Sunday, September 25, 2022 Sep 25, 2022
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Summer Fiction

Dallas Summer Reading Series: Beneath the Lamar Street Sears

Long before Dallas came to know it as the South Side on Lamar apartment complex, the giant building on what is now Botham Jean Boulevard was a Sears warehouse. Its stories are there, beneath the structure.
By Tim Coursey |
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Tatjana Junker

The Receiving Clerk inhaled through a slurp of pencil-infused Irish, savored the retro-olfaction of shaved cedar, and found its spice less strident than at first pour—fairly complex, really, the cedar wood was; she savored again the lithophone-like brittle crockery note of No. 2/HB pencil lead, and the lingering finish—bitter chocolate, she thought, or, no, it’s got that aching bite of good Emmental cheese!—the lingering finish of aged yellow pencil lacquer, the blend predominantly Sears brand, she’d bet anything, the kind she’d just dumped out of the pencil jar— 

[The tapping at the glass of the upper half-door had stopped some time ago. In the open doorway now, her Ronson held overhead confirmed the state of demolition outside the Receiving Office, shrunken maple floorboards sawn raggedly away just beyond the threshold. And on the last inches of floor lay a few objects lined up—placed—like a dog might proudly leave for its beloved master a freshly killed litter of kits—here were someone’s rescued curiosities, as if little gifts left shyly at the doorstep.] 

the Receiving Clerk felt that the fit being pitched out there was that of a 4-year-old, perhaps a little girl’s tantrum; and that the voice dealing with the kid—the American voice, its gender and demeanor probable, class clear enough, region and race and words themselves less clear—was that of a Wise Crone; the Receiving Clerk smiled, warmed by the voice, the hooch, the small treasures at her threshold—

[A mammalian heart whittled out of wood, studded here and there with small rusty screw-eyes laced with cotton shoelaces; the delicate bones of a housecat’s right hind leg, complete to the toes and claws, missing only its fibula; a human face—female somehow—once a brass part of something else and now a dense nugget shaped into a face by having been run over many times in the street, the talisman resting on its reliquary, a drawstring Bugler Tobacco bag; and, weighed down by a rocklike clod of black dirt, a four-color postcard on linen-textured stock, “THE NEW SEARS-ROEBUCK COMPLEX • SOUTH LAMAR ST, DALLAS, TEXAS,” the building a numinous accretion from the get-go.

Beyond the doorway, a few inches below floor level and at the limit of her tiny light, lay rutted and hardened and fractured and tumbled black clay, in a state between solid pavement and a choking fine particulate.]

“Honey! Honey, get hold of yourself and listen to me. Baby, I see how angry you are and that’s fine, but you’re big and you can tell me about it, you’re showing me and you can just tell me, honey, listen to me. You’re not a baby, you are almost 4, sweetheart—baby, you are so tired and too many doughnuts, too. OK. I’m walking away now. Bye. I am not leaving forever, I will never never never leave you, just until you can talk like a big kid that can ride a trike with an ooga horn, and when you straighten up I won’t be unhappy with you anymore. Bye. See you later. Bye.”

I don’t think so, sweetheart, I don’t think you know anything at all if you’re not alive.

the Receiving Clerk had an impression of too-big rolled-up dungarees and a short white frock and a thrashing child-size form rolling into a rut deep enough to hide it, and that you can tell a kid anything— 

“Psst! Little girl! I’ve been waiting for ages to tell you, I have a secret to tell you, and the secret is that ever since souls were invented a jillion years ago, after a soul wakes up, it never goes back to sleep! That’s right. Your soul stays awake and it knows it’s awake and even when you get eaten and you are in the duck that ate you, and even after the duck dies, your soul still knows it’s awake when the duck that ate you turns into mud like that piece of doughnut the duck stepped on when you fed the ducks—a jillion jillion souls all awake and let me tell you they are not happy about it, little girl … ”

[The hysterics diminished, and ended as a distraught wail less eliciting anger than stirring tenderness. Scrambling upright in its rut, the small form rose slowly with unchildlike grace and bobbed down again to snatch something up, a doll maybe.]

“Nanna!”

“Over here, baby.”

“When you die you’re not asleep.”

“No, sweetheart.”

“You know you’re dead.”

“I don’t think so, sweetheart, I don’t think you know anything at all if you’re not alive. Or maybe if you wake up in heaven, then all you know about is heaven.”

“Ghosts are better, I want to be a ghost. Can I have a bribe? You said.”

“Honey, there’s no such thing as ghosts. It’s fun to pretend sometimes, but ghosts are make-believe. And I did not say I’d bribe you to quit acting like a baby. But after you have a nap and after we have our snack and after we get done rolling the newspapers, what do you have in mind?”

“Can we feed the ducks? They let you play if you’re a ghost.”

“The ducks let you play ghost?”

“No. No. Not ducks but you get to play if you’re a ghost. You still get to.”

the Receiving Clerk smoked in the doorway, took a sip, idly adjusted with her toe the gifts at her feet, waited for the lights to come back on—

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