The skyways have begun their seasonal clogging.
Holding hands, pushing strollers, their winter-ly goods piled high, up to and including water bottles, snacks, clothing, and, surprisingly, children, the bedazzled Christmas shoppers roam Minneapolis’s second-floor inter-building walkways.
Clots of families, of friends, of teenagers, they walk abreast, stopping up hallway traffic behind them.
I’ve had a headache since Thanksgiving.
And there will be 12 more days of this.
Office workers, security badges swinging from their necks, dodge, first one way and then another, try to get by the city’s influx of shoppers, knowing, on the one hand, that it’s a seasonal condition one endures, like chiggers or hay fever, while secretly cursing, on the other, the slow-moving nature of the multi-legged, multi-wheeled beast that is the Holiday Shopper.
I have run to Macy’s today, convinced that a toaster oven is a lovely gift.
Half-way there, I run up against the backside of a family. Mother, stroller, child, I will be here, moving with them, for the next 60, maybe 70 steps, whereupon there will be a widening in the store’s pathway and the possibility of maneuvering around them.
Unable to pass, I am forced – forced! – to listen in.
“Hold on to my hand, Jimmy. HOLD ON TO MY HAND. Do you want one of these people to steal you?”
Jimmy – four? Five years old? – reaches up for his mother’s hand, looks behind him fearfully.
Just a couple feet behind him, I smile.
“WHAAAAAAAA!” Terrified, Jimmy wails.
Jimmy’s mother whirls around, confronts me, and traffic stops as she does so. “What did you say to him?!”
“Me?” I say. “Nothing.”
She looks me up and down, huffing. “Typical,” she says.
“Typical?” I say. “Of what?”
She tuts – tuts! – and pulls her wailing son to her belly, sneering. “What kind of monster scares children?”
Jimmy is staring at me. I look down at him. “I’m not a monster,” I say, smiling. “I’m just going to lunch.”
Jimmy stares, big wet eyes and open mouth.
I shake my head.
I like children.
Sometimes not so much.
Giving up, I pass them, ready for, say, a little Chinese food…
“What did I tell you, Jimmy? You gotta hang on to mommy’s hand or some bad person will take you.”
A chill runs up my spine.
Turning around, I lock eyes with Jimmy’s mom.
“I lied,” I whisper to her. “I am a monster. And I’ll see you again soon.”
Her mouth drops open.
I whirl on my heels and don’t look back.
Stop by tomorrow, when Pearl beats up an old man and complains about the number of wheelchairs on the bus!