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Another Ohio
by Luke Bartolomeo

Listen to Luke Bartolomeo read from 'Another Ohio'


What starts for Turner, a mall security guard, as a serious endeavor to solve the mystery of his friend's death is quickly overshadowed by his bewildered love for Carla, a pretzel stand employee, who, wearied of job and life, chains herself to heavy contemplation over regrets and trivialities.

Amidst Turner's passive experience of her turmoil, he engages the numerous trials of being a mall guard (from mall rats to car thieves) as he ponders the loneliness that pervaded his late friend's past, that now consumes his occupation—and worse, his relations with the "soft pretzel girl."

Another Ohio is a contemporary drama commenting on the loneliness that permeates the everyday-American milieu. Further, it is an exploration into the murkiness of nostalgia and the aching yearn found in failed love.


A good friend of mine once lived in Ohio for two semesters. The move confused me. What could he possibly want to do in Ohio? The state was corn-fed chickens, old steel towns, and bad football teams. But he found something for his interest, on that state's flatter end, in the form of a Kodak internship, testing new types of printer jets. The work, to me, didn't sound that incredible, but what did I know—being a security guard wasn't much better. Watching printers splatter on paper all day or witnessing the same soft pretzel girl dip her hand, for the three-hundredth time, into a bowl of lukewarm dough...take your pick. At least I looked at human beings for eight hours, not machines.
    His name was James, a standard name, about as standard as high oil prices and apple pie—a fitting moniker for his hum-ho life. James went out there with big hopes to make money. I don't doubt that he made tons of it. I just doubt the value of making money at the sacrifice of his sanity: he went to work, came home, shut his blinds, ate microwaved dishes, watched movies, and went to bed. That was his routine. He never talked to anyone except his coworkers, and only when it was necessary.
    Returning home to visit his family proved his exile from the world a damaging success. He'd have trouble talking: "I'd stutter a lot, mess up my words, what I was saying. I couldn't communicate. On top of it, I was scared of seeing people—I'd blush and make a fool of myself. I couldn't talk straight or do anything normally. Sometimes I just wanted to be back in Ohio. There, I knew I was non-existent—and the world was indifferent to me. If no one cared, I knew there'd be no one to laugh at me. If the world shrugged its shoulders it'd be plenty enough of an acknowledgment—that was comfort."
    After two semesters, he gave up on printer jets. It was too much, and life deserved to be lived at least a little more than he was living it. On that last victorious day, with that final gaze upon those Ohioan flatlands, he vowed never to be alone again. But he broke his vow. Back home he had friends, but many times they didn't call him and he refused to call them, intent on being alone if he had to be, spending days in his parent's house watching movies and waiting for the microwave to ding. Sometimes, he'd step out of it. Someone would call him—me.
    "Hey, J, what're you doing?"
    "Thank God you called."
    "It's been 'another Ohio' again."
    That's how he always referred to his lonely times—"another Ohio."
    "So why didn't you call me or someone else?"
    "Because I always feel that if I call somebody they'll hate me for it—that I'm inconveniencing them in some way."
    "You're talking pretty coherent for being in another Ohio. I thought you had trouble with talking."
    "Oh yeah, I've had practice, though. I've been talking out loud to myself the past few days. Mom was freaked out. She thought I was on the phone until she saw me pacing my room and talking to a poster on my wall."
    Usually I was able to get him out of the house...for a little while. But he'd just keep retreating to his home until eventually I never saw him again.


Charlie to 109.
    My radio crackled with the Lieutenant's voice.
    Get down to the food court bathrooms. 10-76 [Intoxication].
    10-4 [Acknowledged].
    I jogged down to the food court. My radio hung from my utility belt like a desperate mountain climber causing my belt to sag, and aching my back. We called it "the brick." It was as large and as heavy as one and could do serious damage if dropped from the second level. I hated the uniform in general, not just the radio. I looked like a police officer from the '60s only it was a gray shirt instead of blue. I wore itchy black pants and a humongous mesh hat that made me feel like the Gestapo. Nothing ever fit me right. Naturally—nothing in the mall seemed right.
    The food court bathroom reeked of backed-up shit. Yellow and orange piss stained the white tile below the urinals. One of the toilets was taped over with yellow "Caution" tape and a sign on the door read "Out of Order." I looked everywhere within sight of standing; no one seemed to be around. Then—why didn't I think of it?—I bent down to look through the openings below the closed stalls. At the third stall I saw a pair of limp and lifeless legs, spread-eagle, looking detached from an upper torso shielded by the door. I shook the handle. Locked. I sighed and cursed to myself, knowing what I had to do next. I went to the adjacent stall and stood on the rim of the toilet seat, lifting my left foot up onto the large stainless steel toilet roll dispenser. My right went up soon after. I put one leg over and then the other and jumped down in between the passed-out kid's legs. I straightened his limp, sweaty face and unlocked the door.
    109 to Charlie.
    Need assistance.

