Two young men look for romance in a shopping mall.
| Two younger and two older men waited for the bus. The younger men wore a nice pair of jeans with their shirts tucked in because they were on their way to the Galleria. Mike was a good looking young man, but his looks didn't help him. People expected him to be more confident. They had given both young men twenty dollars at the mental hospital. A person who looked closely could tell that the two young men were having a good day. They had gotten a break in their routine. Mike tried not to think about how much beer his twenty dollars could buy. One of the older men asked one of the younger men for a smoke. John took out his cigarettes and gave him one. Then John lit the cigarette for him.
"Say, brother," the older man said to John. "Think you could give me a couple of dollars so I can get some beer?"
"I gave you a cigarette and a light. Don't ask me for anything else," John answered, his voice thick with anger.
The bus arrived. A man left the bus. The two young men walked to the back of the vehicle and sat down. Glimpses of nice houses with manicured lawns and expensive cars in their driveways sped by out the window.
"I had a job where we had to move prefab homes through the downtown area. I learned how to talk to people then," John commented to Mike.
The bus lumbered into the mall's parking lot, and the two young men got off the vehicle like they belonged in the place. Mike tucked his shirt in. As the two boys approached the entrance two young women came out carrying several elegant sacks with folded clothes in them. Faint strains of Madonna's "Material Girl" floated out from the huge building.
The Galleria sold nice things to nice people who had nice money. There were boutiques, department stores, an arcade, a couple of bookstores, and a bakery full of rich looking cookies, all for the upscale people of Dallas. Mannequins dressed in stylish clothes stood in boutique windows. Mike focused on a female mannequin that wore a silky, silver shirt with large black dots on it. Mike realized that those clothes cost way more than the money he had in his pocket. Music from an ice skating rink echoed upwards towards the roof of the cavernous place. Young kids glided around the slick surface enjoying the exuberance of an affluent youth.
John spotted a well dressed woman. She wore rings on her fingers, and she had a gold neckless set with rubies around her neck, with a gold and ruby cross hanging on her chest. The way her dress accentuated her figure said she could make a splash at the beach. Her face was deftly made up, but not so heavily that it made her look older than she really was. Her bright red lips went well with the colors on her dress and the rubies on her chest and neck. Mike was a little alarmed at the unabashed way John approached her.
"You look so gorgeous. I am amazed by how good you look. If I was rich I would ask you to marry me," John gushed.
Mike recalled a few lines from "War and Peace": "If I was not myself, but the bravest, cleverest, and wealthiest man in the world, and if I were free, I would go down on my knees this minute and beg you to marry me." It went something like that.
The woman stood still with a huge smile while John bathed her in compliments.
The two young men rested on a bench in the middle of the mall. Mike felt a little out of place, but he wasn't going to let that ruin his day.
"I've got to find me a woman. Let's go to Braxton's and see if we can find a couple of women there," John ventured.
Mike wondered if John was likely to blow off the hospital and go home with a woman for a few days. Mike hated the way they had implied to him at the hospital that he was supposed to keep John in line while they were on their outing. John was supposed to be an adult.
"I'd rather go to B. Dalton's and look for women there," Mike responded.
"You and those books. You can't get women in a bookstore," John answered.
"Yes you can. If you know what to look for you can."
"For every woman you get in a bookstore I can get ten at Braxton's."
"I like a woman of substance. I want a woman who has a brain."
"Well you go to B. Dalton's then. You can have those intelligent women. They all think they are some kind of female genius," John stated.
The manager at B. Dalton's was a beautiful young woman. Her dark brown hair was pulled behind her ears, and a maroon sweater was draped across her shoulders with the sleeves tied across the front of her white blouse. Makeup would only diminish such a perfect face. A gold, heart shaped pendant hung from her neck. Mike knew he couldn't approach her in any other guise than as a customer. Mike noticed a book titled "The Delta of Venus", by Anais Nin, in the literature section. The beautiful young manager gave out a small cry as Mike took the work of literature off the shelf. As Mike looked at her he realized she was exactly what he wanted - stunning to look at and smart. She was the type of woman he would like to live with in a small apartment in Paris. They could amble through the Louvre and write poetry during the day, and drink absinthe in the cafes at night.
This was where Mike always stopped. How could he approach this stunning woman if he didn't have his own transportation, and he only had $20.00 in his wallet? He considered using Romeo's words to Juliet in Shakespeare's play: "If I profane with my unworthiest hand this holy shrine … ", but he was afraid he'd look silly if he tried. Besides, she was probably taken. Why else would she be wearing that gold pendant around her neck? Mike watched her briefly to see if she would give him a sign that she wanted to talk to him. None came. He was right. She had a boyfriend.
