After the Wal-Mart Closes in Your Hometown

Megan Pillow Davis

What remains is silence. Three cans of pumpkin under a haze of dust. A shattered jar of pickles. Pools of dark, interrupted by the flicker of a dying florescent light.  The dried clutch of banana stems that some kid kicked under the seafood cooler a month ago. Lipstick in shades like Come Hither and Quiet Siren. A stale heel of bread. The carts and the baskets, no one left to fill their bellies with goods, huddle together just inside the door like ducks in the corner of a glass-still pond. Coins scattered like a constellation. George, who sweeps up the ghosts of customer footprints and waits for the call about his transfer. The ghost of George, who sweeps receipts and wrappers that rustle like leaves, who knows that call will never come. The broom, which knows that this is the end, which does not have the words to tell George that it will miss him and that it does not want to be left alone. The broom, which can only say shhh, shhh, shhh against the floor. The last of the bouquets of roses, their petals edging toward decay, stacked on the customer service desk like bodies. The liquid echo of Patsy Cline. The air, absent the dart and drift of the customers and the sliding doors, has already begun to taste like the inside a tomb.

Outside, there is still a light on. Its beam points to the side of the building, like a spotlight on a stage, as if waiting for a soloist to appear. Over the doors, another light that illuminates the place where the name once was. In the blank black expanse of the parking lot, the parking spots still remember the cars, the thrill as the cars slid inside them, their weight pressing all of the terrible away. They remember the people too: the kids who parked their car at the edge of the lot to fuck, to forget – the babies who screamed until they nearly swallowed their tongues – the women who needed their fix – the men whose joints nearly ground themselves to dust.

But they remember the others ones too: the babies who smiled and the women who laughed and the men who jogged across the lot because they couldn’t wait to get home and the kids who held each other because you can put your dick almost anywhere and open your legs for almost anyone but there are only a few people who will give you a place to lay your head.

And so the building and the lot will grieve the people because even the sad people filled them with something, and without them, there is nothing left. For a time, they will grieve alone. And then one day, they will feel the fingers of roots easing up to fill the places that the people left behind. The purging wash of water will run across the concrete surface and through the aisles like tears. The vines and limbs will break them apart and gather them up the way you do the body of a person who is nearly dead, the way you do the body of a person whose final breath you need to feel against your cheek and not just listen to from across the room, and they will hold them for a while. The waters will wash the pain away. And then the roots will begin to put them together again with the earth that was underneath them until the building and parking lot are something new.

One day, a long, long time from now, a girl will visit. She will take off her shoes and feel the grass beneath her feet. She will see how the trees bend overhead and keep her from the sun. She will know the new is good again, that its empty is not the empty that needs to be filled but the empty that is teeming with a million kinds of welcoming. And when she leaves, the new will know she is coming back and bringing others. It will know the same way you can put your hand to the earth at the end of winter and know that the green is pushing its way up through the soil.

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Megan Pillow Davis is a graduate of the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop in fiction and is currently a doctoral candidate in the University of Kentucky’s English Department. Her work has appeared in, among other places, Electric Literature, SmokeLong Quarterly, Hobart, and Paper Darts and is forthcoming in Brevity and Pidgeonholes. She has received fellowships from Pen Parentis and the Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing and a residency from the Ragdale Foundation. She is currently writing her dissertation and a novel. You can find her on Twitter: @megpillow.