    He was a fat kid with wire-rimmed glasses. His greasy long hair ran over his chunky cheeks. Some of his hair ends moved from his breath. He was still alive, thank God. Before I had time to inspect him thoroughly I heard footsteps and the crackling of radios.
    "Yeah," I yelled out over the stall. "I'm just looking at the culprit. Third stall."
    I opened up the stall and the other guys came toward me.
    Tom looked over my shoulder, his light-brown mustache twitching, his crew cut glimmering.
    "Jesus, we'll need EMTs," he said in his quiet, mumbling way.
    He radioed the main desk, our operator and customer service, to call for an ambulance.
    "He's breathing, at least," I said. "Come on, Paul, help me get his ass up."
    "Stylish, huh?" Paul referred to the kid's tan trench coat.
    "Yeah, matches his accessories," I loosened the brown paper bag from his hands and threw it in the trash.
    Paul put the kid's right arm around him. I followed suit with the left. The kid, though chunky, hid it well under a baggy black t-shirt and camouflage pants. We dragged him toward the bathroom counter, lifting him up onto it and down into a pool of water between the sinks. It soaked into his pants, stretched out over his bulbous buttocks.
    "Shit..." Paul said. "I guess it doesn't matter now."
    I hoped sitting him up, under the sink's bright lights, might sober him. Wives' tales, nothing more.
    The EMTs arrived and carted him out while food court personnel hit up the bathroom with a mop and sponge. I remembered his red face slick with sweat as he lay there like he was being transported in an open casket. We smelled the trail of alcohol out the door and through the food court.
    Everyone dropped their food-filled mouths as they observed the lousy drunk's form billowing over the gurney. Maybe they knew their own lives were more dead than his, maybe they wanted to live life as dangerous as his seemed to be, but knew they'd die a little slower with the numbing poison of position and comfort. The mall was a graveyard. Bones arrived here, only moving, only talking, by whatever of God's breath store sales and promotions blew into them, and with the fuel of food court French fries (smothered in cheese goo) to sputter them on.
    I hated the mall, but I had to be there. I had to.
    The food court hadn't looked renovated since the early eighties. Wood-paneled dividers, with mulch and plants at their tops, arranged in triangles, divided the food court into several sections. The brick-red tile floor was equally tacky and terrible. Everyone sat at pine tables, slick and shiny from polyurethane, scarfing delicacies of chili dogs, gyros, and frozen yogurt.
    "Uh oh...Godzilla's coming," Paul said as he took off his hat to rub his buzzed gray hair.
    The food court was ugly, but not nearly like Des—"Godzilla"—the mountain-sized woman who spoke in a gruff voice and thought she managed the court because she owned two of its lots. One was a steak place where her only friend, an Asian woman with a bizarre skin disease, worked. The other was a taco stand, which had a bad reputation for diseasing people with its refried beans.
    Des yelled at and scolded every guard, endangering what little authority they really had, always blowing cigarette smoke in their faces as she talked to them.
    Des waddled over to us with her meaty voice, her chubby fingers nearly encasing the entire cigarette she held, "What happened boys?" A puff of smoke hit my face, smelling like garbage and rotting teeth.
    "Nothing, Des," Paul said, smiling.
    Tom silently tugged his mustache.
    "Don't tell me 'Nothing,' Paul," Des got serious. "I want to know what the hell happened or I'll call Kirkland." Kirkland was our Captain, the highest man in charge.
    "Just a little drinking. A little too much drinking. Don't worry," Paul delivered it gently like he was calming down a boy who'd lost his balloon. "Business isn't ruined. You're still doing fine. People are eating tacos and Philly cheese steaks everywhere I look."
    Paul always talked in a soft and semi-condescending way when people were angry. He was the best moderator on the force because he was so calm. His genuine smile could melt a serial killer's heart. He wasn't a trickster or a coward. There wasn't a weight on his shoulders like some of us. He didn't see the job as drudgery: you could tell by the way he carried his tall, slender body—a gait as peaceful as a man walking on a deer path.
    Des looked him over, deadpan, leery-eyed, and blew another hot, smelly cloud toward our faces. Without a word, she swung herself around and waddled off, her graying-brown and knotted hair covering part of a sweaty stain shaped like West Virginia seeping through the back of her flowing moomoo-like t-shirt.
    Tom, whose fatty muscle seemed the residue of neglected weightlifting, continued playing with his mustache, his dark blonde crew cut glistening with sweat as he nervously took off his hat and put it back on, "I'd like to beat her ass."
    "Maybe when you were in the army, friend," Paul chuckled. "But I think she'd topple you. Her ass alone could fend for itself."
    Tom mumbled something disgruntled, as he always did, and turned to step onto the escalator for the second floor. Angrily, he took out a notepad and scribbled something in it. He was around forty. By the fact he worked as a security guard, it could be assumed he hadn't done much with his life. He had probably been a "rent-a-cop" for as many years as the number of bristly hairs above his lip.
    Of course, he wasn't the only one to be disgruntled. I don't see how you couldn't bear some weighty regret for working in a shopping mall. None of us were proud to be there. We all spoke as if it was a "transition job," but hardly anyone transitioned to anywhere. The next transition was death, not another occupation.
    On our name tags were three letters—Ptl.—placed in front of our first initial and last name. It stood for "Patrolman." One of the gang, Rick, a jolly man with a thick boyish face and burning red hair, once told me, "I think I figured out what 'Ptl.' really stands for."
    "What's that?"
    "Part-time loser," he laughed to himself, his big eyes squeezed in by his scrunching eyelids, his stomach dipping up and down like a trampoline.
    That's what we were to most people—losers. And worst of all that's what we were to ourselves—losers. It's a hefty word, if you think about it: a loser is one who's lost not just money, women, or children, but the time of that loss. Years of life—gone, departed. Vamoose.
    For most of us, our experience on that job—one that seemed parallel to the rest of life—held a long list of regrets, of people crying or waving goodbye, of doors being slammed and screams of discontent. After all that, there was no esteem for yourself, and no respect left for the mall patrons you were meant to guard. The customers—they didn't help us feel better. We were mocked and hated.
    In these conditions no one on the security force could really have a positive outlook.


