A Short Story, AT THE MALL
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AT THE MALL
Warren Langley is about to punch out from his job as supervisor at Junction Bus Operations. He has been employed at Junction for 16 years. A major goal for Warren is to own an event planning business where his entire family can be involved. Belinda, his wife, is a Recruiter in the government. He has been striving for years to recruit her to share his dream of business ownership.
Belinda has a Master’s degree in economics though nothing in her attitude about personal finances is indicative that she has mastered anything profitable relative to currency. Warren had to cease to participate in any form of joint banking with his wife. There is $17.00 in her checking account and $32.00 in her savings. Warren’s accounts are flush compared to Belinda’s. Her most earnest endeavor is to be at the malls.
Warren begins to daydream about their early days of marriage, 21 years ago. For awhile, they both worked odd jobs in retail. Eventually, they both landed secure well paying jobs, Belinda in government and Warren in the private sector. They had two children, first Jackson, now 19 and then Kim who is 14 but believes that she is 21.
Warren remembers the days when he could be assured of regular home cooked meals, a tidy house, “the bomb” intimate connections, and respect galore from his lovely wife. He is not sure when Belinda changed. It didn’t occur all at once. There was a gradual shifting of her priorities. A lot can be attributed to her job. It requires her to travel often and she has become so good at it that she loves her occupation more than her family. Warren has asked her repeatedly to quit her job to help him form an event planning business. She is not at all interested.
Warren is eager to become a business owner. His parents, now divorced, were entrepreneurs, who operated a catering business that existed until twelve years ago when they both retired. Warren’s father, Robert, now works part time as a consultant to the food industry.
It is Friday – time to unwind with his honey after a hard week’s labor. Warren phones Belinda to invite her out to dinner. He dials her cell phone (she often has it off because she does not like to be disturbed when she is at the mall, which is often.) Surprise, surprise, she answers.
“Hi babe, how about we meet at Fleming’s for dinner in about an hour?” Warren asks.
“O honey, I’m on my way to the mall.”
“You stay at the mall, Belinda,” states Warren with a rise in his voice.
“No, I don’t. I’m there a lot but I don’t stay there.”
“You know what I mean,” snaps Warren.
Belinda demurs, “I won’t be long. TGI Friday’s is near the mall. I’ll pick us up dinner on my way home.”
“I’ll pass,” says Warren. He hangs up the phone.
“Hello, Hello?” “What is the deal with Warren these days?” she asks herself after the realization that he hung up on her. She turns off her cell phone and heads to the mall.
Warren calls Tony, his friend from childhood. “Man, I invited Belinda for dinner tonight. She declined because guess where she is going?”
“To the mall,” responds Tony.
“You got it,” bemoans Warren.
Tony senses the pain and anger in his friend. “Look, man, I can’t be Belinda but I can be your dinner companion tonight. What do you say, buddy? Let’s do it.”
Warren laughs, “You’re right, you can’t be Belinda but she’s not going because she’s, they say in unison, at the mall.” The friends agree to meet at Fleming’s.
Linda, Belinda’s friend and fellow mall cohort, is already at the mall when Belinda arrives. They shop, and shop, and shop. At least once a week, they are at one mall or another. If malls issued frequent shopper miles, their revenue would be off the chart. The partners are not done – unfortunately, the
mall is closing. They are exhausted. It is time to head home.
Belinda comes in the door laden with bags. Jackson and Kim look at each other and roll their eyes - Mom again in her love affair with the mall.
“Hi,” says Belinda. “Hi mom,” the kids respond.
Kim tells her mother, “Dad called. He said that he was going to dinner with Mr. Tony. He said that you were at the mall and would bring dinner from TGI Friday’s.”
Belinda’s eyes pop. “Oops, I forgot. I apologize.”
Kim responds, “You forget us a lot, mom.”
Belinda looks but does not respond to Kim’s statement. “Let’s order pizza,” she says.
Jackson says, “Why not cook? We rarely get home cooked meals anymore.”
“Yea, mom, why not cook,” encourages Kim. “I’ll help.”
Belinda shakes her head – “No, I am not cooking. I do not feel like it, kids.”
Jackson sarcastically replies, “You feel like going to that job that Dad asked you to quit – you feel like traveling often away from us, and most of all, you feel like being at the mall – but you don’t feel like cooking for your family?”
“Watch your tone, young man,” Belinda warns.
Jackson heads to the basement. Kim looks long and disapprovingly at her mother. She remains silent as she follows her brother down to the basement.
Belinda laments and comments to herself, “I don’t understand why Jackson and Kim do not realize how fortunate they are.” She dismisses the matter from her thoughts, prepares a microwave meal, and proceeds to the den to shop online.
