P A R A D E !  P A R A D E !
(fiction, manuscript)

     Casually, that's how it began. More or less the same as any regular department store sale event. Officially, it started on a Friday night, mid-winter, after closing time. The evening swaggered in early after the day had failed to fully wake. The Waxler’s external downlights sharpened to a glistening chime in the fading light and the store windows, awash in sale time red and white, reflected the busy city streets. Frost clung to the fabric of those incoming then evaporated upon entry in the presence of overenthusiastic internal heating.
     At six pm staff working the dayshift exited the building displaying synchronised elegance coupled with the swiftness that most adults exhibit when someone yells fire indoors. Those of us beginning our shift, staring down a long night ahead, sought comfort in sarcasm and sugary or caffeinated drinks. For a short period, something akin to a fellowship brewed among us but was abandoned later when nobody could think of a common goal greater than that of our individual priority of making it through the night, even if at the peril of each other.
     The building entrances were guarded for as long as the security staff could handle small talk with the overly eager in the freezing cold. Then, with a huff and a puff, the first line—a smaller than expected cohort of diehards, blew the front doors inward and raced ahead of those far less eager to show their hand so early on. They tunnelled deep into the building like rats through the underworld.
     A calm followed, during which time only a few groups swept in: red-eyed city workers, office buddies, chatty teens, gothic casual workers with their knees torn out. They feigned interest, and barely noticed the store merchandise displays and in so doing humiliated the fake gold-trim and cursive lettering on their invitations. Upper management walked the hallways saying things like “we expected this” and “get ready for the after dinner rush, buddy” but you could hear their teeth grinding.
     Two hours later, a tide of shoppers filled the Waxler building up to its eyeballs. They were bargain hunters, crazy and dehydrated. I was Peter of the third floor corridor to them, they were strangers to me but I was The Strange.

After-Dinner Rush

     There was a lady eating ice-cream down one end of the corridor, dressed as though for the theatre in suede shoes, a lace fascinator, with a feather peaking out from beneath her oversized purple coat. She stared aimlessly into the distance, sad-eyed and licking with listless energy. At the other end of the corridor, swaying from side to side beneath the neon lights, I stood dressed for work in my store uniform—black trousers, a white shirt, and a waistcoat—holding my tie in my hand, which I would use to strangle anyone who tried to keep me in my place, my spot.
     I could hear laughter coming from a hallway nearby, I could smell coffee in the air, and I could see a fist of people hustling onto the overcrowded escalator about to lose their goddamn minds.  I could relate. At twenty-seven-years old, parked on the peripheral of the third–floor corridor, Shepard to a miserable looking flock of trestle tables overflowing with cheap CD’s, and saddled with an exhausted cash register I’d named, Bob, I too had waited in line for my turn to ascend, but it never came.  Though the Waxler was sure to be haunted, I assumed the cackler in the hallway was of the living kind so I thumped on the wall and shouted ‘shut up’ in a high pitched wail and returned to watch the fireworks on the escalators.
     The airy corridor, with black and white tiled floor and white walls, accommodated my eight trestle tables side-by-side in pairs of two with a walkway between them and browsing room around the edges.  At one end, the corridor spread into an area shared by the ceramics/outdoor furniture section and the Waxler’s cafe. The opposite end of the corridor led into the dimly-lit book section but getting in there meant negotiating a doorway that was almost wide enough for two people to pass each other at once. Traffic jams were inevitable.
     Ahead of me, a man with a toothbrush hanging out of his mouth stepped daintily between the trestles as though the plastic-cased CDs atop were daisies sprouting in a perfect field, in a perfect world. He flashed a broad and decent smile to anyone looking his way. I was teetering along the back wall attempting to meet his gaze, ignoring the line of customers forming back at the register; a sweaty mix of huffing and puffing bargain hunters, counting their one-dollar treasures, moaning about the lack of good customer service. Unable to catch the eye of the toothbrush man,  I turned to the sign on the wall above my head that read Bargain! Cheap CDs—No Returns, pulled a black marker from my pocket and added or Friendship beside it, just to make things clear, then turned and strutted towards the pack.
     I was in a strange mood on account of upper management shifting me out of the basement music section two weeks prior. Sure, it was a heat trap down there, precisely as hot as an oven, but I had acclimatised and the staff were like family to me.  And now, popular opinion was that I was failing to adjust to my new surroundings. Maybe it was the much cooler climate of the third floor corridor or maybe it was the isolation that comes with banishment. The move was, to my knowledge, temporary but rumours were circulating. Regardless of management’s intentions, I was not enjoying the displacement. I was, however, enjoying the small amount of autonomy I’d gained in the transfer up to the trestles, a station no one seemed to care about. It was, perhaps, just enough rope for me to hang myself with.
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