Millie and I stood in the foyer of the mall gawking at the entrance of the Hollister store, thinking about how it looked like a party we hadn’t been invited to join. There was music percolating within, deep within, like it was in a back corridor of the space, pillowed by doors and walls, enjoyed by its preferred guests. Millie, older than me and in high school, says she went in once, compared it to a haunted house. “There’s this fog coming from the doorway, you know,” she said, clutching her Old Navy bag, filled with discount blouses and blue jeans, “and it’s all dark and you can’t quite tell where anything is. I stumbled backwards into an employee who said nothing, just stared down at me and gave me a look like I should leave.” We peered at that Hollister store like it belonged to some old miser who lived at the top of a hill, like there was nothing but evil lurking in its walls. We both wanted to peek in so badly, drop our bags of clearance Old Navy American Flag shirts, smell the rich perfume of the mirage-like California sensibilities, press our faces against the expensive cotton polo shirts and parka jackets. But that wasn’t who we were. We wore hand-me-down underpants with our older cousins’ names sharpied into the buttocks, our shoes came from an outlet store at the other mall, our spirits felt as reduced as our school lunches. We didn’t even really like the clothing, the heavy branding across the chest, the phrases like SURF and CALI scrawled down sweatpant legs—but for a moment, we set down our bags, took a step through the cinnamon bun musk of the mall, felt the bass of the looming dance pop beating in tune with our own devices, and imagined what it meant to wear one of those shirts, how it might feel against our chests, what else could be imprinted on its heavy fabric.
Tucker Leighty-Phillips is an MFA candidate in Fiction at Arizona State University, where he is currently the Managing Editor for Hayden’s Ferry Review. His work has appeared at Cutbank, Smokelong Quarterly, Hobart, and elsewhere. He can be found on social media at @TheNurtureBoy and online at tuckerlp.net.
Artwork by: Roberto Nickson