She dawdles in the department store, runs her thumb
over the fabric of a dress, she cannot tell
if it’s synthetic or a cotton. Will it breathe?
She leaves it on the rack. Lights too bright reflect
in pools on the linoleum. Escalators
travel up and down to kitchenware and furniture,
toys, books, nursery, childrenswear, footwear, baby change,
Teen Miss, audio, menswear, electrical goods.
She’s shopped all over the store in her lifetime.
Her first bra, from the counter near the knitting wool.
Eleven years old, tape measure, bare chest, lady
pressing close smelled of middle age and cigarettes.
Once she’d had to climb from a lift stuck between floors
And behind her, feet firm on the ground, she looked back
and saw the emptiness, the long fall, and shuddered,
clutched her friend and laughed too hard. How old then? Thirteen?
When she was at uni, a friend from school worked here,
She’d see him as she shopped the sales, two shirts for
ten dollars. They’d say hi, she with an armful to
try on, him pushing a rack of clothes to put away.
At the counter he rang up the prices. She paid,
and though there’d be awkwardness as money changed hands
They said, good to see you, you too, let’s keep in touch.
Privately, they’d wonder about each other’s lives.
She got freelance work here are there, met a man and
married him in secret, though they had nothing to be
ashamed of. They simply didn’t want the vases
and salad bowls, wedgewood plates and coffee plungers.
They had everything they could need, two households
became one, if anything there was overflow.
So what if the cups didn’t match? They were in love.
She dressed her babies here, sat them on Santa’s knee,
bought them barbie dolls and trucks. She’d take the oldest
for her first bra soon, up the escalator
(she tended to avoid the lifts), her own daughter
stepping over to that strange artificial world…
She picks up a scarf from the bargain bin, reduced
to half price, red with gold threads, sheer and shimmering,
but she doesn’t know how to wear it. There are some
grown up lessons she’s never learned. She catches sight
of her reflection, this is a hall of mirrors.
She would not be surprised to meet herself in here.
Sixteen: in the make up section trying colours
on the back of her hand, Rose Shine, Exquisite Plum.
Twenty-six: shopping for a maternity dress
though she’ll hardly show until her third trimester.
Seven: dragged along glaring at her mother’s back,
her mother close to tears or trembling with rage.
She puts the scarf down. There is nothing in the store
she wants but she has nowhere to be at this moment.
She steps onto the escalator and watches
the whole floor slip away, bags, scarves, hats, dresses.