It Gave Me Chills

It gave me chills. Because I could see. I had always been able to see. And I prayed that I could not see.

My mother and I walked along the sidewalk next to the walls of Coronado Mall, a stanchion of retail milling that had stood on the northeast heights of Albuquerque since before I was born. While malls across the country had fallen into the silence of sudden archeology, Coronado stood, its innards swollen with families whose children gleefully pointed at toys and teenage girls with roped bags filled with shoes, purses and smacky perfumes. It was as it had always been, untouched by time and decay, the benefactor of some ignorance pertaining to the mandatory failure of so many others.

We were walking towards the Barnes and Noble. Some book had come to light that compelled her to emerge from her cavern of a house nestled close to the foothills of Sandia peak. I had stopped counting the years after she passed 80. Her walker scraped a steady cadense against the cement. Still, she looked at the door with her perpetual steely-eyed gaze of unstoppable intention.

Still, I said, “stop.” Because I knew I was going to see.

She looked at me through narrowed eyes, her mouth tight with determination. “I’m fine. I came here to buy a book. Let’s go.”

I wrapped my hand around her arm, feeling its bones through the sleeve of her blouse. “Wait.”

She tried to pull away, but she had finally reached an age where I was strong enough to restrain her, although her will fired from her eyes as it always had.

My stomach churned and the world veiled itself in a smeary vignette along its edges. I had long given up trying to stop it. That which was to be unfolded before me – unwelcome, insistent, unavoidable. The door glass fogged over. And I saw…

… a paper cup of coffee tipped over on one of the tables in the Starbucks adjoined to the book store. A woman yelped as the hot liquid splashed her arm. A chair scraped. Hair whipped behind her as she ran and then her face contorted in pain as she lurched forward.

A man wearing an Albuquerque Dukes ball cap surveyed the store, its patrons startled by the sudden noise. His face bristled with 3-day-old stubble and his eyes hid behind wide black sunglasses. His jaw tensed as he swept the space with a black 9mm weapon I could not identify. A whisp of white smoke seeped from the barrel and then it barked with flame once again. The woman lurched a second time, spun around and fell on her back in front of a checkout counter. The clerk froze in place, staring at the woman’s limp body. If he had looked up, he might have seen it coming. Instead, the hatted man trotted down into the bookstore and leveled his weapon on the clerk. Another shot rang out and the clerk’s shoulder hunched up as the bullet hit him. He grabbed the wound with a shriek before diving to the ground.

I blinked. The glass door gleamed. The vision faded and the world returned in a haze of the blissful ignorance borne of not being able to see. My mother had tugged her arm away and was half-stepping behind her walker as fast as she could towards the door. “Get book,” I heard her mutter.

I ran up, stood between her and the door. “Move,” she said, glaring at me. She started to slide her walker sideways to get around me. I reached for her arm. She rolled her shoulder back, squinted at me and said, “If you don’t let me get my book, I will scream.”

“Yes, scream. Tug. Glare and pummel me with your iron will. Just don’t go in there.”

A properly observant member of the Albuquerque Municipal Police Department appeared out of nowhere and asked an entirely appropriate question. “What’s going on here?” He looked at my mother, an old woman confined to a walker and now batting her lashes over lamb-like eyes. Then he saw my hand on her walker. “You need to step back sir.”

“You don’t understand.”

In that firm voice police seem to use just before they pull out a stick or draw a weapon, he said, “Step back.”

I looked at my mother, who would not see the pleading in my eyes. I let go of her walker and stood next to the policeman as we both watched her scoot towards the door.

“Get book,” she muttered. Then she waited until a young girl came out and was kind enough to hold the door open for my mother.

I looked through the door and saw the man with the Albuquerque Dukes ball cap standing next to the Starbucks counter.

“Stop,” I said.

But my mother shuffled through the door. “Get book,” she muttered.

And then the door swung shut.

© 2020 Michael J Lawrence

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