Women confused James. He didn't know what they wanted. It was a classic line, to say that, maybe a little more humble, more loving, than the sour sayings of most men—men who imagined what girls needed, which always seemed to imply they never bothered to ask what was really necessary; prowlers who forced their own desires on anyone with the right proportions and a sweet face.
    Becoming a quiet kid didn't get him much of anything, though it might not have mattered. He never had a girlfriend in his twenty-two years. Some people might have seen that as sad, pathetic. But I respected him because he always said he was waiting for someone right, not just anyone. It was ironic to see that the men so sure of what girls needed got all the girls while my friend—respectful in twiddling his thumbs—became pretty much a loner, shy and awkward. He was apprehensive. He didn't want to be too forceful, becoming a turn-off. But instead, he holed himself away until there weren't any women around to scare.
    Girls, it seemed, preferred the strong man, the one who had all the "right" theories on what they needed; they chose that guy maybe because they were too shallow and lost to figure out what they needed on their own.
    That's not true of all women, of course, but I knew it seemed plausible among those who filled the shopping mall: perky, bleach-blonde teens with "Sweet" written across the ass of their shorts. They were the kind that clip-clopped in sandals in the dead of winter and blabbered on cell phones about some burgeoning celebrity trend or the latest gossip to come via locker room. If you solely observed mall demographics to represent female America it would bring to question where real women had gone and what of their freedom could be found in purchasing yet another sixty-dollar pair of jeans and a gallon of Victoria's Secret perfume—all of which would go toward attracting men with those pesky "theories."
    "Theory men" were commonly identified by hemp necklaces, out-of-place beach shorts, and cut-off tees, or striped polo shirts and cargo pants. They matched perfectly with their female counterparts and diluted the mall with their swift and drowsy looks, their chins up, their favors granted, their dreams secured.
    Not every mall girl had 'Sweet' bannering their ass. The pretzel girl didn't. I had no presumptions on what she needed, only that she starved for cash enough to work that horrid job. And she made no presumptions about what I wanted, except that I lunged for the doughy treats she made and sold at Pretzel Pizzazz, one of those food stands prized for their gourmet pretzels and a billion flavors of lemonade.
    I'd watch her from the mall's second level railing, confined in her kiosk, strategically placed adjacent the kid's indoor playground where bored parents passed the time by eating pretzels and sipping lemonade.
    She'd mix the dough in a large stainless steel bowl, then grab a clump and roll it into long snakish pieces that she twirled and twisted. Like putting a sleeping baby in a crib, she'd carefully lay them on a greased baking sheet. With a few sheets filled, she'd shove them into an oven while pulling out other sheets with shiny-brown results.
    I waited from on high—a circling vulture—swooping down the escalator when she had fresh ones. "I got one, Turner," she'd call to me as I waited, leaning against a pillar, looking left and right like I was dutifully guarding the place. When the customers cleared I'd rush over, grab it, say "Thanks" and bolt to the nearest back hallway to down the goods.
    Carla and I met over my love of pretzels. I had walked up to the stainless steel counter one day...
    "Can I get uhhh," I stared up at the list of choices, "uhhh..."
    She stared back, with bright blue eyes like Caribbean water, at my stupefying study of the menu, pushing aside her dark-blonde bangs with her wrists instead of her greasy latexed fingers. She had one of those hair cuts I adored. It was a retro cut: straight hair that reached to her shoulder (wrapped in a ponytail for work) and straight bangs that dangled to right above her eyebrows. It was the kind of cut you might see in a 60's French film where girls smoked long cigarettes and wore short plaid skirts with knee-high socks.
    "Here, try this," she interrupted my "uhs" with a smile and turned around to take a pretzel from a baking sheet. As she twirled back, she stuck it too close to my face, hitting my nose. We both laughed.
    "Wow, how the hell did that happen?" I asked.
    "I have no idea. Just take it for free, okay?"
    "You sure?"
    She nodded, shaking the oceans of her blue eyes. I was happily drenched.
    As I was about to leave, she went on talking. Luckily, there was no one else in line.
