Things to Think About While Running Saturday Errands at the Mall

by | Sarah Day 1 - Group A

Hi, the following exercise uses the second person. Not sure what it is. Does it feel complete? Whole? Thanks for reading.

Things to Think About While Running Saturday Errands at the Mall

First, remember at the faces. A page of small squares, inside each a headshot of a mass shooter. Twenty-five, maybe thirty of them. You zoomed in on each face and searched for a feature that told you that he was one. You expected blank dead eyes, a curled lip. But there weren’t any. You saw ordinary young men. Some with intelligent eyes, others looked straight at you with confident stares. There was fear and vulnerability in only a few. You think the faces looked as nondescript as those of men you saw when you pulled into the Target parking lot this morning, and while you searched the aisles of Home Depot for sandpaper. A few had tattoos, or dyed, unkept hair. But that’s no mark of a mass shooter. What can you learn from a face? Isn’t it a doorway to one’s heart, soul? Staring into the eyes of each, you tried to see what was behind the gaze, what was locked in there, see that seed from which sprouted a plan, months of scouting, practice, precision, execution. Where did it come from? Why him and not another?
You read the experts, the memes on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter. Lots of hate. Lots of name calling. “Toxic white male patriarchy.” “Gun-toting bible-loving misogynist.” “Racist.” “White supremacist.” “He showed signs of agitation and made threats close to the event.” “History of physical abuse at home, toward girlfriends, wives.” “Sex starved. Isolated.” “Drawn to images and videos depicting violence.” “Fatherless.” “Brutal abusive father.” “Depression.” “Isolation” “Nice kid.” “Kept to himself.” “Trouble in school.” “Anger.”
You’ve heard this for years. The phrases all run together. And the horror and outrage wanes. Life gets in the way. Life Happens.
Don’t turn away today. Don’t let it drop until it happens all over again. Stop. Really think about those faces. Imagine each of them as a baby, gazing into his mother’s or caregiver’s eyes. Imagine them at three years and their wonderment at the first snowfall, or taste of ice cream. Hear the tinkle of their baby laugh. Imagine each a young child with little boy dreams of Spiderman and Luke Skywalker and slipping into bed at night so filled with excitement for the next day that he’s unable to sleep. How did hatred nourish this boy and all the others and not love and kindness? Fill and strengthen their minds, limbs, trigger fingers? Seduce them like a lover?
And not the other man standing beside you in CVS, waiting online to buy cough drops?


  1. Sarah Freligh

    Hi, Andrea! I’m excited I get to read your WIP again.

    I’m loving the bridge you create from title to first sentence, how that throws down the parameters for this: the setting, the situation, the characters and yeah, the conflict, the conflict, the conflict: the reminder that in 21st century America, even on a routine Saturday of running errands, even in the most ostensibly banal of places –the mall, Home Depot, Target– we have to consider THEM, most of them unmonstrousm and even ordinary until they aren’t. And what a brilliant use of second person this is–it’s not just the speaker going from place to place, it’s the reader, too, it’s all of us implicated in this and there’s no getting away from it.

    Thinking that the “Mall” of the title maybe limits this to that place so maybe simply “While Running Errands.” I’m loving the stops at Home Depot and Target and CVS and the men the narrator observes there and would love to see more of that (see below). Also, in not limiting the scope of the setting in the title, it underscores the notion that mass shooters are everywhere and mass shootings can and do happen any and everywhere.

    Thinking that you can get more mileage out of the physical setting, the back-and-forth between where the narrator is/what they observe there and those recalled pictures of the mass shooter. I’m thinking that grounding the narrative more in the here-and-now of those errands will up the tension the narrator — and we — feel as they go about their day in the valley of the shadow.

    Anyhow, to answer your question, yeah, you most definitely have something here! The situation is great, the POV is spot on, keep going!

  2. Len Kuntz

    Hi Andrea.

    You’ve expertly tackled a hot button issue here. I was actually on edge reading it because your writing, with all of its wonderful details, avoids nothing, and goes straight to the heart of the matter. The tattoos, the unkempt hair, down the aisle at The Home Depot… all of these bits allow us to become a voyeur, and they make your piece that much more realistic and believable.
    There were so many wonderful lines but to me this summed things up: What can you learn from a face?
    It’s a difficult yet important read. I loved it.

  3. Robert Vaughan

    Hi Andrea, you really nailed a 100 pounder with your POV and great line choices here. I felt my heart pumping faster and realized I was holding my breath at one point. Bravo for taking on such a deep-rooted issue, not only here, but apparently world wide: America and her fascination with guns. One tiny suggestion- the word “online” in the last sentence has more than one meaning. Might want to drop it, just because it could also mean this person is not waiting in the same line as “you” at CVS, but instead is waiting online, meaning on a computer.

    • Andrea Marcusa

      Hi Robert, Thanks for reading and you are right about online and online. So grateful for this observation!

  4. David O'Connor

    Andrea, this is a second-person flash like Childish Gambino’s This is America. The details, the menace, the good ole consumerism with that sniper buying cough drops right behind you, taps the fear. If you are to go back to it, I’d say more focus on the details of the errand, the sliding doors, the musak, the emergency exits, what grade of sandpaper, and all the decisions that go into being a witness or a victim. If I had just let that guy have the shopping cart first, I’d be in aisle six and not the shooter’s crosshairs. I’m babbling because this piece has legs and dances and needs to be said. It’s excellent.

  5. Anita Brienza

    Andrea, first, kudos on the title (I love a great title, and I’m so bad at them!). I’ve been watching a documentary about murderers on death row and each person featured talks about their childhoods, and the segment where you describe the shooters’ possible moments as children resonated sharply. This piece – which delivers the parallel lives we lead, going about business as usual when we know the awful possibilities that hang in the air is so powerful even before the ending, but that last line is a stunner.

  6. Koss Just Koss

    Hi Andrea. Love this and all the obsessive possibilities. These leading lines are so apt: “First, remember at the faces. A page of small squares, inside each a headshot of a mass shooter.” And the rest. Fab work!

  7. Francine Witte

    I like all the details, the list of things you might see. how what you expect something to be can be quite different. Very good handling of something on everyone’s minds. Well done.

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