:: Article

You Are Here

youarehere

They are due to arrive at 2.45. You have whisked round the space, making sure there are no accidental remnants from the last viewers. Someone dropped a receipt one time and it looked like litter, and your supervisor saw it and you were reprimanded. You have taken the dead flowers from the vase by the window and put in the new ones, the same as the last, irises, as per instruction, and sprayed the rooms with lavender air freshener. You have straightened the paintings, which did not need straightening in the first place, which you do not like, which are so obviously photographic reproductions of what once might have been real paintings. Landscapes. Abstract.

You have told yourself not to be anxious but this only made things worse. You are paid on commission and are new to this. ‘Real estate’ is a strange phrase, nothing real about it at all. But you have to make your first sale. You have to put yourself in their place, they said. You have to feel and feed their excitement.

A new exclusive development in a former retail space.

But you do, you feel for them and it’s hard for people to invest in a place that no one has lived in before. They want to see signs of habitation, of a past, to assess themselves against others, to see things they can improve upon or erase, they look for flaws, marks on walls, dampness. They knock the walls and the kick the skirting, they make plans. But all is new. The white, white walls and the untouched, unscuffed laminate flooring. Perfect is only a word, not threatening in itself. But still, you have only ever lived in places that had traces. People are imperfect, perhaps that is why you are single again. Stop it before you start. Run over the words.

Easy access to the very best shopping the city can offer.

You walk the empty rooms to kill time, to memorise the things you must say, to put on your face for greeting them at the door. The dimensions are impressive, your heels echo in the air. But there is something clinical about the placement of the magazines on the glass-top table, about the potpourri in the bowls designed to look like they were handcrafted.

A secure environment with gated security.

You stand by the window and look down. There are the trees, the new trees in lines, there is the fountain, and the metal sculpture of the woman rising from flame-like flowers. They come here, they look around the space, they marvel at the size, the light from the bay windows, then they come to this window and they look out. They often take a step back, as if from an electric shock. They ask strange questions, like: When the centre closes, does that mean we’re locked inside? Do we get a discount in all the stores? They laugh together, because it is always couples. They have trouble getting away from what it was before, they can’t see the potential, the hope in forgetting. The men sometimes say, It’s like Disney World.

Ideal for upmarket first time buyers.

You have to make this sale. You have your own debts. You had no idea when you bought that first flat with him, with that tracker mortgage, that after two years it would revert to the base rate. Hope and gratitude erased the small print and you signed too swiftly. You were ambitious together – you thought things would only get better, as everyone said they would. After selling up, after he left, and the mortgage men typed in their numbers and quadrupled your monthly payments, you had no choice but to sell and take the final blow. A thing called negative equity. Twelve thousand. You had to ask your mother for help, and when it came, so too came the phone calls, not once a month, like before, but once a week, and the tone, asking you about how you were, about your diet and relationships. Asking for names. Anyone new? This is what debt is.

Real estate… Say it with a smile. Be glad for that opportunity. It’s not your career, just a way to get by until things go back to normal again. You’ll do this for a few years, keep yourself to yourself, make some serious money, then move on, move back to where and what you wanted to do, to be.

You’re staring at the immense wall-mounted flat screen TV. They never gave you the remote, for that you are glad. You have stopped watching the news. They are rioting in the cities. Some of them mere children.

Run over the words.

Within driving distance of the city’s artistic West End.

You look down on the heads of the shoppers below. You’re wondering about their debts and their smiles. How the two things could ever be reconciled. Children run around the fountain, laughing, playing hide-and-seek. How will you ever be secure enough to have children? The poor have it easy, ignorance is bliss. You should have had a child when you were twenty, thirty.

Easy, fast access to the central belt motorway system. With free parking in the mall itself.

You will never make the sale if you keep on like this. You have to believe in it to sell it. You have to want to live here yourself. This is what they say. You will, you will will it upon yourself, to believe in this space, this condo apartment in a mall. If you could afford it, you would want to live here yourself. Yes, it’s true. Maybe belief is like that these days, something you suspend till the deal is done. To buy you time to find out again, or maybe for the first time, what it is you believe in.

The open plan space is what you want it to be.

The view – yes, it’s hard to understand how a shopping centre could be a home, but maybe this is the way it will be from now on. Forty-five identical units. Last time you rambled nervously with that couple, the woman pregnant, you said things you shouldn’t have. You made a stupid joke, you said, Well if the city starts to burn you’ll be safe here, it’s miles away and Security will keep the riff-raff out. Riff-raff, like something you’d say to a child.

The music from the mall is muffled by the reinforced glass. You watch two buskers below with their guitars, but can’t hear their music. The man with the dreadlocks seems to be singing with passion, head high, mouth wide open, standing beneath the foliage. There never used to be buskers in malls, perhaps things are changing for the better.

Yes, you would like to live here, would love to be able to shop again, to get a pedicure, down there, to get back in touch with fashion again. You see yourself strolling below, after work, alone, going from shop to shop till it’s time to eat. You could buy the food from Tesco at the far end, you could buy a book from Waterstones, everything under one roof. And when the stores are closed and there is nothing on TV you could take a stroll, in perfect safety, past all of the locked facades; window shopping within your own home. And if it gets lonely, there is, you heard, a speed-dating event once a week in Pizza Express. You could meet someone.

A space open to possibility.

Try the smile, untense your shoulders. You must be the face they need to see when they push the buzzer to be let in. Picture them at the door. A couple. Maybe she, like that one before, is pregnant. Nouveau riche, most likely, but you must not judge. Maybe they are scared too and putting on a face. Maybe it’s like this for everyone.

Run over the words again.

A new exclusive development in a former retail space.

Yes, make yourself believe, it wouldn’t cost you so much to dump who you were and be what they want to see, in this flat where a storeroom used to be.

Easy access to the very best shopping the city can offer.

Smile as you greet them. Your real smile. Think of it as a date.

Ideal for upmarket first time buyers.

Walk around the space as if you own it.

Within driving distance of the city’s artistic West End.

Make them feel as if they live there already.

Easy, fast access to the central belt motorway system. With free parking in the mall itself.

Yes, you would love to live here. You would leave the walls white to remind yourself that this is your final fresh start.

The open plan space is what you want it to be.

The buzzer is buzzing. They are here.

Focus on your breath, take a second, tell yourself where you are.

A space open to possibility.

Yes, finally, you are here, you are here.

ewan-in-mall-with-friends

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ewan Morrison is the author of the novels, Menage, Distance and Swung and of the short story collection The Last Book you Read. ‘You Are Here’ is taken from Ewan’s new book, Tales from the Mall, published by Cargo today.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, May 1st, 2012.