My father, mother and brother were murdered on a snowy December day just before Christmas. In essence, I was too.
It was another dull, drab December day during the Christmas shopping season when my family made their way into the mall packed with the usual holiday traffic. This time of year, the city turned into a claustrophobic’s worst nightmare. Sure, there was an aura of glee and merriment in the air. It was, after all, just mere days before the big event. Permeating the atmosphere were the aromas of evergreens, sugar cookies, and cinnamon acting like effervescent buffers keeping the usual smell of exhaust fumes and funk at bay. Those sights and smells are what I firmly believed prevented a person from going absolutely insane as they spent an eternity in line buying something that was probably only going to get returned anyway. Merry freaking Christmas.
The Lakes was a plethora of retail paradise where all fads were exploited to the max, ensuring every last penny was being squeezed out of the pocketbooks of the unassuming. Fads weren’t my thing. I marched to the beat of my own drummer, much to the dismay of George and Carol. Being as that may, my academic achievements and overall demeanor had earned me my parents’ confidence throughout the years. So, when Jake decided that my hair looked better with Smoothie in it, they didn’t protest to my sudden need to break away.
"It’s not fair" Jake demanded. "She always gets to go out on her own."
"Well, Jake" my father chimed in. "Perhaps your mother and I could trust you too if we weren’t so sure something would be lit on fire in our absence."
"That was one time!"
"Tell that to Ms. Jacobson’s cat," Carol added.
It’d taken nearly a full year for ole’ Smokey’s coat to grow back after Jake’s infamous experimentation with bottle rockets, and, still, the cat just wasn’t the same. Poor Smokey now walked with his head tilted, the smell of signed hair never having fully left him. In a sick and twisted way, I had to laugh at the irony of this occurring to a cat named Smokey. Besides the obvious lesson, Jake also had learned that, like elephants, cats too never forgot being wronged. Since the incident, any time Smokey would see Jake outside, he’d crouch low to the ground with a maniacal stare etched across his feline face, plotting his revenge.
"Meet us at the third floor parking ramp at 5:30."
"No problem Geo…dad."
My parents were very liberal when it came to us using their first names but my dad still managed to wince every time his name escaped my lips, forcing me to keep my "Georges" and "Carols" to a minimum. Thanking my parents for the moment of freedom, I stuck my tongue out at Jake as I bounded away. It was a juvenile move which nonetheless managed to get under his skin and, well, wasn’t that my job?
I’d always felt such a profound sense of freedom after breaking loose from my parents. So much so that, without someone being there to tell me what to do and when to do it, I usually ended up just wandering around aimlessly. There was nothing I needed to do nor was there anything in particular that I really wanted to look for which didn’t help matters. Scouring around the various shops, I traversed the mall until finally deciding to check out a store pedaling memorabilia from the 80’s. I didn’t know what it was about the 80’s that drew me in and theorized that I was subconsciously channeling my parents’ long-forgotten youth. When they were just a young couple in love with no children to blow up random animals.
From the moment I entered the store, I was in all my neon, bangle bracelet, big-haired, legging wearing glory. The employees in the store obviously took their jobs seriously. With stirrup pants, oversized off the shoulder sweaters and mall bangs to top off, they looked like something straight out of a Tiffany video. Canvassing the store, I rummaged through hair ties, abnormally large sweaters and huge hoop earrings. Surprisingly, it took quite a bit of searching through the store’s merchandise before a pair of neon pink hoop earrings managed to catch my eye. After all, electric yellow leggings were still a bit of a stretch for me, but I figured I’d graduate to them eventually.
After purchasing the earrings, I meandered through a maze of oversized candy canes, swam through a sea of impatient children and maneuvered my way through the crowd until finally locating a restroom. As far as public restrooms go, The Lakes wasn’t half bad. It still wasn’t clean enough to meet my standards, but if it were an emergency I would suck it up and hover. As I entered, Christmas carols were blaring over the speakers. It would have been a welcoming sound, deviating from the utter chaos of the mall, if not for the fact I’d been listening to Jingle Bells for the last two months now. I was truly starting to loathe the Holiday season and all its ho-ho-hokey glory. Setting my purse down on the sink, I removed the earrings from the neon green plastic bag, fastening them to my earlobes to inspect them further in the mirror.
"Not too shabby Celaine, not too shabby," I said to myself creating amused glances to reflect in the mirror from those around me.
I pinned my brunette hair back to let my new earrings take center stage. Just as I brought my arm back down into view, I happened to take a glance at my watch instantly gasping at the time. 5:45! Uh-oh. There goes my freedom for the next couple of months. Without hesitation, I bolted out of the bathroom sprinting, not too gracefully, through the crowd of people while eliciting gasps, expletives and overall general irritation in my wake. I wasn’t an athlete by any stretch of the imagination but I could run when I had to. My hope was that my parents had completely lost track of time meaning that I would remain to be seen as the dependable, punctual daughter they thought me to be. Yeah, no such luck. Jake stood beaming as he watched me approaching. This was no doubt his vindication for my earlier sisterly gesture.
"There you are!" my mother proclaimed. "Really Celaine, we’ve been worried sick."
"I’m sorry mom, I just completely lost track of time and, well, there was a long line to get into the bathroom and...."
"To what, check out your new earrings Young lady I’m not as gullible as you make me out to be. If there’s one gene that I passed on to you, it’s an aversion to public restrooms."
