Food Court, Willowbrook Mall.
I'm hiding behind a giant styrofoam container of blackened chicken and rice. It's too early for coteries of tired shoppers; instead, a thin sprinkling of workmen, mall walkers, small families, and sales people rime the outer tables of the food court. Despite the background patter, the place seems quiet. I am cushioned in a crinkling bubble wrap of noise. It is too loud for desultory speech to carry, even that of the center fountain's linear falls of municipal water. Men are the predominant singletons.
Perhaps I have ordered the Polyglot Medley, summoning my surroundings like a dish from one of the ambiguously ethnic rice & meat places from which I have ordered my own lunch. This is the beginning of my daily 1700 words. For now they are coming at an orderly pace, like a stream of cars exiting a freeway. Some thoughts slip forward, connected to observations and memories that aren't related to this exit, to this place.
More people come to the court and the balance shifts toward women singletons. Perhaps to parity. I don't bother to count because the Day Crowd has begun to weave through the outer tables.
A few years ago, I noticed them. Constrained to constant unobserved motion, by age or custom, they will break out at night into the slow, glittery, loud clusters of chaos that mark the mall at dusk. The Day Crowd becomes the Evening Crowd. They are magic--which has both steady ritual and random flash. We call for it and wait upon it. Its answers pinch us or sting us or amaze us, according to whim.
At all times, this is their court.
For a place dedicated to food, little smell of food lingers. The predominant scent at this table is soap, mop water predominates at other, and fried starch is limited to those tables on which it rests. The Day Crowd--working their ritual--keep erasing the traces of what came before. Once a table is left, all the symbols etched in the air and on the surface are effaced.
Every set is removed as it is inscribed. This is Day, and everything must pass the test of the sun--it must be blank enough to give back the light. I slide the notebook closer to me, careful to keep my notes in my own shadow and the bright white pages that I am defacing with text away from the sun bars falling on nearby tables.
When the Evening Crowd arrives, the electric lights won't have the kingship sunlight possesses. They will laugh and shriek to each other, draw dark lines around their eyes and lips so that the shadows recognize them, and become careless of the marks they leave and the words they utter. They Day Crowd comes early to clear away the workings.
Who can hear the shadows under this rumble anyway? This sea of sound beneath the sun, this aquarium of discourse, is more than enough to pacify them. The light roils the words and drops dark images of the pale slats upon the tables and floor. Any leftover incisions or scrawls would disturb the crisp images. The Day Crowd will leave no such remnants.
Even now, a few of them wander past my table. One casually brushes someone's earlier leavings from beside me. I smother the writing with my forearm and shovel another forkful of rice into my mouth. The Evening Crowd forgets. All of the formality of the Day, the stories, the morals, the memories, are written in lines and marks on the Day Crowd. They cannot efface themselves until the sun sinks and the forgetfulness takes them. Until then, everything else must be cleaned away and rewritten, or overwritten, on their silence.
Each sliver of sound becomes something I must see. Schools of sound becomes songs or ads or family discussions and most flash past without breaking their rhythm. An old Simon and Garfunkel song whispers to me. The Day Crowd moves in silence, but they are drawing closer. Soon they will ask if I am done, signalling that I must move on. It is late in the year; the turn toward evening will take place this afternoon. I can feel the tide in the conversation, running higher toward a brightness just after noon.
Then something clear--a silver whisper from the double shadow of body and table beside me. I get up, lunch over, concentration broken.
It is only as I'm driving home that I look up and see at an intersection a cloud, then a dappled shadow, then a white van turning the corner that I remember the Day Crowd is part of who I am becoming. I have forgotten the evening for the pattern of my days. Was the whisper earlier a question? When will forget myself and answer?