February 6, 1986
So who should show up last night at work?
Joanne again, dismal, curious Joanne looking for comfort in that wondrous way of hers.
She returned like a stranger, someone once utterly in love with the mall, but now divorced from it and aching for the old feelings she used to have for it, calling from the bagel shop for permission to see me, so she can slip passed guards whom she believed wanted to keep her out.
“That’s silly,” I told her over the phone. We could almost see each other across the dark hall.
Not so silly, she told me, since management has warned all the night guards against her, making her one of the most disliked people in the mall.
She is a liar. She even lied to me last night about Phil and her other job, still trying to sound more important than she really is. It is hugely important for her to be someone.
She is a thief, too, though not nearly as bad as many of the others who used to work here. She steals little things, like people’s souls, attaching herself like a leech to men like Danny, filled with an intense need to have him hold her, something that did not sit well with Danny’s wife.
But deep down inside of Joanne there is another person, a gentle caring child who trusts too much, presuming that others – especially men – won’t hurt her, therefore allowing them to hurt her even more.
She is not a pretty woman by many standards, but she is cute in her own fashion – a cuteness that draws men’s attention no other more eloquent women are around.
She has dark hair and dark eyes that remind me of one of those puppy pictures they sell in the center of the mall, and often acts the part of a puppy when she’s attracted, bobbing up and down at someone’s side.
A closer look, however, shows her hunger. She licks her lips when she is horny, and pressed her chest into the person she’s attracted to. She has a crooked smile that flashes on and off like an advertisement.
But she is slovenly, too, and slumps, and on bad days she smells for lack of a shower.
When she isn’t putting on a front, when she’s just herself, she had something of a bland look, lost and lonely, hunted and mistrusting.
Last night, she was ON, wearing a wrinkled silk shirt with an uneven collar, and jeans patched in stylistic copy of poverty. When she crossed the hall, she staggered a little as if drunk, glancing this way and that at the old sights, and saying when I let her into our store that she didn’t miss the place at all. Not long later, she moved around the store again as if she owned it, using the toilet (where she once made love to Danny during the busy shift), making herself coffee, pausing from time to time to stare through the gate into the hall, shaking her head, saying how everything had changed, looking every bit like the lost soul again, only to snap back into character.
She was one of the original mall rats, having come here when the mall opened in 1970, a mall rat who must have wrenched something inside her when forced to leave 15 years later. The last time I saw her here, she had men lined up waiting to take her out to their cars, with me aching to be one of them, and never was. Now the men here are all strangers, and she talked of other men, other places, other times, before fading away back into the night, leaving the place that much more devoid than it was before.