Alright, I’m back again to share with you the third installment of my short story The Shopper Awakes. If you haven’t already, make sure to read Part 1 and Part 2. If you want to own the story and read more like it, check out my book The Madness of Art: Short Stories available on Amazon in paperback and as an ebook.
She thought she understood it at once: the street signs read Hawthorne, a place unremarkable except for a few vintage clothes stores and was known to be hostile to people of her dignity and background. She knew she would be infinitely better off if she could make it to the heart of the commercial district or at least to the trendier areas of the Pearl. The battery of her cell was dead, having dwindled into nothingness a century ago, but as far as she knew, it was busted, since she distinctly remembered charging it on the way to the theater. Desperate, she tried to hail a cab but none appeared. She tried to hitch a ride but drivers glared at her like she escaped from the funny farm. She felt like she was the worst thing imaginable to her: provincial. A townie. Someone with a trade. Someone with a trade, but she had no trade—that would at least be a consolation. Finally, she settled for a bus.
To her surprise, none of her fellow passengers stared at her with thinly veiled envy or awkwardly muted lust, both of which could be pleasant in their own way. Instead, they looked at her as if there was something off, not quite right, amiss, and she knew very well everything was in its right place with her, in the right proportion, in the finest fashion. Was it, she wondered, the plunging neckline of her dress, or the highness of her hem? These people were too conservative, she thought, or not conservative enough.
The bus divested itself of her at the entrance to Clackamas Town Center as she’d demanded it to. As she got out, she was given a vision of something uncompromisingly post-apocalyptic, like something out of a movie… Like the town in the movie she had just watched half of. She foggily recalled the squalid setting of the film, a place simply called Every Town, full of bitter maids and horrid men and no glamour whatsoever. For our heroine, based upon her slightly prejudiced perception, every town in our world had become Every Town.
The shambles of the towering mall were the clearest example of the frightfulness of the new world. Gone were the monolithic giant advertisements of mostly nude and anorexic European models. Gone were the humble shop clerks who followed her like wide-eyed puppies. Gone were the pretzels, the smoothies, the manicure parlors, the sensory deprivation tanks, the redundant theaters, and the twenty-minute colonoscopy clinics. In their place? Inspired portraits of Edith Wharton, Nat King Cole, Carl Jung, H.G. Wells, Eugene Delacroix, Nina Simone, Lord Byron, Susan Sontag, Ray Bradbury and other people she didn’t know of or recognize. The stores each looked more like living rooms than high-end boutiques, and lower-class living rooms at that. Overall, it looked the same as the department store she woke in. There were children bathing and singing in the koi pond, and Beethoven played over the PA system. She wondered bleakly, what fount of grubbiness was this?
Hoping to find some dim sign of sanity amidst this vast cultural dereliction, Rita honed in on miasmal photons illuminating a darkened corner of a nearby store, knowing there to be either a TV–the twentieth century’s mainspring of information–or a computer–the twenty-first’s. Poor Rita had to settle on a product out of the past; it was a UHF TV haunting the lonely end of the store, and a shabby one at that, with rabbit ears and about eight stations on the dial. For her generation, keep in mind, there was never enough. A commercial played on the set. The narrator had the perfected bland-but-comforting voice, wonderful for hawking wares, and the footage was lighted with indulgent phosphorus, redolent of cleanliness and sterility. He spoke in a sort of mock-whine, “Are you tired of having hard to place existential angst? Tired of dry, irritating platitudes from men who claim to be latter-day philosopher kings? Then try our new three volume set for a change! Heidegger, Sartre, Beauvoir, all for three easy payments of $8.99. But wait, there’s more. Order at your leisure and receive this complimentary volume of Camus for free.”
Rita was puzzled; she’d never heard of those bands. She changed the station to another ad featuring a voice similar to the last, sophisticated-yet-androgynous, who said, “Hi there. If you’re like me, you’re sick of writing embarrassing invitations and RSVPs that reveal gaps in your cultural understanding. That is why we are happy to offer the new and updated universal calendar, now featuring chronology respectful to many different beliefs and cosmologies, including Christian, Orthodox Judaism, Gregorian, Mayan, Traditional Chinese, and many more. For you film buffs out there, we’re presenting a timeline where 1967 becomes Cinema Year Zero.” The camera panned to the calendar, devastating Rita. The year was 2110–or year 143 for cineastes.
How completely horrible, her phone plan must’ve expired long ago! How could she call anyone? Wait! Who could she call? Things were worse than she could possibly imagine–a life of happiness had that problem.
Fate hadn’t allotted her the time to consider the full breadth of her misfortune. A slouching bedraggled middle-aged man in a raggedy housecoat and cut-off jean shorts pointed at her while exclaiming, “What are you doing in my house…”
She turned as if to run.
“Without a drink or something to snack on?”
Even as his hostility was cordially unmasked as hospitality, she ran from the ruins of the department store, thoroughly at a loss–weirded out. The department store was his house? She scooted along yellowing tiles in heels.
Again, make sure to check out my book The Madness of Art: Short Stories if you’re enjoying this. Check back tomorrow for part 4!