Square stone tiles the color of white ash formed a rectangular grid on the second floor balcony of the food court at the Vibrant Valley mall. Half of the tables had been collected and moved into storage for the winter, while the remaining twenty formed a dotted right triangle over the other half of the balcony, leaving a triangle of empty space outside the doors. A dark-haired girl stood smoking in the corner opposite the staggered line of tables.
The soles of her shoes had started peeling away from the webbed fabric on the toes. She’d only bought them two months ago, paid eighty dollars for them. Her feet looked small inside the large square, almost like two hooves. “They call me Goatgirl,” she whispered, letting smoke flow out the side of her mouth. She smiled. “Stop by the Vibrant Valley shopping mall from two to four today and see the amazing Goatgirl. Watch her clop across the floor in worn-out tennis shoes. Scratch between her horns and hear her say, ‘bah.’ Be careful, though, she will headbutt you.” She dropped the cigarette and ground it out on the tile.
“I think you meant bleat,” said a voice as she passed the gap beside the automatic doors.
“Ahh!” she jumped, stumbling backwards. “What the hell are you doing there?”
“I’m sorry,” he laughed. The man wore all denim, a denim shirt, jeans, and a tight jean jacket. His hair was silver and curly. “I couldn’t help hearing you just now. You said that goats bah. Goats don’t bah, they bleat.”
“Alright,” she smiled, continued walking. “Don’t make eye contact.” The doors slid open and she stopped, walked backwards to where he was standing. “What are you doing here?”
“I work here, at the music store.”
“That’s where I’ve seen you. Stocking cd’s at Javelin Records.”
“Guilty. What are you doing here, Goatgirl?”
She thought for a moment. “Killing time.”
“That’s rather impolite, don’t you think?”
“Eye for an eye,” she said. “Time kills all of us, so…”
“Ah,” he laughed.
“Just returning the favor.”
“You don’t work here?”
The droning hum and choral rush of cars on the highway filled the space in their conversation. The girl’s expression conveyed sadness mixed with confusion, a perplexed melancholy, as she peered at the concrete, then back up at him, and nodded goodbye.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
“Minette,” she told him.
“Well, Ninette, there’s an old—”
“No, Minette, with an ‘m.’ Like Minnie Mouse.”
“Well, Minnie Mouse, there’s an old Bob Dylan song, ‘Gotta Serve Somebody.’ It goes: You may be an ambassador to England or France—”
“I don’t really like Bob Dylan.”
“You may like to gamble, you might like to dance—”
“He’s a little before my time.”
“You may be the heavyweight champion of the world—”
“And his voice sounds kind of… nasally.”
“You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls,” the man sang in a low, bluesy baritone.
She started laughing. “You’re a lunatic, aren’t you.”
“But you’re gonna have to serve somebody,” he sang louder, “yes indeed, you’re gonna have to serve somebody. Well it may be the devil, or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” He punctuated the verse with a sky-splitting howl.
“You are… a true maniac,” she said, still laughing. “What’s your name, Bob Dylan?”
“K.R.,” he bowed. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you, too. I hate to break it to you, K.R., but I don’t believe in God or the devil, so that song doesn’t really apply to me.”
Glancing at the horizon, he asked, “What about your parents? Do they believe?”
“My parents are from China. They’re non-practicing Buddhists, I guess.”
“Well, Solo Minette, the force is with you, whether you believe in it or not. Let me show you something.” K.R. pushed off the wall he was leaning against. “Creak,” he groaned, walking out from the cutout by the doors and across the empty side of the balcony.
“Where are you going?”
“Come on, Minette, join me by the railing for a moment. I wish to impart some wisdom.”
Directly below the balcony, one of the mall’s main entrances stood at the vertex of a giant parabola opening out toward the parking lot. The patio of an Italian café formed the left side of the arch, from where they were standing, and the psychedelic windows of an art gallery and supply store formed the right. Shoppers approached from the lot a couple hundred feet away.
“Now humor me, please, Minette, and just observe these people for a minute.”
She stepped up to the railing, looked down at the shoppers. A few teenage boys in a row, joking and laughing, not much younger than her. An elderly woman digging around in her patchwork bag while she shuffled past the vibrant paintings in the art shop window. A middle-aged married couple discussing something serious or troubling as they hurried inside.
“Okay. What’s your point?”
K.R. stretched his hands over the railing, palms down. “What do all these people have in common?”
“They have money. I mean, they can afford to come and buy stuff, so they must have money.”
“Probably so,” he nodded. “What else?”
“They’re all from Vibrant Valley?”
“No, you don’t know that,” he shook his head. “They’re all alive, Minaret!”
“Are you high right now? Seriously, did you just smoke like a bunch of pot?”
“No,” he grinned, “I don’t smoke anymore. I’m trying to illustrate an important truth here. Look,” he pointed at the hillside beyond the parking lot. “You see that grass on the embankment? It’s tan and dry, right, it’s dead. Now look at the bushes down by the patio. Green, lush, radiant. They’re alive. Do you see the contrast?”
“It’s night and day, like the difference between seeing a dead person and a live one. Have you ever seen a dead body?”
“My grandpa, when I was three. I don’t remember it very clearly. What’s your point, K.R., I’ve got loitering to do.”
“Life, child. My point is life. You said you didn’t believe in God. I’m telling you that life is proof that there’s a God, life itself.”
Minette turned back toward the parking lot and the oncoming shoppers. Their faces looked sullen and vacant now, their gestures cold and mechanical. “War,” she said. “Sickness, hatred, anger, jealousy, death… If you ask me that’s proof there is no God, or if there ever was then it’s like that philosopher said, God is dead.”
“Friedrich Nietzsche. I don’t think he meant that exactly. God is the very source of life. The source of life can’t die. I’m tired.” He walked a few paces to the nearest table and sat down.
She leaned forward with her arms crossed on the railing and slid down toward him. “Are you married, K.R.?”
“No, ma’am, I am not.”
“You were, though.”
“Yes, ma’am, I was.”
Minette gasped. “She’s not dead, is she?”
“Unfortunately not,” he laughed.
“What a diabolical thing to say. There it is again.”
“There what is again?”
“Proof, that there isn’t a God.”
“Well,” she sat down beside him. “You were married. You proposed to…”
“You proposed to Natalie, she said yes, I presume, you walked down the aisle, spoke your vows to one another, till death do you part, you kissed each other, and so on, and however many years later, you broke up. Did you get married in a church?”
“Our Lady of Peace.”
“A Catholic church no less. So, if God brought you two together, why would He separate you? Why would He let that happen?”
The sun had emerged from a screen of wispy clouds as she was talking. K.R. had to squint in order to look at her. “I asked Him the very same question. Want to know what He said, Ms. Minnie?”
“God actually talks to you? You really are a lunatic.”
“He answered by telling me He didn’t split us up, or even let us split up, and in His eyes we’ll always be married. In the kingdom, that is.”
“But you’re divorced.”
“Yep, and she’s remarried.”
“How…?” She raised her hands, shaking her head.
“It’s a great mystery, Minnarino. I can tell you this, though. Nothing that is loved is ever lost. Wise man said that. Peace out, little sister.”
“Cd’s to stock. Bob Dylan cd’s,” he smiled back. “Hey, maybe I can get you a job there. What do you say?”
She thought for a moment, glanced down at her worn-out tennis shoes. “Yeah, check and see, will you?”
“Come on then, Minaret.”