Damn. "I’m sorry mom, it won’t happen again."
"Well let’s get going" George proclaimed. "It’s really starting to snow out there."
Dejected, I followed my family out of the mall to the parking ramp with Jake snickering beside me the entire time. The weather had definitely taken a turn for the worse. That much was evident even in the cement sanctity of the parking ramp. Wind whipped through the rows of automobiles ricocheting off their plastic bodies and inevitably imbedding itself into my flesh. I shuddered trying not to think about the fact that I’d completely neglected to wear any other means of protection from the elements other than my hooded sweatshirt. After taking a couple of wrong turns and attempting to break into a vehicle that was the identical twin to ours, we finally made it back to the correct vehicle.
"Celaine, could you give me a hand with this please?" Carol called to me.
"Sure thing." I grabbed the packages out of my mother’s hand and located room for them in the corner of the trunk.
"Bag lady," Jake sneered.
"Is that the best you got little man?"
"Enough," George quipped.
George started the car as I strapped myself into my seat with my I-Pod preparing for the hour journey back home in our winter wonderland. My mind now at ease, I began sensing that there was something not quite right. Something was missing, something whose identity presented itself just as we were about to pull out of the third floor parking ramp.
"Do you have any gum by chance?" Carol asked leaning back from the front seat.
"Yeah, let me get my p…"
"Okay. So, where is it?"
"Do you really want to know the answer to that question?"
"Oh Celaine," my calm and collective dad was now clearly aggravated.
"It’s in the restroom isn’t it?" my mom asked.
"I do vaguely remember setting it down there." The vein in my dad’s neck was starting to bulge, his face turning bright red.
"How could you be so careless?"
At this point, Jake was giggling like a school girl. Christmas had come early for him.
"I will drive you to the entrance of the mall and we’ll wait for you there. No side trips young lady. You will go straight to that bathroom and back, do you hear me?" George announced, clearly exasperated.
"Dad, I made a simple mistake. No need to brand me with a scarlet letter just yet."
My dad parked just outside of the doorway to the third story mall entrance motioning for me to get out with a big sigh. Giving my dad an apologetic smile, I shut the door and dejectedly made my way back into the mall.
Had I had any inclination that this would be the last time I’d ever see them again, I would have stolen another glance at them. I would have done anything I could muster to capture the very essence of their faces, to engrave them in my mind forever. Of course, there was no way I could have known that moment was going to be the last time I’d ever see them again.
With speed that would even make an Olympian proud, I ran back into the mall. The crowds had thinned out somewhat, but not enough to make my journey back to the restroom a walk in the park. There was the usual monotony of screaming children, people stopped haphazardly in paths clearly made for travel and others gathered around in idle chatter about their holiday plans. It was almost as if the mall itself were conspiring against me. As the minutes ticked away, I could visualize the vein on George’s neck bulging out further and further until it finally burst in a bloody mess. The thought of this made me shudder; prompting me to decide that the only way to get around this problem was to go through it.
"Excuse me, pardon me, coming through, girl on the move here people," I exclaimed as I pushed my way through the mob of holiday revelers.
Crowds were just another reason to hate the holidays--as if I really needed another one. Its funny how, when you’re in a hurry, time seems to stand still making a simple trip to the restroom seem like a hike across the Yukon. Of course, knowing that George was getting closer to having a coronary the more time ticked away, didn’t help matters.
Finally, with my destination in sight--and in my rush to get there--I completely neglected to look where I was going. It was only after I crashed to the floor that I saw the felled candy cane that had mysteriously managed to jump out in front of me. Attempting to compose myself as I stood up in pain, I muttered some words that most certainly would have eradicated my name from the fat jolly man’s "good list".
The fall managed to pop a cork of negativity in my mind forcing me to realize that, even on an average day, the odds that my purse was still exactly where I’d forgotten it were pretty slim. Nonetheless, I knew if I were to come back empty-handed I would hear about it from George and Carol for at least the rest of the year and Jake for a good six months. I let out a sigh preparing to meet my fate as I limped into the ladies room door discovering, to my amazement, that the fates were smiling on me after all.
My purse was there in all its denim glory right on the sink where I’d forgotten it. Now, whether or not my wallet was still in it was probably a whole other story. I decided I’d worry about that later as the mere presence of the purse itself would be enough to appease George and Carol for the time being. Quickly, I snatched it by its faded, denim straps and made a bee line out of the restroom back into the mall.
My knee was throbbing from having been bashed against the linoleum floor. Great, I was probably the only person to have ever suffered a battle wound from a hard day of shopping. I hobbled along until I came to a bench that just so happened to be located next to the same candy cane of doom that had attempted to foil me. In pain, I rolled up my pant leg to inspect the damage. Already I could tell that my pasty skin was beginning to bruise around the point of impact was noticeably beginning to swell. Disgusted with my lack of coordination, I pulled my jeans back down.
It’s amazing how life can change in just a mere matter of seconds. One moment you’re walking casually through a mall shopping for Christmas presents for your loved ones; the next, everything goes black. Exactly two things happened before my world was quite literally ripped right out from underneath me: First, there were a series of pops resembling those of an automatic firearm; then there was a flash of light so bright I swore the sun had crashed into the earth.
Amidst those thunderous blasts and that flash of light, life as I knew it came crashing to an end.