Carry was up early. Before noon. As I unwound the electric cord for the vacuum cleaner, braced myself against its shrill scream which always set my teeth on edge. She appeared in the doorway.
"I’m going to the mall," she declared, "need anything?"
I looked at her. "Already?" I asked, "No breakfast?"
"You know I never eat breakfast," she sighed.
"Lunch then. It is nearly noon." I re-wound the cord, closeted the vacuum.
She sighed again.
"Actually," I pulled her into the kitchen, "would you mind waiting for me?"
I was in a hurry to not let her go alone. But how could I warn her? At her age, she was convinced that all her parents knew was not worth knowing. If we knew anything at all.
"Will you be very long?" she pulled the refrigerator door open. Moved things around. Closed the door.
"Just let me do my hair."
She moaned. This was my joke. At forty-three, I liked my life simple. Especially my hair. Short-cropped. The gray unashamedly evident amid the blonde. The very symbol of my philosophy. Simple. Natural.
Outside, the day was fresh. Cool with spritsing rain. Typical for the Willamette valley in late December.
The mall was busy. Parking was a challenge. But Carrie managed to find the last slot in the covered area. We had to walk outdoors anyway. had to cross Commercial to get to the door she prefered. The door nearest Meyer and Frank.
I reeled in my too-long arms as we zig-zagged up and down the narrow aisles. Glassware. Picture frames. Photography equipment. All over-priced. All extravagant.
Then we were moving through waves of shoppers. Darting around toddlers loosed by their elders.
How could they? I wondered. How could they not hold the little hand? Enjoy the little pull of anticipation?
I thought it all the time. At the zoo. The grocery store. And suddenly, my spine was electric. All those disappearances.
The little boy collapsed to the floor as I reached out and grabbed his sleeve. He was three. Maybe two. He looked at me. Not too alarmed.
"Please don’t run," I smiled.
Time passed. A long moment. Another. Finally, he pointed with a chubby finger and said, "Mommy."
She hurried over. Snatched his hand from mine. Frowned angrily. Too many rings, I observed, too many rings to be careful.
To me: "What are you doing?"
Her packages shifted. She let his hand fall. She let his hand fall.
To him: "You mustn’t talk to strangers."
Then she was gone. With a rush and a rustle. The little boy hurried to keep up. I watched in disbelief as he trailed after her into the crowd. Into the crowd.