Not If I See You First
“How are you going to pick what you want?”
“I already know what I want. I tell them, they get it, I give them my credit card, it’s done.”
“What if they overcharge you? Shouldn’t you pay in cash?”
“No. They scan the box and it goes straight to the credit card. If you pay cash, the register can say sixty bucks but the guy tells you a hundred; then he puts the extra forty in his pocket and you’re screwed with no proof of anything. With the credit card I check online when I get home and see if it cost what the guy said, then I only pay if it’s right.”
Aunt Celia’s only been living with me three months and there are lots of things we haven’t run into yet. I didn’t figure today was the day to have a showdown over shopping alone, but I also didn’t figure on Petey pushing for the video game store, which he has every right to do.
“I only want to help,” she says.
She sounds like she means it. Like I’m hurting her feelings. But if someone’s feelings get hurt when they insist on giving me something I don’t want, I don’t see how that’s my fault. It doesn’t get us anywhere, though.
“Tell you what. Follow me if you want and you’ll see I’m fine. It won’t be any fun for Petey but it wasn’t going to be anyway.”
“You want us to follow you?” she asks. “Like ten steps back?”
“No, but I can’t stop you either. Do what you want. Just don’t interfere unless I’m doing something life-threatening. Either way, I’ll meet you back here in a half hour or I’ll text you.”
I cane my way over to the wall. In all the arguing I almost lost track of where it should be, but the sound of puppies to my left orients me. I know there are no benches or other protrusions along this wing of the mall so I cane along it easily, tapping hard enough for people who aren’t looking to hear me coming.
There are seven stores ahead. My cane hits the side wall, and then not when I pass a store entrance, and then wall again. After seven gaps, I know I’m in the center hub.
This is the first time I expect Aunt Celia might intervene because I’m heading straight for the fountain. On purpose, but she doesn’t know that. It’s only shin high and she probably thinks I’ll plow into it. My cane strikes the rim and I stop. No one says anything.
Except a little boy nearby whispers loudly, “Mom! Mom! Look!”
Who knows what that’s about. Maybe me or maybe a turd floating in the fountain. Now comes the tricky part: orienting to the shoe store from here.
“She’s pretending she’s blind!” the boy says in a whisper loud enough to echo.
It’s always a question whether or not to ignore these things. I can tell he isn’t far away, so I lean toward him a bit.
“I’m not pretending,” I say in a loud whisper. “I’m really blind. And not deaf.”
He gasps and I hear scrambling. Maybe he’s hiding behind his mom.
“Then why’re you wearing a blindfold?” he asks.
“Come on, Donnie,” says a young woman. “Don’t bother her.”
“I wear it because it’s pretty. And because Japanese pilots in World War Two wore them when they crashed into things on purpose. Sometimes I crash into things too, though not on purpose.”
I realize this might be offensive, even if they aren’t Japanese. Too late now.
“Kamikaze!” he shouts, followed by plane noises, bullet noises, and an explosion noise, all of which probably adds several ounces of spit to the air.
With that taken care of, it’s time for the tricky part. The wing of the mall with the shoe place, Running Rampant, is opposite the fountain, which is round. It works best if I tap my way around by sidestepping, always trying to face the same way without pivoting, or else it’s hard to keep track of my direction. As I do it, the airplane noises diminish. When I think I’m there, it’s time to see if I got it right.
I walk far enough forward to know I’m generally in the main wing, and then I start trending toward the right, where I know the store is. I manage not to bump into anyone, like people who are probably just facing away, gawking at the window displays or whatever, and don’t hear my taps.
When I reach the doorway I pass through and walk straight until I tap a barrier that should be a shoe display. I reach out and touch canvas and shoelaces. Success. Now it’s a waiting game, and usually a short one.
“May I help you?”
It’s a guy’s voice. Maybe my age. I don’t recognize it.
“That depends. Do you work here?”
He chuckles. “Yeah, I’m an employee. Want to touch my name tag?”
“Not until we know each other better. Unless it’s in braille.”
“It’s not. It says Jason. Are you looking for someone?”
“Nope.” I lift my right leg a bit and turn my foot to the side. “Can I get a new pair of these in an eight?”
“Hmmm … I don’t think we carry those anymore.”
“The closest thing is fine. I’m not that picky.”
“Definitely. I am picky about that. No stripes or colors or any wacky stuff. If I run at night I want to get hit by a car because they can’t see me.”
“You might as well run at night since you don’t need any light. I’ll be right back.”
He leaves. No reaction to me running at night, or running at all; he even made a crack about it. I could like this guy. Except I don’t know if he’s seventeen or twenty-seven and that’s a tough thing to ask, even for me.
I say “No thank you, I’m being helped” to three different people before Jason returns.
“There’s an empty bench about three steps to your right,” he says.
While I tap over and sweep my hand, he keeps talking. “I don’t know if you care about brands—”
“I don’t.” I find the bench and sit down.
“Okay. They discontinued the shoes you’re wearing and replaced them with these, which are close but they put in more arch support and some B.S. spring-foam technology in the heel that doesn’t help but doesn’t hurt either. Do you want me to lace them for you?”
He asked me. He’s racking up points now.
“Give me one and you do the other.” I hold out a hand and a shoe lands in it.
“Sure thing.” He sits down next to me. “We can race.”