Mike waited for John to show up at their designated bench. The image of the woman at the bookstore wouldn't leave his mind.
"Did you have any luck?" John asked as he approached his companion.
"I did get some kind of a response from a woman," Mike answered.
"Did she look at you? Did she say something to you?" John asked with playful sarcasm.
"It was sensual in nature," Mike responded.
A woman who had been sitting with her back to the boys turned her head and looked at them when she heard Mike's words. Mike hoped he hadn't given her the wrong idea. It was just that the way the beautiful manager had cried out a little when he took "The Delta of Venus" off the shelf told Mike he'd had some kind of effect on her.
"What did she do, show you her tits?" John's playful words were starting to bite.
"No. She didn't do that. You wouldn't understand," Mike patiently tried to explain.
"I understand. You got turned down cold," John responded.
"Well how about you then? How did you do?" Mike asked his companion.
"I talked to this girl, but she was nuts. She'd be real friendly, and I'd be thinking, 'I got her. She's mine'. Then she'd start talking about some guy named Heathcliff*. It was Heathcliff this, and Heathcliff that, and I'd be wondering what in the world she was saying."
Mike had a small smile on his face.
"Some women are just crazy," Mike muttered.
Mike realized that John had no idea what the girl meant when she talked about "Heathcliff". Heathcliff was a character in a famous love story titled "Wuthering Heights. It was the kind of novel that is big among college literature students. If a girl is talking about "Heathcliff" when she is with you it meant she was extremely interested in you. It sometimes meant she wanted your body that day.
They had two hours before they had to return to the hospital. The two young men rode the bus back to downtown Dallas, where they found a small café. Mike still had all his money, so he could order a good meal there. He gazed at a picture on the wall of a beautiful young woman sitting at a table with a handsome young man. There was a piece of pie in front of her, and she was delicately guiding a delicious looking morsel to her mouth. Mike wondered what the difference was between commercial art and the high art they showed in museums.
John grabbed a flier off a stack of advertisements. Then he grabbed a pencil next to the stand and wrote "skank list" on the back of the piece of paper.
"I'm going to list all the skanks we're going to get at the hospital, and I am going to call it our skank list," John told Mike.
"You must be totally cynical about women," Mike commented.
"I don't know what that means. What does that mean?" John responded, confused.
"It means you think women are no good, and that it is stupid to try to have a meaningful relationship with them," Mike returned.
There was a heavy silence, then John spoke.
"You can have your meaningful relationships. I just want to have fun," John replied.
There was a small frown on John's face.
Mike knew this conversation would go nowhere if he tried to pursue it. The waitress brought their hamburgers, and the two young men ate in silence.
John finally said, "I don't know what you believe in your world, but in my world I am realistic, and I get a lot of women.
The dingy white linoleum on the floor of their ward looked depressing after Mike and John returned to the ward. The massive wooden doors to the rooms reminded Mike that they were in a locked down facility. One time a guy with explosive anger disorder tore one of those doors off its hinges and threw it down the hallway. They kept that guy strapped down in bed all the time. He was really a nice guy until he hit one of his rages.
When they entered the lounge the other patients crowded around them and asked them if they had gotten the phone numbers of any young women. The two young men admitted that they had struck out.
Wally edged up to John and quietly asked him if they had drank any beer.
"Yes. I drank a beer in Braxton's," John stated out loud.
Mike looked at John in astonishment. He wondered if any staff was in hearing distance. Mike hurried back to his room.
Thirty minutes later Mary, the woman who ran the ward, entered Mike's room.
"Mike, I just talked to John Stample, and he said you guys split up while you were on your outing," Mary paused. "You knew you were supposed to stay together." She paused again. Mike didn't know what to say. "We're taking a hard view of this," she said in a serious tone.
"We did split up, but I swear to God I didn't drink anything," Mike responded.
"I believe you, but you were supposed to stay together. How am I supposed to trust you guys now? I'm going to talk to Dr. Pinter about this, and I doubt if you'll be going on any outings for a while."
Mary left, and Mike went out to the lounge. He was about ready to deck John. He sat down and waited for M.A.S.H. to come on TV.
Heathcliff* - from the novel "Wuthering Heights". Maybe the greatest romance novel of all time. Heathcliff has such a consuming passion for Catherine that it is like he is a force of nature.