I entered Abercrombie & Fitch only to be accosted by darkness, cologne, a blaring beat, and the realization that I am thirty years old.
In the haze of fragrance lit by no bulb brighter than 15 watts, I squinted at the form of a salesgirl who seemed to be speaking to me. I shook my head with a rueful smile. It was a universal gesture that I hope conveyed both the fact that it was ridiculous for her to think I could hear what she was saying or see her well enough to read her lips and that, no, I don't need any help anyway. She went back to folding skintight wool sweaters.
The merchandise in the women's (and I use the terms loosely) section consisted basically of one single outfit, the pieces of which are meant to be layered on top of each other until the waif wearing them is sufficiently buffered from the December chill. First a cami and jeans, then a long sleeved tee-shirt. Then a tight sweater and a looser buttoned one. Then a hoodie. Then a scarf and a cap.
I sucked back the deluge from sinuses compromised by fragrance allergens as I unfolded a sweater. I was pretty sure my sixteen year old sister would like it. She wouldn't care that it was scratchy as long as it was like everybody else's. I wondered if I was like that when I was her age, and I quickly discounted the idea. I've always hated wool.
I didn't hear a single word the cashier said during the whole purchase process. The sound from the speaker overhead was the kind of mainstream music that is non-memorable except for its frenetic bass, which went in through my ears and promptly got stuck in the sludge of my nasal cavity. I watched him slide the sweater into a sturdy paper bag with a cloth handle. They probably could've skimped on it and maybe charged a little less for the stuff inside. But whatever. We both reached out, the bag falling from seller to buyer. I wrapped my fingers around the fabric grip and let my arm drop to my side. The bag bumped my leg as I made my way out of the cavern into the light. The fluorescence was startling.
In that shock, an inconsistency occured to my thirty year old self. I thought it strange that the dark place is the one devoted to youthful perfection, while the undiluted brightness of the rest of the mall is a shining light on every wrinkle and fat deposit hurrying through. But whatever. I threw myself into long strides so that my image blurred as I looked sideways into the reflective storefronts. I sped toward the exit and the cold, New England winter, where gray illuminates everyone just the same.