    "You're new here. I can tell."
    "Why's that?"
    "Well, you're not as fat as all the rest—meaning, you haven't been here for twenty years. And you don't have a mustache, which is good. Plus, you somehow don't know that you're actually not supposed to eat on the job, or buy anything while on the clock. One of the guards told me that."
    I swallowed a bite, "Oh, yeah...I never thought of that. I keep forgetting I'm a security guard—not a customer."
    I hurried my chews, hoping no one on the force would see me.
    She turned away to wash some tongs at a tiny sink.
    "Well, it's probably better you don't think yourself a security guard. If you ever did that you'd be here twenty years," she paused for a second as she flung her hands of dish soap bubbles, "...I hope you leave soon."
    I didn't totally understand, "Oh...I'm sorry...I didn't..."
    "No, silly," she smiled with large white teeth, as she turned her head to me. "I mean I hope you find another job soon. You can't want to do this the rest of your life."
    I smiled back, refusing to give her the truth of why I was really working there. It would've taken too long.
    "No—you're right, but I just need something until I find better...Would it be wrong to say that I hope you won't be here for the rest of your life either?"
    She smiled and looked away to wipe down a steel refrigerator.
    "I hope it wasn't a girlhood fantasy to become a pretzel girl," I leaned over the counter, looking at the black band of her underwear peeking out.
    She laughed, " it wasn't. I have bigger plans. Hey...when's your break?" She stopped cleaning things and stood facing me, "Your dinner break, I mean."
    "Um, usually at five-thirty or six. It depends on what other guards are taking theirs."
    "You want to eat dinner at the same time?"
    "Yeah, totally. I'll let you know right before I'm off. Thanks for the pretzel...uh..."
    We awkwardly shook hands and I stupidly waved, like a tourist on a cruise waves to unknown islanders, as I walked away and began my patrol again, chewing up the last few greasy pieces of my pretzel.
    From there on we met for dinner almost every day that both of us were working.
    Our first few meetings started in the smoky employee break room. Finishing most of our meal, we'd walk the back halls and talk, or sit at one of the loading docks and watch, with squinting eyes, the sunlight reflecting off the parked cars. Sometimes we'd sit there and be interrupted by someone activating the box compressor ("box crusher" to most) and we'd walk back down the hall again.
    "So...what brings you to the mall?" I asked on our first meeting.
    My voice resonated throughout the tall and thin stairwell we sat in. It was an offshoot of a hallway that contained the rear employee doors of a toy store and a candy shop.
    "Nothing, really—"
    "What were your big plans?" I lifted my eyebrows.
    She ate the ends of her sandwich and shrugged, "Uh, you know, a lot of different things," she looked back at me, her chewing mouth partially filled with food, but a pleasant and beaming look upon her face. She held up a finger, hinting that I should wait until she swallowed. A lump of food traveled down inside her thin, smooth neck. I wondered what her skin smelled like.
    "I have a huge plan. My friends and I—we're moving to Philadelphia. It's a 'mass exodus'—that's what we like to call it. We're going to quit our shitty jobs one of these days, after saving some money, and just move."
    "Why Philly?"
    She shrugged again as she put her hands in the pockets of her floured apron.
    "It's a lively city...and you know it's just a place to move to, I guess. I just don't want to be here anymore. I'm tired of here." She turned to me as I was twirling my hat in my hands. "Aren't you?"
    I dropped my hat on a stair and bent over to pick it up, "Yeah...I mean, I know the feeling. I'm weary of this place too, but not enough to move on. Not yet, at least. I always ask myself if it's time for a move, but then I realize that I'd leave all kinds of people behind—friends who don't want to move, who're comfortable right where they are."
    "Are you comfortable?"
    "No, I'm not, but I don't think moving's going to change that. I'm afraid it just might make it worse. At least in your case you have a consensus. You have people to move with. For me it'd be another Ohio."
    She shook her head, "What's that?"
    "Oh, nothing—just a joke between a friend and me."
