As Sara opened the heavy entrance door to the mall, she saw her reflection in the glass. Her eyes were red and swollen. Why was that? she wondered.
“Excuse me, are you coming in or out?” a voice cut into her thoughts, an irritated voice. A man was standing in front of her trying to get by. “I’m sorry,” Sara said quickly, realizing she’d stopped halfway through the door. She passed through quickly and the man slid by her, letting out a sharp breath she felt hot on her cheek. The automatic door swung shut then, the edge smacking hard against the back of Sara’s left hand. She grimaced and shook her hand for a minute until the pain subsided. By the time she reached the ice cream parlor next to Sears, she’d forgotten about it. She looked at the sunken tubs of flavors for a moment then focused in on the ‘bubble gum’ flavor, amazed to see actual gumballs embedded in the ice cream. She thought about how hard the frozen gumballs must be and wouldn’t that hurt people’s teeth? “Are you ready?” the girl behind the counter asked impatiently. She had a book next to the cash register. Sara tried to read the title and then saw the girl’s annoyed expression. “Um, a cone, vanilla, single scoop,” she said quickly. The girl rolled her eyes, obviously angry at having to wait for such a stupid order. “Sugar or regular?”This stumped Sara. Didn’t all ice cream have sugar in it? “I’m sorry?” “The cone? Sugar or regular.” The girl couldn’t have been more rude but Sara wanted to hug her. For months everyone had treated her so delicately, tiptoeing around her fragility. But not this girl. She just wanted Sara gone. But not just Sara, anyone keeping her from her book. “Sugar, please,” Sara answered quickly. Frowning, the girl made Sara’s cone, stabbing at the rock hard ice cream with the metal scoop. “Dollar five,” she said curtly as she held out the finished cone.Handing the girl the money with her right hand, Sara lifted her left hand to grab the cone. She was amazed to see it was covered in bright glossy red. The girl’s eyes opened wide and she stepped back from Sara.“Oh, look at that,” Sara said calmly. “I’m bleeding, aren’t I?” The girl nodded without speaking and then shoved a pile of napkins toward Sara. “Thank you very much,” Sara said, smiling. She felt small thuds on her shoe and she looked down to see blood dripping off her fingers onto her sandals. And the floor. “Oh, I’m so sorry,” Sara continued, leaning down. “You’d have to clean that up, wouldn’t you? And that wouldn’t be very pleasant at all.” She took some of the napkins and wiped up the spots of red from the canary yellow tiles. Some of the blood had landed on the caulking in between the tiles and she had to scrub harder to get that up. Even then it was still a little pink.“I’m so sorry,” she said again. “I can’t seem to get all of it. And uh oh, it looks like I used up all the napkins you gave me.”Wordlessly, the girl pushed the entire napkin dispenser across the counter toward Sara. Seeing the girl’s frightened eyes, Sara felt oddly triumphant. ‘You’re not thinking about your book now, are you?’ she wanted to say to the girl.She walked to a table in the back, carrying the napkin dispenser. Sitting down, she pulled napkins out of the dispenser -- one, two, three, four, five -- and pressed them against her hand. She ate her cone and watched the blood seep through the napkins. She couldn’t help smiling a little. It all felt so dramatic and crisis-like. Everything seemed suddenly irrelevant. It was a nice feeling, like being temporarily suspended while falling off a very tall building.Looking up, she saw that the girl was holding her book, but was also watching Sara over the top. She had a fretful look on her face, as if deciding whether or not to call security. Sara almost wished she would. She imagined the mall security guards coming and walking her briskly down to another level of the mall only shoplifters and crazy people saw. Watching the girl watch her, Sara realized she liked being a scene. She felt she was contributing to something. She took her time eating the rest of the cone, savoring it. The girl was obviously anxious for Sara to finish and leave, but at the same time she seemed to not want the moment to end, as if Sara were a short, fierce, but undestructive storm.The bleeding had stopped. Sara wanted to squeeze her wrist, push more blood down, break the soft, vulnerable barrier of coagulating blood. But that would be cheating. Instead, she sighed, stood up, and walked into the bathroom where she scrubbed the drying blood off with a soapy paper towel. She dried her hands completely and walked back out through the ice cream store to the main part of the mall, not looking at the girl on the way out. She didn’t want to see the look on her face. But maybe she should have looked at her. That way, she may not have seen the store across the mall from the ice cream store, the one with pink socks and blue bibs with yellow lambs on them…. Twenty minutes later the security guards came for her, called by a woman hocking Sears credit cards by the store’s entrance. They weren’t as brisk as Sara had imagined. They were sweet actually and gentle with her as they took her down in the elevator, down to a level they needed a key to get to.