Dead Malls and Long Summers with Peter Cetera

If you leave me now

Steffany Ritchie

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Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

I work in the dead mall, off of the old highway that no one uses anymore. The only food here is an Auntie Anne’s and a crappy pizza place. Both have food that is perpetually five hours old.

But in the parking lot there is a beacon of light and spice on a hot summer’s day - Taco Bell.

I dust miniatures and other collectible tchotchkes when we are not busy in the gift shop where I work, which is most of the time.

The shop’s customers order their porcelain teddy bears, designer dolls and Christmas village pieces months ahead of time. It is literally Christmas in July in here, and it’s a kind of slow moving, twinkly hell.

We wrap the customers’ purchases up for free. It’s a service we provide to the classy people who frequent the shop. I’m pretty sure most of them have it done just because they can.

As I wrap their porcelain treasures my mind wanders to the paper that wraps around my lunch burrito. Will it be bean or shredded chicken today? I imagine the paper, crispy and warm, and the spicy promise within comforts me.

The mall’s playlist has precisely one song that makes my life bearable, and that song is “If You Leave Me Now” by the band Chicago.

I am a college girl who likes current music but in the elevator muzak playlist of doom, “If You Leave Me Now” brings me a tiny piece of unexpected joy. I discover this around 7 p.m. one endless, quiet Tuesday night.

Most of our customers are day shoppers and likely in their beds. It is utterly pointless to be open on a perfectly beautiful summer evening.

I am staring out at the largely empty mall when Peter Cetera’s soaring vocals suddenly pierce my fugue. I have no boyfriend or prospects of one, just a trail of typical youthful romantic disasters.

I wish someone would love me the way Peter Cetera must have loved whoever he was hitting those goosebump-inducingly high “ooh ooh oohs” for.

The mall security guard, who is pudgy, blonde and mid-20s, waltzes by and comes to chat to me. He is nice enough, but he isn’t my type. We have nothing in common besides our shared purgatory.

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Steffany Ritchie

Hi, I write memoir, humor, music, and pop culture. American in Scotland.