8:52. Staring out from behind the counter, I look across the mall into the men’s clothing store. Nothing. They must be getting ready to close. Early, as usual. Always two men, in cheap grey or navy suits, working at a store filled with expensive suits and those ridiculous sweaters that everyone’s Uncle wears on Christmas day, folded in rows of three across the front table. The table has been pulled inside the store in preparation for the closing doors which will inevitably close between 8:54 and 8:56.
A few stragglers wander in and out of my vision, as I remain transfixed, staring out into space. They are blurry, obscured. Some in pairs and others walking quickly alone, trying to finish their errands before closing time. There has not been a single person walk into this store for the last four hours. I’m not sure that my feet can move, as they too remain fixed in place on the tile floor. The ache of my feet seems to come from the floor itself, up through the three inch heeled shoes that I was stupid to buy, up my calves and into my hips. The aching fills my hips, causing me to shift my weight from my left toes to my right, sure that if I don’t, I will fall over and not even realize it. There is a moment where I feel lost in space, unsure where my feet end and where the floor begins, and having no idea what time or day it is. I have to shake my head, look away from the men’s store, and start moving or I may never again.
I walk around the cash desks (the POS), looking for something to fold or hang. There is nothing. Every piece of clothing is hung perfectly, all facing the same direction, and all with a security tag settled nicely in the seam. My eyes are burning from the dry mall air, which is also making my throat itch. Recirculated institutional air is suffocating to fresh air worshipers such as myself. As I look through the shelves and drawers of the POS, there are no bags to add, no tissue to fold, and no money to count.
What time is it? 8:55. Five minutes until I can close the doors. One of my coworkers once said that if she was given three months to live, she would live here, because those three months would feel like at least six. Time slows to a grind in a clothing store with no customers. Now what time is it? Looks like six minutes until I can close the doors. Now time is going backwards. On second glance I realize it’s 8:56. Four minutes. Time to move around and start turning things off in order to deter anyone from entering. I slowly stroll over to the front window and reach under the secret door to turn off the security, preventing the alarms from going off when I close the doors. I turn off the mannequin lights, leaving my only companions in the dark. 8:57.
I pull open the cash drawer to total the credit card receipts but there is only one. It’s a big one, but it is from over ten hours ago; a time when the sun was shining, the birds were chirping, and people were full of hope. We live in an alternate society with no windows, and little to show the passage of time aside from the opening and closing of the mall doors. There are other people working here but there is no communication between us, and we remain in competition with one another. They live behind their doors, and I behind mine. 9:00.