Are You Alienated (novella): part one
Are You Alienated
Everyone moved with a purpose. The doors opened; the queue bunched . . . like the oysters of Walrus and Carpenter fame, the group were mostly fat; and many, by this time, winded. Their Americanness did not stand out badly. They were tourists, but wore what everyone wore, parkas and windbreakers, jeans or cargo pants, sneakers. At their sides their nylon sleeves, as they pressed onwards, swished. Those who had come prepared to photograph everything were strapped from left shoulder to right hip, left hip to right shoulder, black zippered bags bumping. Over their shoulders swung massive-lensed Nikons and Olympias.
Blood had spilled here; sorrow, biding its time, had smoldered here, restrained behind intentful eyes . . . hatred had flared in revolution. Today, the square’s indifferent paving blocks were trodden by spongy petro-chemical outsoles. The guide took his post at the top of the stairs; his assistant counted heads, the group drifted to their lodestar and lodged in a roughly deltoid shape, fanning wider towards the rear. Stragglers, reconnecting, gulped their way to the bin, dropping off bottles and cups.
They were cold. They were weary on their feet, but they had another museum to cope with. Clouds pushed across the blue sky with a fulsome ionic weight bellying their mid-sections. The sun vanished. The idling bus drew wistful glances.
Minta Castelberry scuttled through the glass door, carrying her two plastic-handled shopping bags. Her purse slumped off her shoulder and came to rest, annoyingly, in the crook of an elbow; around her neck, her own camera (a small ELPH) was swinging on its lanyard. She spotted a bench, and veered from the group. This bench and its alcove were ideally proportioned to one another, and with unapologetic aggression Minta spread her burdens to either side. A tee-shirt slipped its bag, and dropped to the floor.
“Put both of those in the same one,” Mrs. Castelberry said. “Why do you wanna carry two?”
Minta’s mother-in-law had doubly secured her cross-body bag, zipping its steel-wired strap under her vest’s mesh security pockets. She wore black yoga pants. The pants had sporty white stripes, but for exigency’s sake, she allowed these. Her shoes were blunt and bloated, and might have been created by injecting foam insulation into a clog-form.
Mrs. Castelberry shopped for clothes every day, if TV counted. She didn’t buy . . . but kept avid tabs on price, length, fabric, workmanship (“which with the computers you never find anymore”). She knew everything in stores had been tried on—was therefore too much money for not being really new. And everything you got mail order had been sent back . . . they just threw it in the plastic bag and shipped it out again. And anyway, they only made clothes these days for young people. Half Minta’s mother-in-law’s conversations dwelt on these unhappy symptoms of progress.