Friday, March 15, 2024


Al Bruno

Fall 2000

It was not a physical decay that had rotted Mountainview Mall away from the inside but an economic one. The stores had bled away bit by bit. Some had been small businesses that never stood a chance, like a store that sold nothing but products made in Switzerland. Others had been casualties of changing tastes and fashions.

Losses like that could be dealt with, but when the mall's McDonald's closed down, it was the beginning of the end. I was there for a liquidation sale for a big box electronics store that had been placed there in hopes of reviving customer traffic. The plan had failed, and now this store was the only business left. Everything else was just empty windows and boarded-up doorways. I wasn't there to buy anything but would bring something away with me nonetheless.

Bargain hunters like me entered the mostly defunct electronics store through the front door, but there was another door to be found. It was at the back, near the nearly empty video department. All left there now was a handful of Playboy features and cheaply produced Disney direct-to-video movies. I doubt anyone would have the nerve to bring either video cassette to the sour-looking woman at the register. That second door was kept open to cool down the store, better than paying for air conditioning.

It was easy enough for me to slip through those doors and wander into The mall's darkened interior. I could see the empty spaces that had been a Woolworth's, a restaurant, and Spencer's gifts. When I was a teenager, I had frittered so many hours and dollars away in this place.

The mall's fountain had dried up long ago, the water turned off, the pennies and nickels snatched away. There was dirt and dust everywhere, as well as scraps of old paper and rat droppings, some dried and some fresh. The newspapers said that as soon as the electronics store was emptied, this mall would be knocked down, and a much more eye-pleasing shopping plaza would rise up from the ruins. There were even hushed and reverent whispers that a Target or Wal-Mart would be there.

I wondered when that would be. I was thirty-six, and so many of my life's landmarks had disappeared or changed into something unrecognizable. I asked how much longer it would be before the wrecking ball came for this place. I didn't know, but I knew this would be my last chance to get what I had left behind.

Despite the shadows and the grime, I found the spot easily. It was just an ordinary bench; I remember it faced a women's clothing store. The bench was chipped and lopsided. It creaked threateningly as I sat down. When I closed my eyes, I could remember the girl sitting beside me. The strawberry blonde, my first love.

The sounds came first, the murmur of voices, the empty din of the piped-in music. I saw myself at sixteen years old, so awkward and forever feeling like I would never measure up to the world's expectations of me.

I could tell you that my first love was as cute as a button, but that would be a lie because there wasn't a button made that could have held a candle to her. I remembered the white winter jacket she wore and the scent of her perfume. It was soft, gentle, and unique like her, and I never smelled it like it again. That day, we had been sitting side by side, joking and talking. That first kiss, my first kiss, happened so fast, and after that, nothing was ever the same again.

Did we look ridiculous sitting there, making out in full view of the world? Probably, and I suppose more than a few people didn't approve, but no one tried to separate or shame us.

Which is good because you couldn't have pried her from my embrace with a crowbar. I didn't want those kisses to end. I wanted them to go on forever.

Impossible, I know, but when you're sixteen, time moves so slowly that forever seems easy.

But there was no forever. There was just that moment, which had ended as surely as Mountainview  Mall had become a faux-deco tomb. I opened my eyes, and I was thirty-six- definitely older but only maybe a little wiser. I have a wife, daughter, and an appalling number of pets waiting for me back home, and for all my mooning over the past and smartass remarks, I couldn't wait to see them.

I savored that memory, hiding it away in my mind and my heart as I brought it with me. I was sure no one would mind one less ghost haunting a place like this.



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