Ballad of Pemberton Mall #01

Episode 1: Of Literature & Electricity

Tags: #pemberton #comedy #shortstory

Alex Taylor stood in the dimly lit corridor of Pemberton Mall, staring at the flickering lights overhead with a mix of dread and resignation. He'd been the manager of this place for just over a month, and already he felt like he'd aged a decade. Between the leaky roof, the mysteriously sticky floors, and the temperamental HVAC system, the strangest inhabitants, Pemberton Mall was a relic of a bygone era—an era when safety standards were apparently more of a suggestion than a rule.

Surprisingly, there were a lot of people that still came to the mall though mostly on the weekend or holidays. Alex had been surprised about the number of visitors. Even now, there were a few older people milling about. At one of the T-junctions that was near the escalators (of course one working and the other note) were two extremely cute girls dressed up in what looked like matching but different colored magical girl costumes. Cosplayers more than likely. They were chatting with some of the teenagers who hung out at the Arcade at the farther end.

How this place made money and stay funded, he had no clue. The previous manager didn’t elaborate. Today’s mission? Schedule an electrician to look at the ancient wiring throughout the large double H shaped building. Simple enough, right? Wrong. Because to do that, Alex had to get a yes from everyone who was on that circuit and his first port of call was Amara Singh, the owner of Ye Old Word bookshop. And Amara would only communicate through literature quotes. No one knew if this was some sort of deep artistic commitment or just her way of messing with people.

He had thought it was a joke when the old manager had briefed him on everyone who still had a lease but after a few interactions with her, Alex knew better. No one knew if this was some sort of deep artistic commitment or just her way of messing with people. Alex doubted he’d ever know.

Taking a deep breath, Alex walked over the threshold of Ye Old Word under the one quarter dropped security fence and stepped inside. The smell of aged paper and ink filled his nostrils, a comforting aroma that momentarily made him forget about the mall’s many, many issues.

Amara Singh was a character straight out of a different century. In her early fifties, she had long black hair streaked with silver, usually worn in a loose braid. Her dark eyes sparkled with a mischievous intelligence, framed by high cheekbones and slightly arched eyebrows. She always seemed to be smiling, a warm, knowing smile that suggested she enjoyed her cryptic way of communicating. Amara dressed in flowing, bohemian-style dresses in earthy tones, with patterned scarves draped over her shoulders. Her small, round glasses perched on her nose completed the look of a classic bookshop owner.

Her hands were delicate but expressive, often waving around as she recited quotes. They had the ink stains and calluses of someone who spent a lot of time with books and pens. Despite her eccentricity, or maybe because of it, she had a certain charm.

“Ah, Alex,” Amara greeted him from behind a towering stack of books. “To be or not to be, that is the question.”

“Uh, hi, Amara,” Alex began, already feeling a headache coming on. “I need to get an electrician in to look at the wiring. The lights are flickering, and it’s a safety hazard. Can I schedule someone to come in the next few days?”

Amara tilted her head, considering his words. “Parting is such sweet sorrow, that I shall say goodnight till it be morrow.”

Alex blinked. “Goodnight? No, no, I need someone during the day. And, uh, sooner rather than later.” Amara smiled serenely. “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts.”

“Right, players,” Alex muttered, scratching his head. “So, can I have an electrician come by, say, Friday morning? Or will you be here in the afternoon?”

Amara’s eyes twinkled with a hint of mischief. “Brevity is the soul of wit.”

Alex stared at her, trying to decipher this latest puzzle. Brevity? Was she telling him to hurry up? Or was she saying something about the timing?

“Okay, so... Friday morning then?” he ventured, his voice tinged with desperation.

Amara gave him a pitying look. “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Alex sighed, feeling the last threads of his sanity slipping away. “Yes, roses, very poetic. But about the electrician? Can we please focus on that?”

Amara raised an eyebrow, as if Alex were a particularly slow student struggling with a simple concept. “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

Alex groaned internally. He was getting nowhere. He needed to change tactics.

“Alright, how about this,” he said, trying to match her literary flair. “Is there a time that works best for you to have the electrician here? To fix the lights? Because they are, uh, not like the sun, but like the flickering, you know, darkness?”

Amara’s expression softened, and for a moment, Alex thought he might have broken through. “Though she be but little, she is fierce.”

Alex threw his hands up in exasperation. “Yes, fierce, that’s you, all right. Fiercely unhelpful. I just need to know when I can send someone to fix this mess!”

There was a pause as Amara looked contemplatively at the ceiling. Finally, she spoke, and her words, for the first time, seemed to offer a glimmer of hope. “The course of true love never did run smooth.”

Alex's eyes lit up. “True love, yes, very complicated. But this is not about love, this is about—”

But Amara interrupted him, holding up a finger. “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day.”

Alex’s face broke into a relieved smile. “Tomorrow? So, I can have the electrician come tomorrow?”

Amara nodded sagely. “The readiness is all.”

Alex nearly wept with gratitude. “Thank you, Amara. Thank you. Tomorrow it is.”

He turned to leave, but not before Amara imparted one last piece of wisdom. “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

“Right, protesting,” Alex muttered, walking out the door. “I’ll remember that.”

As he exited Ye Old Word, Alex felt a strange mix of victory and exhaustion. He had managed to schedule an electrician, albeit through a labyrinth of literary quotes. It wasn’t exactly how he envisioned his career in mall management, but it was a small triumph in the chaotic world of Pembrooke Mall. Just five more people to go.

‘God. Why did I take this job?’

— © Jonathan J. Snyder, All rights Reserved Like what you read and want to buy me a cup of coffee?