section C to parking section D I step into snow. I only notice because my toes are exposed, and cold sticky clumps are working their way between my soles and the cork bed of my sandals, with every step it gets worse. The pain subsides quickly as the feeling drains from my feet.
I trudge on, I have to find my car.
The wind is picking up, and the chaotic whipping of snow flurries is making it harder to see. Darkness is seeping in as the sun sets. In the distance I can barely make out a mound of piled snow. As I get closer details emerge confirming the shapes and slopes and protrusions of a standard Toyota Prius. Thank god it’s All-Wheel-Drive my sub-conscious flutters.
I reach for the door handle, an escape from the icy punishment. The mound grabs me first and pulls me hard knocking me off balance and engulfing me, piling on top of me in a smooth motion, the snow isn’t snow any more it’s hard and fluid and the pressure and weight of it is nearly impossible to fight. I struggle and push against the wrapping oobleck-like fluid. The more I struggle the more rigid it becomes. With my final vestiges of strength I relax allowing the blob to advance, as it begins to believe it’s winning I push hard against it and scramble out from underneath it, it slams into the snow creating a plume of loose snowflakes and a hard deep thud, then it melts away into the ground.
I wake up startled and confused. Something lingers…
Best not to know.