Beep-beep. Beep-beep. Beep-beep. Beep-beep. Bee—
“Shut. The. Fuck. Up.” Regan mutters, pounding the snooze button of her alarm repeatedly. She peers an eye open. The time reads 9:55. Regan tries to think through her foggy brain. Does my shift start at 11? Or was it noon? No, 11 for sure. Fifteen minutes to shower, 20 for clothes and make-up. Uh, what does that make? Like 40 minutes of getting ready. Uh, how much time until 11? Let’s think a bit…
Beep-beep. Beep-beep. Be—
Regan lurches her head forward, slamming her fist on the alarm. 10:04. That’s only a digit away from 11. I have less than an hour to get my ass to Spring Valley Mall. “Shit!” Regan yells and clambers out of her bed, suddenly filled with adrenaline. She proceeds to fly through her morning routine, foregoing washing her hair due to insufficient hair-drying time. Regan’s long, thick brown hair takes at least 20 minutes to fully blow-dry. Just the essentials today, baby.
At 10:42, Regan is speeding out of her driveway. Her hair is tied in a fashionably messy bun. Her outfit today is a baby blue sundress and floral-print wedges. She devoted a mere 2 minutes on applying mascara— top lashes only— and blush. She looks put-together and nothing like the groggy beast she feels inside. Regan is clever about how to make it look like she tried when she is running short on time. This happens often. She passes a sign that has graffiti on the back: Same shit, different day.
Brisk-walking towards Henry’s, Regan passes dozens of other retail stores. Mannequins donning colorful crop-tops and pastel maxi dresses pose behind sheets of glass, glowing brightly from the strategically-placed lights. Regan only slows her pace when she passes Inner Goddess. Her favorite store has a whole new line on display. No time to ooh and ahh today, my dear. You can window shop on the way back. Regan marches on.
Regan still feels the high from the morning rush when she inserts her timesheet and sees it stamped at exactly 11:00. Right on the nose, love! “Fuck yes,” Regan mutters under her breath. She tosses her purse behind the perfume counter and waves at Belinda, who is explaining the difference between power and liquid concealer to an elderly woman. Regan looks around: only another lady and her baby in a stroller are in sight at the women’s clothing area. For the moment, there is no one paying attention to Regan. She feels her tiredness return in an overwhelming amount.
A couple of hours later, Regan slurps down the last drops of some lukewarm, milky coffee. “God, today warrants for more than my usual two cups,” she groans. Suddenly, she pushes her shoulders back and gives a dazzling smile to a mother and daughter duo approaching, but they are too busy chattering that they don’t even see Regan. She slouches back down as soon as they pass.
“If that’s the case, why don’t you treat yourself to a nice little latte with an extra shot of espresso after you go and get your lunch?” Belinda purrs from the make-up counter across from Regan. “Go ahead, take your break. I’ll woman-handle both of these bad boys in the next hour. Slow in here anyway.”
Belinda, a mid-forties woman wearing a tight, black V-neck blouse that emphasized her cleavage, waves her long, pink nails at Regan, shooing her away. Regan looks at the time: 12:56. Her stomach, empty other than coffee, gurgles. Gotta get me some food in there. She grabs her purse, blows a kiss to Belinda, and navigates her way out of the department store.
A plastic bowl sits at Regan’s lap. It contains fried rice at the bottom and a pile of orange chicken pieces at the top. Regan quickly transfers the contents to her mouth, chewing ferociously. She immediately feels much better when the hot food makes its way through Regan’s digestive system. She devours her meal, leaving only a thin layer of rice that she didn’t feel like struggling to get on her plastic spoon.
Leaning back in her seat, Regan caresses her stomach. God, that was good, but I’m so bloated now. Regan dumps the bowl, utensils, and napkins in the trash and sets the tray atop it. She looks at her phone and realizes that she ate so quickly that she still has more than half an hour left of her lunch break. Perhaps I should get that latte and head over to Inner Goddess.
When Regan arrives to the front of Inner Goddess, she pauses to admire the new location. Inner Goddess had recently moved to this area of the mall, which is significantly larger. Greek columns supports the high ceiling and overlooks an open field of fashion’s latest trends hanging on racks, folded on shelves, resting on the arms of other young women, cheeks flushed from the sensation of new clothes against their skins. Trying to be discreet about the latte in her hand, Regan waltzes in.
Regan immediately eyes a black skirt with metal studs circling the waist. Already Regan is in love with it. She uses her free hand to filter through the skirts. No size 8. Dammit. When or what she would use this to, Regan isn’t sure, though. This would be perfect, paired with a lacy tee, to wear to Whiskey Lane on a Saturday night, but she is far away from that scene. She is now a post-college graduate, living at home. This depresses Regan.
Suddenly, a thought occurs to Regan. A size 8 just might be hanging on the rack at the fitting room, disposed of by another woman who wasn’t edgy enough to pull this look off. She takes a greedy sip of her double-espresso-infused latte as she looks around for the fitting room. She hadn’t the chance to see the new fitting room. This store is so much bigger than the previous location. It even has custom rooms for jewelry, lingerie, and yoga clothes. Regan cranes her neck.
Sales had skyrocketed for this store ever since Inner Goddess hired its new Marketing Director who had a knack for appealing to millions of young stylish women on a budget. Regan knows this because she did a paper on the franchise in her business class last year. The completely revamped branding of Inner Goddess, coupled with its contract with a factory in China that had expanded, the retail slapped on an all-time low prices and quickly won fans all over the nation. The leading demographic of Inner Goddess’s consumers is a group of women between 18 and 30, white, and middle class. People like Regan.
