Writing from Unreality House, a hyperfiction project created and edited by Jay Gabler.

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This Food Court Is My Safe Place

Leaving would be easy: I’d just stand up, shoulder my bag, deposit my trash into the bin, and walk off. But where would I go?

Here, I feel safe. There’s soothing music, and there are healthy plants, and I can look around and see a wide array of food options. Each vendor represents a different potential reality: exotic escape, sweet indulgence, homey comfort. Everyone wants to accommodate me. No one is judging me.

I know I have to leave. I know the mall will close, and I’ll have to make some decisions about my life. If I was on the street right now, or even maybe on a bench in the mall concourse, shoppers swishing by me and making me insecure about occupying the bench for too long, I’d be making those decisions now.

Instead, I’m resting in this moment. I’m sitting at this table, comfortable in this chair, watching all the people—though none too intently, or for too long. I’m just existing, well-fed but considering buying just one more thing. I could buy one more thing after that, and even another. This is a big food court; if I kept switching tables, it would be a while before anyone noticed I’d been here for hours.

Maybe I could get a job here. I could stay at a hotel for a couple of days until I found an apartment nearby. There would be some things to sort out, some calls I’d have to let go awkwardly unanswered, but I could do it. Eventually, everyone would get on with their lives and I’d be left here in stasis. I could sweep, or serve sesame chicken, or pull the soft-serve lever. Whatever they needed me to do, just to stay here amidst the plenty, among people who are happy to be eating, who won’t make any unreasonable demands of me.

In time, I might have a romance. We could make out behind a cooler or in a broom closet, and I wouldn’t let things progress to the point where we’d need to see each other outside the food court. We could keep things simple. We could even have a little family, if she got pregnant. I’d support her financially, and see the child when she brought it to work. The child would never see anything bad in me, or anything inspiring either. I would be the world’s most neutral father, and I could watch the child grow up in my image without any of my baggage.

When the time came, when I became too old to work at the food court, I could grab a bottle of something at the pharmacy and end it quietly. By that point I’d be a manager and would take the closing shift, so I could have a few hours alone in the back room. That’s all I’d need. It wouldn’t be sad, it would just be a fact. I’d have lived a happy life, a life of pleasant feelings, a life that was useful to others. No one could blame me for anything.

- Tanner Fitzgerald

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