Chapter Fifty-seven

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The time was 5:05 p.m., and my mood hadn't improved. I still couldn't understand how I could have forgotten a siren-red clue with four-inch heels. The fire, it seemed, had destroyed more than my material possessions. It had unsettled my brain.

Sure, I had been dreaming about snakes and important jobs I was supposed to do, but I hadn't been able to figure out that it all boiled down to Simone. It had taken little Becky with her shoe fetish to remind me that I knew who the killer was. And still couldn't prove it.

Since my mood was already bleak, I decided it couldn't be made worse by a trip to buy clothes. Normally, such errands tended to put me in a bad mood. I called and left a message at Chez Swede to announce my intentions. It felt odd to have to tell someone what I planned to do. The only person who cared whether or not I ate at home was me, and I never quibbled about eating out. Despite my size, cooking was not my best thing.

I pulled into the parking lot of the Macy's store at Cherry Vale Mall. The mall was the one claim to fame of the tiny farming community called Cherry Valley outside of Rockford's city limits. In the eighties, the mall had been a retailing and tax-levy coup for the town government. Today, not every space was rented let alone busy.

Although Macy's was across the mall from my destination, I always walked through the big store for the ambience. An ATM stood inside the side door in case I needed some cash. Since my insurance check had yet to arrive, I intended to purchase replacement clothes with my credit card.

Once inside the second set of clear glass doors, I began to smell the scent from the perfume counters. I checked out the mannequins in the Polo department to see what Rockford's upwardly mobile men would be wearing this year. This was probably what Karlson wore on casual days. Passing the Polo cologne station, I breathed in deeply. It smelled like Jimmy. That was comforting somehow.

When I passed through Macy's, I entered the mall proper. I cruised to the Gloria Jean's coffee store and as usual pressed my nose against their plate glass window to ogle the teapots. I especially fancied the one of Data's head from the Star Trek: The Next Generation series, but I wouldn't have told anyone else about my unrequited love. I was already enough of a freak.

On the other side of Gloria Jean's, I checked out my dinner options at the food court. I thought jumbo corn dog with pink lemonade instead of quarter pounder with cheese at McDonald's, or maybe a mound of stringy steak at the cheese steak place. My purpose was to show myself the prize that waited for me after the unpleasantness of shopping. The house of pain was located two stores past the food court and called Lane Bryant. That's where they sold the fat girl clothes.

Lately, LB had gotten hip by hiring a plus-size super model. However, the basic concept hadn't changed. This was the fat girl ghetto, and we fat girls knew it.

Oh, we could shop at other stores—Penney's and TJ Maxx and others—but we knew we'd be back here sooner or later. The other stores might have a Plus Size department, but their buyers usually forgot that we fat girls also needed clothes to go under the clothes one showed to the world.

Often, we'd be delightedly shopping with our normal-sized girlfriends only to find that the normal store didn't stock double-D-cup bras, panties to fit 50-inch hips, or hose to stretch around anyone over 250 pounds. Then we'd shrug and try to pretend that it didn't matter to us, this snub, that even with cash in our pudgy hands they really didn't want our kind. And then we'd shuffle back to Lane Bryant where the sales clerks looked like us, and we'd buy whatever was on sale for whatever price they wanted to ask.

For grins, I moved to the underwear counter to see if LB had any French cut briefs in cotton. I admired the purple polka dots on several pairs, but they were polyester. I checked every neat stack to see if I could find the all-cotton ones underneath.

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