“You should go to the mall,” my mom said. She grabbed another pan from the counter and began to scrub it with the SOS pad.  “You haven’t left the house since Thursday. It’s important to get out with the living again.” She continued. We could talk, we could get some coffee, and maybe a bite to eat.
She couldn’t have known that just four days after Sophia died, we’d also experience the nauseating taste of grief.
The three of us stand in the center of the Eden Prairie mall rotunda, where the black carpeting blends away into blond ceramic tile, waiting for the glass elevator to arrive. Chris with his hands in his jean pockets, gazing up to monitor its slow descent. His eyes are puffy and gray hair has recently won the battle over brown. Time for another “Just for Men” shampoo treatment, I decide. He better not get any on the shower curtain this time because it never comes out.
I’m wearing my bulky great hooded sweatshirt with black yoga pants – the faded ones from New York & Company, not my nice ones from Ann Taylor Loft. I glance down at Annabelle and realize one of her socks is light pink and the other, dark. She’s quiet and content, clearly not bothered by her fashion faux pas.  Does she know this is the first time we’ve taken her out without Sophia?” I wonder.
The click of high-heeled shoes surrounds us from behind. I feel the Quest salesperson’s eyes bearing down on me from the nearby kiosk. “What a great location by the elevator,” I think. “An endless stream of a fresh meat.” I consciously put on my disinterested face to guard myself from his inevitable sales pitch.
My arms feel confused pushing the single stroller and I fidget with my hair, dig in my pockets and feel small bits of cracker and old receipts that should be in my purse. I feel the warm light pouring in from the huge rectangular skylights above me. I smell coffee. Chris shifts his weight and we prepare for the doors to open.
The heavy doors open too slowly. Chris enters sluggishly and I follow pushing Annabelle to the back of the oversized, empty vault. Chris veers to the right and I follow his lead, grabbing for his hand, perhaps for comfort but probably for stability from my shaking legs.
I glance to the right and notice a plethora of  little handprints on the otherwise clear glass elevator wall and my heart chuckles knowing they are right at stroller height. Annabelle tugs at the stroller straps; something must be pinching but she’s quiet so it can’t be that bad. But are the memories haunting her privately, too?
Chris presses the 2 button and the doors begin to close. A hand reaches in to stop them. A woman about my age, jams an umbrella stroller through the opening, then steps in herself, followed by a screaming, sticky faced girl of about five and a waft of cool air.
The woman guides the stroller to the opposite back corner, hoists her bulging diaper bag higher onto her shoulder and tucks a piece of sweaty hair behind her ear.
“Can you push 2 for me,” she says breathlessly.
“Duh, there are only two floors and we’re on one,” I think, knowing Chris is thinking the same.
“Sure,” Chris says and pushes the already lit 2 button. She doesn’t notice her silly mistake.
The girl in her stroller is fishing fruit snacks out from the seat beneath her and I wonder how old they might be. The five year old yanks on her mom’s khaki pants. “You said we could go to the playland!” she wails.
The woman rolls her eyes and wiggles to free her pant leg. She sighs loudly and looks out the elevator window, probably trying to think up an excuse. I want to tell her a good line is that the playland is closed today, but decide that might be inappropriate.
The girl continues to wail unintelligible demands, clearly trying to recruit the help of her younger sister, who is much more interested in the treasures in her stroller seat. The woman glares at the 5 year old but then smiles politely as she turns her gaze to me.
“Your lucky,” she says, sizing up the contents of my stroller. “Take my advice and stick with just the one.”
“No kidding,” Chris replies.
She doesn’t notice her silly mistake.