The shopping mall is only open because winter shelters require arbitrary schedules. Now, before 9am, it entertains the elderly and the workers themselves. Bored security guards fold their arms over their windbreakers and lean on empty kiosks, talking about hockey. There are beautiful young women everywhere, dressed immaculately, with elaborate hairdos and high-heeled footwear. Their faces are closed and inwardly-turned, they carry bagged breakfasts in as-yet functional hands.
Only the lunch ladies are eternal, always halfway between exhaustion and crisis, constantly patrolling the tables in this cavern which is spotless, sad, echoing, and almost empty.
I barely exist here. The lights serve no purpose but to guide the labour and to keep the elderly from falling down. The lights are not meant for me, they're brilliant point-of-purchase spotlights and soft pink gels that stupidly reach out to the very people who work there. The music sounds strange in a maze of caverns without enough moving bodies, like it's pushing hard to enter the world. No patrons, just the employees, who don't know each other well enough. They walk around, killing time, still wearing their winter jackets, from store to coffee shop and back again.
But for the elderly, this is their adult education center. They are friendly and familiar with each other. At tables they sit side-by-side, their eyelines parallel in the manner of old married couples who know each other so well. They've brought newspapers and they feel safe leaving their belongings behind during their frequent trips to the bathroom. They support each other and they have nothing to steal except porkpie hats and keyrings and pictures of the grandchildren that are too small for blunt fingers to handle.
A painted woman on the window has vibrant betty-bangs and she's promising to reveal a secret. Even at the best of times that secret would be elusive, but now her presence is taunting and irritating, signaling "Come in!" beside a door that's been locked all night.