You’re on the second-floor concourse when it happens. It’s one level up from the music store and neighboring one-hour photo place where you stuff Kodak and Fuji film canisters into envelopes and occasionally sell a camera.
True, Schmitt Music employs a bullpen of organists—bland, sweatered men that you and your co-workers wave at each morning as you duck under your respective security grilles.
Like one of those early morning seniors, you’re speed walking, hips swinging and arms pumping, when he stops you. Stalling your ability to get home and rinse off the eau de Maplewood, with its base of commercial cleaner and cloying upper notes of Fannie May, Mrs. Field’s, and Karmelkorn.
He’s the youngest organist, maybe a year or three older, exuding a corn-fed farm boy vibe. You’d bet an hour of your $3.85 minimum wage that his surname is Scandinavian. A safe choice. Someone your mom would love. A nice young man who likely plays the organ for services in his family’s Lutheran church.
Would it matter to him that you were raised Catholic, that you’d be headed to Mass before tomorrow’s ham dinner?
During work hours, you’ve learned this rookie organist is just as likely to play a Journey power ballad as he is to play “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head.” You marvel at the couples, always middle-aged or older, who gather for these impromptu concerts. You try to guess which of them get suckered into buying an instrument best left to churches. After a few months on the job, the schlocky drum tracks ooze into background noise, further anesthetizing you to the mediocrity of a suburban Midwestern mall.
This is the very same mall where, two remodels earlier, your mother took you to see Bob, Gordon, and Susan because you were a Sesame Street groupie. Where, in the sunken lounge areas, she scolded you for putting your fingers in the ashtray sand, bright white and tempting as it was. The mall shaped your earliest desires. Where, one remodel ago, you bought Hello Kitty marker sets and cream soda Jelly Bellies after sampling all the flavors with allowance money you’d scraped together over weeks. It taught you the illusory satisfaction of acquisition.
That doesn’t stop you from wanting.
When he tells you that you’re terribly beautiful, you’re not sure whether to take it as an insult or a compliment. You say thank you like a question.
You wonder if he’s going to ask you to take your next break with him, maybe treat you to an Orange Julius.
You wonder if you’ll accept.
The moment slows as passing shoppers blur beyond you both. He says nothing more. You shrug and bid him, “Happy Easter.”
The next time you see him, you’re walking in for the evening shift. You smile and lift your hand. He tips his head, acts like nothing extra has passed between you, his seduction working. You suddenly crave his attention. He sits at the Hammond and props open sheet music. You hope the song will be a message for you. Beefy hands over the keyboard, he launches into “Dust in the Wind.”
Elizabeth Fletcher writes, teaches yoga, and avoids malls as much as possible. Her work has appeared in Leaping Clear, The Nonconformist, Gone Lawn, and more. Her website is www.esfletcher.com and you can find her on Twitter @esfletcher.