IS TRUE THAT I AM LOST AND ALONE, ETC.,
a fatal condition, there is no escape, I may as well be frank about this,
perhaps I do not want to escape, I seem to have brought myself here—I wait
here, I stay here, I continue here, as though expecting some revelation, some
epiphany. It does not come, of course. I am in a valley. A peak rises to the
east, hills to the north and south. In the winter I can see snow. During the
summers the hills are desolate. Rattlesnakes live hiding in the bushes and
the rocks. Occasionally I stumble across them. Their tails lift. There is
an alarming buzz—on the larger snakes a ferocious buzz. I pick my way around
them. From a promontory I look down into the valley. It is here that I was
born, and lived most of my life. I cannot say why. Once there were orchards
and fields. The old farms have been turned into subdivisions. No one is happy.
I see the people in the street and in the cafes. They are sour, angry people.
Why is that? Uneasily I walk among them. Shoppers emerge from huge stores
carrying boxes bigger than they are. They are worse than the rattlesnakes,
more alarming. Their voices whine endlessly. I creep down the empty sidewalks
to the huge store. It resides where once there existed an onion field. I picked
onions as a boy, onions and potatoes and apricots and walnuts. It was the
kind of work we did, in hot fields, the sun baking down, dust everywhere.
Oh, I remember sourness, the stink of dead fruit. I do not wish to remember.
I creep my way to the entrance of the store. People rush by. They are all
fat. They enter empty-handed and emerge fully laden. Women, men. The children
stare at me. They have no shame, only a feral curiosity. "Are you homeless?"
a boy asked me once. He stood with two others near the entrance. "Cmon," he
said, "are you one of them homeless?" I would have edged past them but they
blocked my way. Finally I picked one of them up. He could have been a cardboard
cutout. I picked him up and set him aside. The two others stepped back, away
from me. "He touched me!" the boy cried. "He touched me!" I hurried away.
I dont know where I went. I found myself on an empty street, a street empty
that is except for cars. The cars raced past. They did not seem to be occupied.
I wandered under blighted elms, fruitless mulberries. At last I went home.
I lay on my bed. I stared at the ceiling. Nothing had changed.
THE PEOPLE HURRY INTO THE STORE.
They emerge like pack animals, groaning beneath their loads. At last one of
them stops. For a long moment he glares at me.
"Get out of my way!"
"I'm not in your way."
He begins to breathe heavily.
"Get out of my way before I crush you!"
"I'm not in your way!"
"I'll call the security guard!"
"Foreigners!" he spits out. He limps away.The security guard does not come.
No one else stops. After a while I go home. I live in a garage. On winter
nights the cold air comes through the cracks like the tongue of a cat. I feel
it licking at my bare face. It may be there is danger here which I do not
understand. I eat well and exercise to keep up my strength. When the danger
comes will I be ready for it? On hot afternoons I walk to the store. Sweat
eases from me like sap from a tree. I am the only walking man. Cars race past.
Burdened people groan emerging from the store. I return again and again. Do
I dare go inside? What would I see? I imagine aisles overflowing with goods.
Boxes fallen in corridors. Crowds of panting people. I go inside. It is exactly
as I imagined. Goods are piled to the ceiling. Incomprehensible things hang
from hooks. I begin to count the different things on the shelves. An hour
later I am still counting, but the number is so large I cannot understand
it. In despair I grab an item and hurry to the cash register. Only then do
I see what I have taken. It is a dust buster. What is a dust buster? The woman
at the register scowls at me.
"Are you a senior?"
"I dont know--"
"Well, is you or aint you?"
"How do you tell?"
"You gotta know
"I dont know!"
"Of course you know!"
"Then you aint! You aint!"
She stabs at the register. Her corpulent face has turned red. "No discount!"
she cries in triumph. "No, no discount for you!" She deposits the dust buster
into a yellow plastic sack. I have given her money—I dont know how much.
"Nine sixty-three!" she cries. Coins and bills are slapped into my hand. I
start to leave. "Take it!" she cries after me. The plastic bag dangles from
her hand. "Take it! You bought it! It's yours!"
I GO TO THE STORE. I CREEP UP AND DOWN
its aisles. Nothing ever changes. The floor is always polished. The shelves
are always full. This is true no matter how much is hauled away. Are there
people replacing the goods before they even leave the store? The temperature
remains always the same. It doesnt matter whether it is night or day. When
it is sweltering outside it is cool within. When it is cold outside it is
temperate within. Each day I see the same people pushing the same wire carts.
Am I being offered a glimpse of eternity? I go inside as though I am going
into a cathedral. I compare the store to my paltry garage with its sofa-bed
and Salvation Army chairs and concrete floor stained by oil, its windowless
confines as close as a prison. Each time I return to the garage I sink lower.
Oh, there is no future here, there is no love, no constancy beyond the awful
constancy of despair! I begin to cry at night. I feel the tears roll hotly
down my cheeks. In the morning I go to the store. I spend the day there, in
numbered aisles, praying. At last a security man takes my arm. "It's time
to leave," he says. He's been watching me. "Youre not shopping," he says,
"It isnt that," I tell him. But his grip is firm.
He is quite secure in his actions. His shirt strains over his pot belly. We
go to the door, which opens automatically. I am outside. A man grunts nearby
loading cartons onto the roof rack of his car. A stolid woman watches him,
licking her lips. I go home and lay on my bed staring at the ceiling. Have
I changed? Has anything? The next day I climb into the hills, past the hissing
rattlesnakes, and look down into the valley. The town is there, as I remembered.
I can see the store, or one just like it. Oh, there is no salvation, I say.
I stare around me at the rocks and dry bushes. No, there is no salvation.
With my head hanging I descend, back to where I came from.
NOTES: The Store was written in the 1990s, and published
in Black Ice #14 (1998). In those days, Walmart was still fairly new on the American landscape. When ours opened, i used to go there and stare at the people. It was frightening. I also lived in a garage, with a Salvation Army sofa and a stained concrete floor, and went for walks in the hills with the rattlesnakes.