Over The Railing

It was my 21st birthday on Tuesday, and to celebrate I went out to the mall with Barney.

It was Barney's idea, of course. My idea of celebrating my birthday was staying at home and reading a good book. But Barney wouldn't have it. "Dion," he said, "a nice girl like you should get out once in a while, and what better time than your birthday?"

Of course, this being Barney, he didn't suggest going to the theatre or a movie or anything. He just said, "Let's go to the mall."

So we did. Since it was Tuesday night, there weren't exactly crowds, except around the theatres to take advantage of the Tuesday discounts. I changed my mind about the movie idea when I saw what was playing. What a load of crap. I did remember having seen a few good films previewed last time I went to a movie, but none of them seemed to be playing here. Typical. That was why I went to so few movies.

So we wandered around. Now I don't want you to get the idea that Barney's my boyfriend or anything. He's just a friend, because it doesn't take very long for him to really get on my nerves. I go out with him once a month or so, and he usually calls me about once or twice a week and we talk until I can get rid of him. He's convinced my apartment is constantly being plagued with visitors because of the number of times I have to go because someone is buzzing the front door. (A lot of guys would get the hint. Not Barney.)

But he's companionable in an odd sort of way. We wandered into a bookstore, surprise surprise. I browsed the shelves slowly, wondering why all my favourite authors were taking so long to come out with new books. It might be time to try someone new again. Barney was over in the humour section--I could hear his braying laugh as he flipped through a Dave Barry book. He never bought them, just read them in bookstores.

We were on the up escalator when I saw these guys started bothering me. They were the kind that pushed and shoved their way up the escalator for the fun of it. When they came up behind me one of them said, "Hey, get a load of that ass in front of us! Man, I could sure use a piece."

I ignored them, although I could feel my face reddening. Barney, who was just in front of me, turned around indignantly. "Do you guys mind?" he said.

Barney was also the kind of kid who'd taken one semester of Phys Ed in high school and then dropped the subject with relief. The two guys laughed. "Hey, get a load of fatso here. This your girl? You boinking her?"

Barney's face was aflame now, too. "None of your goddamn business." We'd reached the top of the escalator by now, and he grabbed my arm and tried to hurry us away.

The two punks caught up. They both had short brown hair, wearing jeans, hightops, and T-shirts with beer ads on them. Budweiser grabbed my arm, putting me in a painful tug-of-war. "Where you goin', baby? Don't you want to find out what a real man is like, not that tub o' lard?"

"Let go of me," I said between clenched teeth, trying to pull away. His grip tightened painfully.

"You like it rough? Is that it?" he said. "I can make it rough."

I kneed him in the crotch, and pulled away from his loosened grip, only to be grabbed again by Miller from behind. He pinioned my arms with one hand, and ran another across my breasts.

Barney snarled, "Get your hands off her, motherfucker." I'd never heard Barney say "fuck" before. Miller wasn't impressed. Barney came at him with fists swinging, an almost laughable sight. Miller just yanked me aside and stuck out a foot, and Barney went down in a heap.

Budweiser was getting back up. "You bitch," he said, in a tight voice. "Hold her for me, Dave. Let's see how rough she really likes it."

Jesus Christ, where were the mall cops when you needed them? When you run down an up escalator, they're right on your case. But when you're being assaulted in full view of twelve clothing stores, they're nowhere to be found. Well, they could always use a little help. I screamed, as loud as I could. "Shit," Dave/Miller said.

Then Barney roared, pulling himself off the ground and launching himself at Budweiser. One thing Barney had, was a lot of mass going for him. The two of them collided with the railing, and Barney grabbed Budweiser by the neck and started pushing his head back into empty space. Budweiser flailed about, but couldn't get loose of Barney's grip. I could see a couple of security guards coming up the escalator.

Then the railing broke. Not all at once, but quickly enough that nothing could really have been done. I stood there watching as Barney and Budweiser teetered forward, overbalancing, trying to grab the edge or another part of the railing. But their arms got in each other's way, and all they grabbed was each other. Then they went over.

Dave seemed to be in shock. I drove my foot into his shin, wishing for the first time that I had been wearing spike heels. His grip loosened and I wrenched free. He seemed paralyzed, even when mall security came up on either side of him. "You OK, miss?" a genial-looking black guard said. I didn't answer, just went over to the gap left by the railing and looked down.

There they were, sprawled in the mini-golf course two stories down. The green was stained brown around the bodies. Neither of them were moving.

I've often had the urge, when looking down from a height, to just jump over. It wouldn't be that hard. It's especially bad when there's something like a chandelier hanging right in front of me, about fifteen feet away, and I think, I can jump that far. What I would do on the chandelier doesn't occur to me.

At that moment I felt more like jumping than I ever had before. I swayed slightly, and then I felt my arm grabbed again, more gently this time. "You better step back from there, miss. You might get hurt."

So I did, blindly. I realized I was crying. Dave was standing there, looking totally ashamed. I walked right up to him and spat in his face. Then I sat down on the floor and started seriously crying.

Based on the words: Kill Pun Birthday Mall

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The Den of Ubiquity/ Aaron V. Humphrey / alfvaen@gmail.com