    She continued, "It's just I don't want to be like everyone else who was born here and died here, and their whole life in between was going to work from nine to five, getting married, and kids. I want to start from the ground up. At least there's always something fresh that way. It'd be exciting no matter how hard it was. Life around me I've found, I don't know, one big yawn. If we're too comfortable we become as bad as those old hens in retirement homes—our brains are mush and we watch 'Wheel of Fortune' all day."
    Silence ensued. She was thinking.
    "You know, that's the only show on television that at least gets something right. It's shows how slow and cyclical everything is," she chuckled. "Life's kind of like that show: like guessing the right letters in the right amount of time, we have to guess what the best choices in life are, before it's too late. But, of course, there's never anyone as pretty as Vanna White tapping and turning the blocks for us—just Death, and he hits them with his sickle. And when we're almost ready to spell out the word—to find out what it really was, to get in one last, right choice—the buzzer goes off and we stop breathing."
    I learned some other things about Carla. If you ever got her talking, and with no one else around, she wouldn't stop. Her shyness was more intuition: she knew who it was worth sharing something with, and who it was better just to clam up in front of. I was flattered to be of some worth.
    She said she'd grown up in the suburbs all twenty-three years of her life. She had commuted to a city college, but dropped out after two years because she couldn't afford it. I asked her what her major was, and she shrugged saying it was "Nothing." She hadn't decided by the end of her sophomore year and knew she wasn't going to decide by her junior.
    Her friends, most of whom went to colleges around the area, had completed their degrees and worked in those high-end skyscrapers downtown that she or I would never see the bathrooms of.
    "Right now, I don't know what to do—I'm deciding that. I definitely want to move with my friends if they do it," her voice resonated inside the white cement walls.
    I watched her from a step above as she rested her head against the red railing.
    "You'll figure it out," I said.
    "How would you know? This is the first time I've met you."
    "I don't..." Suddenly I felt the food court French fries I had for dinner punching at the walls of my stomach.
    "I'm sorry." She lifted her head from the railing and looked at the ground between her shoes. "I'm just testy. It's just that you really don't know who I am. I'm the person who wants to so badly get out of a place, to do something with their life, but every time I make all these plans I never pull through—I hesitate, I stop. I become paralyzed."
    "In other words you want to get out of your comfort zone, right? But you want to do it as comfortably as possible."
    "Yeah, but I know that's not possible and that I'll rot here the rest of my life. And all my friends will move away. And I'll die in my parent's basement, and they won't notice until several weeks later when my body stinks up the whole house."
    I laughed, "But that's ridiculous, Carla, you know it won't happen."
    "It will. And you know my biggest fear is if I don't die like that, that my friends will move without me. They'll do it all on their own and forget to remind me, or purposely not tell me. Something will happen and I'll be left here alone. I'll go over to a friend's apartment and see the U-haul trucks parked in a line, sitting in idle, ready for the east coast."
    "It won't happen. I won't let it happen."
    She turned her face to me again, "You promise?"
    "Yeah, I'll bug you at least once a week about it. I'll make sure you never forget you're leaving here—that the suburbs aren't your last stop and neither is this mall, and that your friends won't forget you. And you know what? To make it more genuine I'm going to draw up a contract."
    I opened my shirt pocket and pulled out a mandatory notepad we had to carry for gathering contact information or eyewitness accounts.
    I wrote:
Turner promises, at least once a week, to remind Carla she's leaving this place. And Carla promises to fulfill the reminder by not being around anymore.
    I signed my name at the bottom and handed her the pen and pad.
    "Now, I'll keep this in my shirt pocket and every time I pull out my notebook, which is at least once a week, I'll see our contract and remind you."
    "Okay," she smiled, scribbled her name, and gave it back to me. "—Shit."
    "I'm ten minutes over lunch," she stood and clanged down the stairs through the doorway. I heard her feet clapping against the cement floor. The sound stopped. She ran back and leaned from the doorway to look up into the stairwell, "Dinner tomorrow, right?"
    "Yeah, definitely."