Warren comes home and finds Belinda shopping on the Internet. He fumes. “Belinda, something has got to give. This addictive shopping cannot continue. I have plans and family goals to advance us. That cannot happen with your irresponsible financial conduct, and your failures in your roles as wife and mother. For years, we have tolerated your decline. What happened to you?”
Belinda whirls around, “Who are you calling a failure?!” How dare you insult and disrespect me like that!” What do you mean what happened to me?!”
“I love you, Belinda. That does not mean that I will not call a spade a spade. You cease to keep a tidy house, you rarely cook, you travel too often away from us, we have a severe intimate disconnection, you have an addiction to shopping at the mall, and beyond as evidenced by you sitting here now on the Internet shopping online after shopping earlier this evening at the mall! You have a Master’s degree in economics. I can’t tell! Your finances are in shambles yet you continue to be a poor steward of so much that is essential to an orderly life. Those define failures to me. In sum, you are consumed by selfishness. You can nickname it what you want – I call it what it is.”
Belinda does not want to own the truth spoken by her husband. She gives him a defiant look and strides out of the room. He does not stop her. He is tired. He decides to sleep on it before he figures out what else that he can do to deal with this dismal family atmosphere.
Jackson, a college athlete, has a baseball game today. He asked Kim, and his mother and father to attend. Belinda informs that she is going out of town for business. Warren, Kim, Tony, and Robert, Jackson’s grandfather, attend to cheer him on. The game is exciting. Jackson is impressive. Warren comments, “Clouds are forming, it looks like a thunderstorm is approaching.” They all agree. Out of nowhere it seems, lightning strikes accompanied by a booming thunderous sound. People begin to scatter for cover. The players seek refuge. Jackson is on the ground. He has been struck by lightning! His family rushes to the field. The ambulance comes and delivers him to Harmony Hospital.
Warren phones Belinda. Her phone is off. She is on business travel but has transported herself, and is, where else - at the mall. After hours of shopping, a twinge of guilt hits her. She decides to phone to ask how Jackson is doing at the game. She observes that she has a voice mail message. She listens in horror as her husband informs her that Jackson is in ICU after being struck by lightning.
Belinda cries out, “O God, please don’t let my baby die!” I will do whatever You tell me just please don’t let my baby die!” She breaks down in gut wrenching sobs. Passersby gaze at her but only one, Emily, stops to help. Belinda tells her about Jackson in ICU. Emily offers to pray for Jackson – Belinda accepts. They walk together to Belinda’s rental car where Emily prays a fervent prayer. Then, Emily, in encouragement, squeezes Belinda’s hand, and departs. Belinda rushes to pack to catch the next flight home. The flight seems endless.
At Harmony Hospital, the family anxiously waits for word on Jackson. Dr. Mitchell comes out and informs that it is touch and go. He says, “Jackson is young. He has that in his favor. You can go in to see him now two at a time.” Warren and Robert go in the room first. Jackson is unconscious and they do not know if he knows that they are there. Next Tony and Kim go to his bedside. Jackson remains unresponsive. Hours go by – other family members join those already there. They rotate going in to Jackson. He does not stir at all.
Near midnight, a despondent Belinda runs in and locates her family. They tell her that, since his arrival, Jackson has not responded to anyone’s presence. Belinda, with her husband, enters Jackson’s room. Together they pray at his bedside, “Dear Lord, Belinda begins, please save our son. Forgive me for my failures and for how I have neglected my family. Please God, don’t let our baby die!” Warren cries, “Lord, please let him live!” Jackson stirs. Slowly, he opens his eyes – he first sees his mother. “Hi mom, I thought you were out of town.” She cries out in relief. “I came back for you. It is abundantly clear to me now that my family is more important than a job, trips, or being at the malls. This is my wake up call. I am done with the misplaced priorities. She looks over at her husband who is overcome with emotion. “Will you both forgive me?” she pleads. I promise to prove that I mean what I have said.”
Jackson assures her, “Of course, mom – we love you.”
Warren says nothing. He grabs his wife and embraces her in a passionate hug.
Belinda got her finances in order, quit her job, conquered her shopping addiction, and became a lovelier wife than she was in the earlier days of matrimony with Warren. She is a quality and attentive mother. Jackson and Kim are thrilled. Warren reached his goal of business ownership. He and Belinda opened their event planning business called, “Heightened Awareness.” It has been consistently in the black, thanks in large part, to Belinda’s Master’s degree in economics.
One event fulfilled by “Heightened Awareness” has particular significance – that is the reception for Warren’s parents after their remarriage! When they can keep their hands off each other, they work part time in the family business.
Sandra Renee Hicks
P.O. Box 1210
Washington, DC 20013
© Copyright Sunday January 31, 2010
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