:: Article

Piranesi in Bloomington

By Edmond Caldwell.

At first I thought the security camera was looking at me, but after I glanced over my shoulder I realized it was looking at the security camera behind me. That was cute, like something from one of those Pixar movies, but after a minute I realized it was pretty creepy, actually.

I turned my attention back to Candace. At first I thought she was looking at me, but after I glanced over my shoulder again I realized she was looking at the security camera behind me. That was cute, like one of those coincidences in a romantic comedy, but after a minute I realized it was pretty creepy, actually, especially when it turned out I was looking at the security camera behind Candace again.

After another minute, though, Candace looked at the ceiling. At first I thought she was just rolling her eyes because everything was taking so long, but then I realized she was definitely looking at the ceiling. Way up above us was one of those upside-down domes with a security camera inside, situated so that it overlooked everything but opaque and shiny so that you couldn’t really watch the camera watching.

Finally the waiter came and asked if we wanted any dessert or coffee. It was patio dining, but the patio was in a mall. Next door on the left was a Pearle Vision Center and next door on the right was a Lotions & Potions. Behind the balcony on the next level up was the multiplex movie theater and below us we could see the broad central plaza of the mall with fountains that danced to music and colored lights at the top of the hour, every hour, surrounded by ecstatic children and their parents.

At first I had thought that our meeting might have romantic implications, but by that time I realized it was just business and the ferns were plastic.

While we were waiting for our coffee a security guard walked by. At first he looked like he took his mission to guard the mall with a seriousness that was way out of proportion with his actual status as a rent-a-cop, but after I saw him smile at his reflection in a shop window I realized that he was in fact lampooning the self-importance of such a figure. He was watching himself from the outside and imagining he was a mall-cop in one of those mall-cop comedies, involved in zany exploits and broad pratfalls that would first burst his pomposity but later on, by the climax, affirm his real courage and the dignity and importance of the ordinary Working Joe. Even as he was keeping an eye on things down here by the restaurant and the Lotions & Potions and the Pearle Vision Center he was simultaneously up there on the big screen in the multiplex theater, involved in zany exploits and broad yet dignity-affirming pratfalls.

After another minute, though, he realized that his father-in-law was in the theater too, and that his father-in-law thought it was a very stupid movie with a very stupid, low-rent hero. His father-in-law was a successful real-estate developer and was deeply disappointed that his daughter had married a mall cop who worked in the mall his company had built.

Thankfully, though, this turned out only to be a preview. The next preview was for a romantic comedy about the relationship between a human and a robot. Their friends advised against it and the families disapproved. Worse yet, that particular model was being recalled because of a dangerous design flaw.

Finally it was time to silence our cellphones and enjoy the main feature, a high-tech suspense thriller involving a security and surveillance company due to be bought out by a corporation from Dubai. The hero, a junior programmer in the firm, comes to suspect that the moguls from the Middle East and their team of slick, swarthy representatives might be a secret terrorist organization bent on destroying the largest shopping mall in the United States. Nobody but the attractive data-entry temp believes the programmer’s claim that a bomb has been timed to go off at the top of the hour when the fountains in the mall plaza start dancing to music and colored lights, surrounded by ecstatic children and their parents.

During a particularly gripping sequence I felt a hand on my knee under the table. “Do you want to come back to my room?” said Candace. She spoke in a husky yet halting voice, as if the words had been recorded individually and brought together for that particular utterance. The waiter came with the coffees on a tray. It was one o’clock.


Edmond Caldwell writes fiction and drama and lives in Boston. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in DIAGRAM, Word Riot, SmokeLong Quarterly, Sein und Werden, and elsewhere, and his short play, “The Liquidation of the Cohn Estate,” was produced in the 2009 Boston Theater Marathon.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, September 7th, 2009.