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Stories from the Verse
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Chapter 23: Takano 20
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The next day, armed with her sixty dollars and rough instructions for how to find the nearest shopping center, what Missus Billings called a “strip mall”, Tommy struck out into the world beyond the Billings’ yard.
Her path took her down the street a few blocks until it hit the main road within sight of the park where this life had begun a week before. Lumber Mill Road was a busy street, but both the park and the elementary school were on it, on opposite sides a couple blocks apart. She turned away from the park and toward the school, a right turn, and crossed the street when it was safe so she would be properly walking facing traffic, although there were sidewalks on both sides.
That it was a couple miles was not an issue; her recent adventures had accustomed her to walking longer distances. She was soon entering what was something like a downtown area, retail stores, professional offices, and the like. One establishment caught her eye immediately, because it was populated by people very near her own age and they were out in the open where she could see them. It was apparently the ancestor of the fast food shop, a restaurant of sorts with cars parked all around it, where they served food at the car windows. Teenagers and college-aged kids seemed to dominate the parking lot, sitting in the cars, on the cars, on the pavement in front of the cars, standing around, walking around, some even dancing around to the sound of music from the cars as they frolicked and flirted with each other. Some were eating, but mostly this seemed to be the place to hang out together. It was a far cry from a mall, but apparently this was what they had.
The other thing that Tommy noticed was the clothes. All the girls were wearing knee-length skirts and loose blouses. There was not a pair of slacks or shorts, not a tight T-shirt or a tank top, in sight. It was like something from an Elvis Presley movie. Did they really dress like this? It struck Tommy as probably uncomfortable and certainly a bit revealing. She wondered what the girls wore under the dresses--not pantyhose, it appeared, because they wore knee socks with shoes. She remembered a famous picture of some long-dead actress wearing a skirt like that and holding it down as the wind tried to raise it. Should she buy clothes like that? Would she be able to wear it without such embarrassments? How could she learn what sort of undergarments she would need for them? And what would all that cost?
For the moment, it would be better not to be noticed by the others; better to make herself more like them before letting them see her. She was also going to need some kind of explanation for her cultural ignorance. She hurried along the sidewalk trying to ignore the crowd at the hamburger stand, and spotted what she concluded was the strip mall ahead.
This proved to be a row of stores with a long parking lot for head-in parking and a wide sidewalk separating the cars from the stores. There were probably a dozen stores, with a large grocery store at one end and a small department store at the other. Between were smaller specialty stores, including an electronics parts store, a record store, a music store that advertised lessons, and a jeweler. There were signs that indicated additional parking around the back, and most of the parking spaces in the front were filled. She did not recognize any of the store names--Lafayette was the electronics store, the grocer was A&P, and the department store, which she entered, was called Two Guys.
There was a directory just inside the door, and it took her a moment to decide whether she wanted Women’s Clothing or Girl’s Clothing. It appeared, though, that they were near each other, and near the front door. She headed that direction and was soon surrounded by dresses and skirts and sweaters and blouses of many descriptions.
Looking around she spotted a girl who appeared to work there. “Excuse me,” she said. “I don’t know if you can help me? I just moved back here from Japan, and I have no idea what girls wear now.”
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with five other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #359: Characters Engage. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
As to the old stories that have long been here: