We’ve been trapped in Housewares for hours. It feels like days, but we’re starting to get used to it, I think.
So how did we get here? It was my wife, Agnes, of course. She fucking insisted on going to ICONIC, and now we’re trapped here.
It took months to get the appointment, but that’s ICONIC. Qualifying for my first refi was easier. They sent us a letter when we qualified, one of those fancy, embossed things with raised lettering and all that. Laid out all the departments, how much time we’d have, how we could make our purchases on the spot.
The kids and I laughed our asses off. Agnes fumed. A tense, silent standoff followed, until finally I realized I had to give in. This was Agnes’s moment, and she needed it, so I instructed the kids to knock it off and turn it down a smidgen with the memes. Some of them were pretty cruel.
The first twenty minutes were weird but okay. I’d sure has hell never been to a damn department store where the first thing you walked into was a movie theater with all kinds of interactive shit going on.
“The future,” Agnes said, folding her hands together in rapture as she watched the shopping possibilities unfold. “This is the way it should be.”
Maybe. I left my thoughts unvoiced as I watched the short movie, bored out of my mind. The kids seemed okay with the interactive stuff, wall art and shit like that, so that made it a little easier. Not surprisingly, it was my four-year old, Melanie, who took to it the quickest.
The movie ended suddenly, though. Suddenly red lights started flashing all over the place, and I realized I hadn’t noticed that when we first walked in, how they were arranged on the walls in a stripe kind of thing, so they looked like they were racing around the room when they lit up.
I nearly jumped out of my special ICONIC movie theater seat when they went off, complete with an explosion of cheesy synth music, but once I caught my breath I was able to settle down and come back to reality a little.
Probably some kind of subliminal shit going on there, I thought. That’s ICONIC for sure.
A thunderously warm voice directed us to the next section, which was called General. It was as boring as the name implied, and the kids started getting restless right away.
Agnes, however, was still in heaven. This time the wall art consisted of coupon displays—scan the display with your phone, and whammo, you were good for a discount.
“We’ll save a lot of money,” she said to me, and after the third one I realized my credit cards were fucked. I tried to remember the balance ceilings, but for the life of me I couldn’t. “And there are so many things we need.”
We followed the voice and shuffled off to the next department. which was Home Office. Which was better, but still boring. Josh and Allison, my two teens, started giving me looks, which wasn’t good at all.
I actually started doing math. Ten minutes in each department, fifteen tops, maybe even twenty if Agnes started ringing up enough purchases.
That’s a fucking long time, I said to myself. We’ll be bankrupt.
I didn’t want to think about that, so I focused on Home Office. Sort of. There were a few things I needed—software for my pool cleaning business, maybe even a Chromebook or something like it if I decided to splurge, even though I knew those things were hopelessly out of date and I should really get an updated tablet.
As soon as I started running the numbers, though, I held back. There was no reason I really needed those things—I already had decent free software, but the buzzy speed claims were getting into my head, along with the flashy wall art video that was making the Chromebook sound like HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey, minus the homicidal tendencies. Maybe.
I didn’t realize how mesmerized I was until Agnes snapped me out of it. She was bored witless in Home Office, although the teens had managed to find an old pong game on the Chromebook.
“Hank? Honey?” Agnes said, tugging at my sleeves as she checked the countdown on her phone. “We really do need to go.”
I waved her off, but she tugged harder. I almost whacked her—a reflex thing, really, not something I would have even thought of outside an ICONIC. Something about this place, the way it seemed to disable your ability to think. It almost felt like they were pumping some kind of gas into the department rooms, their own form of shopping dopamine. Pure evil.
I was about to respond to Agnes a little once I made up my mind to ignore the damn video wall art, but that was when the signage lit up.
ACTIVE SHOOTER, it read, and suddenly we were surrounded by those words. Blinking, not flashing in a streak this time, and the room seemed to get smaller. PLEASE SHELTER IN PLACE.