The Corner Market
The bell tied to the door jingled as Emily pushed into The Corner Market. The cashier didn’t spare her a glance as she stopped to breathe it all in. She wanted to remember how this experience felt, the dingy, overhead fluorescents casting a greenish-yellow light over the aisles of potato chips and candy bars. The odor of over-cooked hot dogs and burned coffee, the sweetness of cherry slushies, the stale cigarette smoke all mixed together with something she couldn’t identify. Bleach?
Don’t be nervous. Lots of people like me come here for this very reason.
With her strawberry blonde hair and the splash of freckles across her nose, none of the other customers even noticed her. She was the very picture of a southern girl. And why shouldn’t she? She was born here, after all.
A few faltering steps brought her to the counter where she waited for the teenager to look up from his comic book. She cleared her throat.
This is happening. I am really going to do it.
“What?” he said with a frown.
“Could…could I have the bathroom key?”
He stared at her blankly. She had to be right about the key. She was told to ask for a key. That was the only way to get in to the bathroom.
Oh, right! She forgot she had to buy something first. She looked around hastily and found a pack of gum. She put it on the counter and fished around in her purse for loose change.
The teen twitched an annoyed eyebrow. He took her seventy-three cents and slid a wooden paint stirrer with a key attached to it across the counter.
“Have fun in there.” He went back to his comic.
Emily went out the door and around the back of the small, cinder block building decorated with spray paint words she couldn’t read to find a scuffed and battered metal door. She put the key in the lock. She didn’t turn it. She just stood there staring at it.
It is so hard to believe I am really here.
She only lived a few hours away, but she could never get her parents to bring her. Now she was seventeen, she had her license, and they thought she was shopping with her friends. They probably wouldn’t have cared, they just didn’t understand and honestly, she felt a little silly. It didn’t mean as much to them. Of course, they had been here before.
She turned the lock and the door opened with a whine. The intense odor hit her even before her eyes could adjust to the dimly lit room – the filthiest bathroom she had ever seen. She quickly stepped inside and closed the door behind her, turning the lock.
This is it. Right here. This is where it all began.
It didn’t feel like anything special. The tile behind the toilet looked as if it hadn’t been cleaned in a while, the splashes of yellow showing up against the old tiles. Above the tile, all around the room were phone numbers, scratches, poems and stories written in marker and pen. Drawings too. And among the drawings, the symbols. Like gang markings, they identified each group, but only to those who would know. She took a deep breath and gagged at the assault of odors.
She pressed her eyes closed and held her breath as long as she could before inhaling. She was instantly dizzy as she felt the room expand around her. It smelled pure and clean, like a rose bush after a spring rain. She opened her eyes. The walls were shimmering – the grime taking on strange colors that shifted between luminescent purples and pinks.
This is where my parents first came through to find a new home for us. A world that was free from chaos and destruction. This is where they found hosts with limitless potential to create and build and explore. A fresh start for our kind.
She had the sudden feeling she was falling, but she knew it was a one-way trip. You couldn’t go back through. But still, it was something to come and feel the place where reality was so thin you felt you could reach out and burst it like a bubble. The center of the universe.
And the closest to the fatherland she could ever be.