A wave of nausea hits Regan unexpectedly. She takes a gulp of her latte. The extra espresso makes the finishing taste bitter. Her stomach churns and Regan involuntary gags. Forget the fitting room. Where the hell is the nearest restroom? The store’s ceiling lights are too bright. Regan’s path to the exit is seemingly full of obstacles, a maze of colorful and cheap clothing articles hanging on racks. Regan feels dizzy. So many clothes. So many hours of labor.
Inner Goddess is suffocating Regan. She takes a step towards the exit and stumbles weakly. The blood leaves her head. The last thing Regan thinks is that this is just one store, and it’s not even half as big as Henry’s. And they’re both in just one shopping mall in one town. And then you have hundreds other whole shopping malls and plazas in other towns in other states. It’s just all so much. And that’s the last thing Regan remembers thinking before her head hits the ground.
Flowers tickle Regan’s ears until she wakes. The breeze gently pushes flowers and tall grass playfully against Regan’s head. She is lying on the damp Earth. The sun has just risen. Slowly, she rises forward and discovers what surrounds her for miles: hills of grass, trees, cliffs, valleys, a river. She looks down at where she is sitting. Wildflowers, too. Purple, pink, orange, red, and yellow petals burst from under the ground and sway in the wind. They seem to be laughing. Or is that the birds? Regan listens to the melody that the gusts of air carries. She doesn’t know where she is, but she feels safe. No alarming questions pop off in the background. Only an eternal quiet, splashed with harmonious chirping and the rustling of the wind.
The Earth is soft against her feet as she stands. Regan is barefoot. Her sundress has been muddied and torn. Her hair pins are nowhere to be found. She feels her thick hair blanketing her back. Inhaling the cool air, Regan feels deeply awake. Her throat sends a clear message to Regan’s brain. I’m parched! Immediately, Regan hears the echoes of a running brook. She sniffs. The cleansing odor of wet rocks drift into her nostrils.
She takes off running. The ground massages her feet as they spring from it. The brook sounds become clearer as she speeds down the hill. She doesn’t even slow down when she approaches trees; her instincts are in full control. Navigating in between trees, Regan keeps running as the air becomes wetter. To her thrill, a big, beautiful brook comes in view. The clear water is flowing at full force. It rained heavily the day before. Regan dunks her head into the water and opens her mouth. Cold, clean water nourishes the walls of her throat.
Without planning it, Regan lets out an exhilarating scream. A flutter of clapping wings follow. She had slept well and is now famished. Where are the berries that her tastebuds were salivating for? She has a vague memory of the bushes that had berries growing wildly out of them. They weren’t too far from this brook. Sniffing furiously, Regan makes her way back up the hill, scanning for food at every angle. Her eyes catch the red-stained tracks on the ground. My berries! She scampers in the direction of the red stains.
Ahead, there is a pile of burnt wood inside a circle of stones. I made this fire. Memory becomes a strange thing to Regan. She no longer thinks. She just knows. It is for this reason that she turns her head to the bushes some thirty feet away. She quickly gets there. Berries. The first couple of berries that burst in Regan’s mouth are the only thing Regan knows of in this world for a moment. There is nothing else but the sweet berry juice that coats the inside of Regan’s mouth and tongue.
Suddenly, Regan gags. The juice is going down the wrong way. Choking, Regan coughs and coughs. The hills and the trees become fragments. The frantic chirping of the birds sound strangely like human voices. Regan feels herself being hoisted up. Her back is being pounded. A musky odor of fragrant roses clog Regan’s nose. She knows this perfume.
“Idiots!” A familiar voice shrills in the air. “You don’t just pour water down an unconscious girl’s throat while she’s lying on her back!” Belinda. Regan blinks and loses the last of the damp green that surrounded her a moment ago. She is looking directly at a girl’s stricken, pale face. The girl gapes at Regan and is shoved aside before she can ask if Regan is okay.
“Darling, you’re awake! Back up, all of you. Give her some breathing room, for sweet Jesus’s sake!” Belinda waves her hands around, bracelets clinking noisily. Regan takes her first real breath since she was propped up. It doesn’t feel like enough. She inhales deeply again, but the artificial smell of the store makes her cough.
“Drink this, sweetie,” Belinda hands Regan a cup of water. Regan takes it and sips gratefully. She looks around: three female strangers, wearing brightly-colored clothes, stands nearby. The girl that Regan had made eye contact with has on a shirt printed with flowers and long fringed ends. An older man stands next to the latte that she had dropped, with a trail of dark brown stain from the cup, looking impatient and irritated. They all have name tags. Such a silly concept, to wear name tags. As if it means anything to anyone what combination of letters your parents gave you.
Scoffing, Regan stands up by herself. Without a word, she walks past the employees of Inner Goddess and Belinda. She ignores Belinda’s confused call and walks out of the store. She passes all the stores and the variations of styles they all showcase in the front. Red dress, a ravishing rose. Light blue denim, like the sky.
Regan keeps walking until she reaches her car. It strikes Regan how ridiculously large the parking lot to this shopping mall is. She looks at her distorted reflection from her shiny car. She raises a hand, makes it flat, and waves to herself. Regan gets in the car and starts the engine, functioning without thought. She backs up and drives away from the mall. She doesn’t stop driving, even when she passes her house.
Regan sees fast food franchises and retail stores that she’s known all her life. She keeps driving, recognizing the names printed on tall signs that the streets are scattered with. She’s eaten at countless of these joints many times. She’s purchased at least one thing from each of the big-name retail stores she drives by. The longer she drives, the stranger the green paradise Regan visited seems. Unnatural. She begins to feel uneasy about driving so far out now. She yawns. She thinks of her bed. The green hills are so far away now. Cold, too. Regan can’t remember seeing a blanket anywhere when she was there. Not a long while later, Regan turns around and heads home.