Girls at the Mall || Kathryn Fitzpatrick

          Nothing to do in this stupid town but hang out at the mall. We buy pretzels and talk about school shootings, try on earrings, poking them in and everything. Which you’re not supposed to do. Due to germs. And try on bathing suits without underwear, which you’re not supposed to do, either. Due to AIDS. You can get pregnant, too. Which we are. Not from a bathing suit, but from John, who stuck his dick in Chrissy and then in me and told us not to tell. Now we’re both pregnant by John, but you’d never know it because we’re skinny like supermodels.

          We go to the dressing room to try on thongs and give birth.

          “It’s time,” Chrissy says.

          We bend over and babies come out. We wad them up with the clothes we don’t buy. They’re so shiny with gunk. They smell.

          We take off our shirts and bras and make our boobs squish together.

          “Maybe we’re gay for each other.”

          “Nah,” I say, thinking about John.

          “But what if we are?”

          “You’re gay for me, but I’m not gay for you.”

          Chrissy punches me in the stomach and I fake like it hurts. Then we’re on the floor laughing so hard we scare the dressing room girl, who knocks.

          “Are you okay? Are you okay? Are you okay?” she asks.

          Chrissy pokes out her head. “Do you have this in size twelve?”

          Before the dressing room girl comes back we stuff things down our pants. We leave our babies on the bench, oozing. Walk out real slow, like, totally chill.

###

          In the parking lot all the cars look the same. Mom’s car’s white, four-door, and she doesn’t know I took it. We spend twenty minutes beeping the remote, waiting for a door to unlock.

          “Did you like it?” Chrissy asks. I’m driving and she’s cutting tags off our loot.

          “Like what?”

          “His dick in your pussy.”

          I have to think. “Sort of. I mean, I didn’t come but it was warm and made me feel full.”

          “Sex makes me feel empty.”

          “You’re gay, Chrissy. You don’t like dick.”

          “I might like dick. I just don’t like John.”

          Then I think about the girl down the street who got abducted and escaped a year later, with weird tattoos on her arms and dead eyes. Her name was Patti but He changed her name to Elysian Fields and then she went by Siam.

          “Chrissy, do you ever talk to Siam?”

          “You mean Patti?”

          “I mean Elysian Fields.”

          “Not since he returned her.”

          “He didn’t return her, she escaped,” I say. “Hey, if someone abducts me, will you try to find me? Or will you forget and not want to look?”

          Chrissy stops. “Realistically speaking? I mean, do you want a true answer?”

          “Yeah. The truth.”

          “Of course I’d look for you. I’d never stop looking. But the truth is, if you go away for a year, I’m getting a new best friend.”

          “I’m your best friend?”

          “Of course you are, dummy.”

          I don’t know whether to be happy that we were best friends or sad that I could be so easily replaced.

          Mom tells me I could never be replaced because I’m an only child, but Mom hates malls. So I lie to her, never telling where I’m going with Chrissy, or what John has done.

          When Mom was young, she worked in a record store in the same mall, a part-time employee with other teenage girls. When she and the other girls were working, a man would call the store and ask if they were on their period. The girls felt watched, in danger, and kept calling mall security to walk them to their cars at night after closing, until it was discovered the calls were coming from the security office.

          “What happened to me was nothing,” Mom says. “Other girls lost everything in the mall, even their lives.”

          “Come on, Mom.”

          “How bad do you want to go shopping there? Is hanging out at the mall worth your future? Is it because of Chrissy, or some boy?”

          “No,” I lie.

          “A man? Oh, god no! Say it’s not so! Not a man!”

          “No,” I say, never daring to tell her about John or that he works as a mall security guard, her worst nightmare.

          With Mom, mall horror stories never end. She makes no distinction between malls and haunted houses, except to say malls are more dangerous for girls to visit.

           Every Christmas, instead of telling me the story of Christ’s birth, she tells me the story of her childhood friends, Rachel Arnold, Renee Wilson, and Julie Ann Moseley who were 17, 14, and 9 the last they were ever seen on December 23, 1974, when the three girls went to a Texas mall to do some last-minute Christmas shopping. All these decades later, they still have not returned. 

          “How awful,” I whisper, holding Mom’s hand, planning another trip to the mall.

          Later, I tell John what Mom said, and he laughs. “Those girls were taken from the Sears lot,” he says. “I remember when it happened. The other mall security guards used to visit them all the time. They grew up in captivity in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, in the same town their parents were. By the time they were adults, they were members of the stable. The younger girl died giving birth to a child.”

          “Prove it,” I say, thinking he’s a liar.

          “What?”

          “Take me there.”

          “Where?”

          “The stable.”

          “You?”

          “I want to see it.”

          We get into his Honda, the one with tinted windows, and I’m surprised when he drives us back to the mall.

          “Where are you taking me?” I ask.

          “I thought you wanted to see it.”

          It’s been dark for hours, and the mall is closed. We wait in his car as security guards clear out the mall’s halls, locking down the stores when John whispers: “In any mall, if a window looks like a mirror to you, people inside can see just fine.”

          “What people?” I ask.

          “The ones in the stable.”

          Deep inside the empty mall, he leads me into places I never knew existed, secret tunnels security guards walk, the ones behind the girls’ bathrooms, where mirrors are windows for men to look inside and the ceiling tiles and walls have peep holes. These tunnels eventually lead to the basement, where concrete floors have been hosed down near cages made of cyclone fencing with padlocks.

          Girls names have been scratched into the walls, carved behind the cages along with beginning and end dates and scrawled trees with branches leading from the girls’ names to the names of their children, born into captivity.

          I imagine Mom’s heart breaking when John informs me I’m not allowed to leave unless I can convince Chrissy to come here to take my place.

          Days have turned to weeks as I wait.

          Every day, I watch from behind the bathroom mirrors, waiting for Chrissy, thinking of ways to get her down here, as I plot my escape.