Part One – From Behind the Dresses
‘She’ll never find me here’, were Gloria’s final thoughts before she heard the gunshots. She had hidden herself amongst some of the prettier dresses, the ones with the softer fabrics and brighter colors. Her mother never came here. She told Grace that she couldn’t buy clothes like that because of her “budget”. Gloria didn’t know what a “budget” was, but she suspected that it was some kind of rash.
The sounds of the store surrounded her, shopping carts rolling by, two women discussing Betty Summers’ bed-hopping (her mother never let her jump on the bed, Gloria reflected unhappily), and mellow jazz playing over the speakers. Gloria wasn’t focused on them though. All that crossed through her mind was the Pretty Princess, and how lovely it would look shining on her golden curls, how elegant and regal she would appear. All for the low, low price of $24.95.
Tiffany Roxbury always looked so glamorous with her pretty dresses and fancy earrings, but she’d never be able to make fun of her again if she had a tiara like that. Gloria’s mother just didn’t understand. So Gloria simply did the one thing her mother had told her not to do, she’d let go of her hand.
Her mother would be furious if she ever found her, but Gloria suspected she wouldn’t. She began to form an elaborate fantasy about going and living in the rainforest with the monkeys. ‘She’ll never find me here’, she thought smugly when suddenly she heard the gunshot and the store around her erupted in screams.
Gloria poked her head slowly through the dresses and saw shoppers crouching on the floor in fear. Two women were huddling together behind a shelf, while a man shielded his son with his body. She heard a man shouting, but was unable to hear what he was saying. A woman near her was crying. There was another shot and Gloria retreated back into the clothes rack, praying that the shouting man would have no interest in the pretty dresses and leave her be.
Gloria suddenly felt an overwhelming need to find her mother. She knew that if she were just with her mother, everything would turn out all right. The shouting man would go away and the screaming would stop. Why did she let go of her hand? Why would she ever think that was a good idea? Gloria began to cry, she felt hot tears roll down her cheek and tasted snot. There was another gunshot and more screaming, and this time Gloria screamed along with them. She looked at her hands and found that they were scarlet. Her mother had told her to clip her fingernails and she hadn’t, now they were covered in the blood she had dug out of her own palms. She hadn’t even noticed.
Without warning, Gloria heard the sounds of chaos. People began screaming and there were shouting men, followed by multiple gunshots. Gloria jumped and knocked her head against the cold metal railing, she cried out in pain. Then came the silence. The silence was brief however, and was quickly followed by more chaos. Shouting and screaming filled Gloria’s ears. She peeked out from the dresses and saw people running and shouting. Police officers moved quickly from person to person. Gloria crawled out from the clothes rack and looked around.
“Mom?” she cried out, her voice cracking, “Mom?”
“Gloria? Oh my god, Gloria!”
Gloria turned and saw her mother running towards her. She rubbed her hands on her dress to try to hide the blood from her mother, but she only succeeded in smearing it over the floral print. Her mother scooped her up into her arms and hugged her. She could feel her mother’s tears mixing in with her own and took her mother’s hand in hers, and she didn’t let go.
Part Two – From Beyond the Dresses
I walk hurriedly past the women’s clothing section and see a small girl crawling between some of the dresses into a clothing rack. She wears a floral print dress and has long, curly blonde hair. I touch the cross hanging around my neck and say a brief prayer that she will remain in there.
I quickly move past the women’s clothing. The dresses remind me too much of the one’s that Susan wore during the summer. Short dresses with soft, thin fabrics. Like the one she wore the day she walked out of the house, a pale yellow with a white belt that complemented the shoes she wore. The memories bring too much pain, so I continue walking, contented in the knowledge that soon all the pain will be gone.
I make my way to the front of the store, having already made my way around six times before. This is it; I can feel myself growing more resolute with every step. I near the front of the store, pull my cellphone out of my pocket and dial.
“911,” answers the voice at the other end of the call, “what is your emergency?”
“I am at the Target on Westport Road,” I answer, my voice trembling only slightly, “there is a man. He has a gun.” I hang the phone up and slowly pull the gun from the back of my pants. It is a small thing, and I marvel, once again, at the ease with which I was able to procure it. It is time. I touch the cross on my neck once again and ask for strength and forgiveness.
I hold the gun over my head and, after a brief hesitation, pull the trigger. The effect is instantaneous. People scream and drop to the ground. They hold their heads in their hands and cower behind displays. A woman not five feet away begins to cry, she looks just like Susan.
“Everybody!” I shout, “Please do not try to run. I don’t want to have to hurt anyone. This will all end soon, I promise! This all ends soon.”
I hear my own words and I believe them. The police will arrive, it will end and I will finally feel relief. I will no longer relive that moment every night. Her words will no longer echo through my head. Coward. Imbecile. Weakling. Loser. It will all end soon.
An employee begins to move slowly toward the exit and I pull the trigger again. There are screams and she cowers on the floor.
“I said don’t move!” I scream, and shoot the gun another time. “Don’t!”
That’s when I hear the sounds of sirens and screeching tires from outside. This is it. My moment had finally arrived and I will embrace it with open arms. The relief will come soon. Police officers enter the store, with their guns raised.
“Drop your weapon!” one of them shouts at me. I look at him and take a deep breath. It is now or never. I point my gun at him and he fires.
I feel pain like I’ve never felt before. I feel like someone has set a blaze in my stomach that spreads like a wild fire throughout my entire body. I hear more shot and the heat rises. I wait for the numbness that never comes. All I feel is the fire and the screaming within my own head. I pray that I will feel the relief soon, but it never happens. The only thing I feel is regret.
Then the world goes—