Allie’s nine-year old sister took judo biweekly at the mall but since their mother got Lasiked she was immobilized by night haloes and headaches, so Allie and her learner’s permit ferried Cassidy. And for an hour, as Cassidy tossed down boys twice her weight, Allie circumnavigated the sleepy mall alone.
Southern Hills was a long tunnel of ailing coat factories, CD stores, and candy shops, anchored on one end by a three dollar cinema and on the other a place called “Frozen Ropes Academy,” from which came the sound of an icy blacksmith forge, some Nordic hell. The ticket asshole would not sell her R-rated, so she drifted towards the center food court, dinnerless.
It was getting on eight o’clock and most of the stores were shut. In the drugstore, she pocketed two lipsticks and asked the cashier’s opinion on the third. She smoked in a coin-operated spaceship, waiting for a reprimand. She eyed two solo shoppers hustling out of the dollar store.
Only the food court made money, and with good reason. There was a Burger King, an Orange Julius, an unnamed but great kebab stall, and her favorite Baskin Robbins.
Allie walked up and Edgar Vreeland said hi and pulled a mint chocolate chip for her, which he always did. He was half French and a year older than Allie, and after graduation was enlisting in the Navy. Before him she ate as if she weren’t starving.
“I guess I won’t see you ever again,” Allie said.
“You could join up,” Edgar said.
Allie laughed and said, “No girls allowed.”
“That’s not true.”
She changed the subject; they talked about all the stuff he’d have to leave behind, all the places he’d see. About Malta, about Japan, places that to Allie seemed covered in mist. Real but locked away.
“They send you all those places?”
“Most of them,” Edgar said. “You want to see them? You’d cut it. We want a woman like you, that can scrap.”
He was dead wrong, of course. Allie got seasick, and didn’t believe in war. But she liked that he called her ‘woman,’ and she let this boy parlez-vous and innovate and channel her life down romantic, idiotic paths. Her mother hadn’t even asked her what she wanted to do after high school.
Edgar folded his arms on the glass and rested his chin on them, appraising her, seeing what she thought. Cold green meltwater snaked over her knuckles, but she didn’t dare move.
“I’d go,” she said, not even meaning it until his face clamored with joy. She imagined a dress white ceremony off Gibraltar with a cannon salute.
Edgar said, “That’s–that’s great! Wow! You won’t regret it. So, technically only I get the referral bonus, not the recruit, but since we’re kind of friends, does twenty percent sound fair? Two hundred bucks?”
Once, at a restaurant, Allie had taken a wrong turn to the bathroom and burst into the kitchen, where three brawny chefs were horsing around with a slab of beef. “Get out, you little brat,” one had yelled.
Another customer arrived at Edgar’s counter and she made her escape, but he called after her, “Twenty-five percent?”
On the opposite end of the food court, in front of the Burger King, an ancient woman sat with a plain hamburger and kid size fries. $1.59, a meal that could be paid reasonably in coins. The woman was old, very old. Her sturdy handbag nested in her lap. No shopping bags around her–she had come here alone, to the second-rate mall, for her dinner. The food wrappers neatly crimped and folded. A plastic cup of cold water. She pressed French fries one by one into her mouth, staring at closed and locked storefront grates.
Allie looked at her until she could not. At the far end of the concourse, the doors to Frozen Ropes banged open and a troop of buzz cutted sophomore Gruppenführer emerged with aluminum bats and predatory jaws. She wavered in the recirculating air. Behind her stalked a small girl in a gi, her hands out in claws, to show her all the moves she’d learned, going for the throat and the weak places.
CD Frelinghuysen is a writer living in Oakland, a graduate of the MFA program at San Francisco State University, and has fiction forthcoming in Lime Hawk.