I understood Carla's passion for moving. I understood her fear of loneliness, of friends leaving her behind. James knew something about that. For two semesters his whole life was being alone. But I knew something about it too.
    The entire mall was another Ohio—loneliness in a flood of people who busied themselves with their next great purchase, whether it be something from a store...or something closer. I once asked a Gap employee why he was cleaning the store's windows in the middle of the day. He said that his manager demanded a perfect shiny window, constantly dulled by everyone's pointy and smudging fingers. I asked him why that would matter, why not just do it at night? So people could see their reflection, he said. People didn't peer through store glass to admire merchandise that interested them, but to adore their image. They came to sell themselves to themselves; to purchase the surety of their look being lovely in every light and atmosphere. Finally, focusing beyond their reflection, they bought a reward for their pleasing appearance.
    Every patron was having another Ohio. No one ever conversed "meaningfully" unless it regarded transactions or for showing off their newest purchases. They weren't isolated physically—that was obvious by the bustling crowds of lovers, friends, and family shuffling by each other—but something deep inside them was missing: they isolated their humanness, shoved it far down in their minds, to receive without question a dreamy world of fountains and palm trees, white marble floors and fake wood kiosks that sold junky cell phone accessories or tarnishing silver rings. And when they came up for air, when the last grimy and wrinkled twenty had slipped from their hands, they stared into the windows again. Only now, the mannequins or the shoes or the choo-choo train faded to a ghostly image of themselves, smiling with bags in hand, but no fleshly friends or family leaning on their shoulders, only fellow apparitions. All they confronted at that moment was their thoughts, and all their thoughts contained were droning memories of money exchanges, bulging paper bags, and sore legs. Saddened, with the experience quickly shared or not at all, the process started anew, the buying went on, then the gazing into windows, then the buying, then...
    Despite the loneliness of the place, there was something strangely nostalgic about the mall, like a warm cottage on a snowy evening where the fire inside might flicker in the windows. There was something about the tacky food court, escalators that broke down hourly, and skylight windows that oddly tinted the sun's light a vague blue. It was aloof, forbidding, like some mythic and ancient thing, and yet it was so mysteriously familiar, like you were intimate with its distance. And you thought the sole way to understand it was to be as far from it as possible, in awe of it. But it was deceptive, for its greatest distance, and your greatest awe, lie inside its walls. And that awe—that awe was sometimes happiness, sometimes misery. But never joy.
    I hated the place, but every time I'd leave it for the night old feelings of longing would return: that tomorrow I would never see it again, its people, escalators, its fake trees and shrubs. It was the structure itself, maybe, that conquered my mind: with its towering marble pillars like some American Acropolis, storefronts like the gaping mouths of caves that swallowed you into the ruddy rock of shoes, the tender web of clothing, and shifting stalagmites—patrons you avoided choking to steady your hold. I realized that I was consumed with the place as everyone else had been, and would serenely stare into a store window to see myself in ghastly uniform, its only good purpose to shake me from the hypnotic wonder.

About the author:
Luke Bartolomeo is a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He is the editor of
The Monongahela Review and is currently at work on a second novel entitled Memory for the Fruit to Grow. His novel, Another Ohio, is available at

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