We are in an elevator, going up. I glance over at Sarah, who is looking blankly forward the way one is supposed to do in an elevator. She suddenly looks up, with a furrowed brow.
She smiles a bit. “I think Bruce is starting to dream the music for the dance.”
The elevator, which is old and noisy, bumps to a stop, and the doors slide open. We step out onto a tiled floor. We are in a large department store. It looks like the bedding and bath sections are to our right, and something like small appliances is to the left. About fifteen feet in front of us, near a wall or partition of some kind, sits Bruce (still Waits), sleeping in his rocking chair as if still on the porch.
I recognize the store from my past. It occurs to me that I have no memory of how we got from the wood at the edge of the farm to the elevator, but it doesn’t matter. Sarah has noticed Bruce’s presence too, but obviously neither of us find it remarkable. We both simultaneously turn to the right, knowing that this is where we are supposed to go. We make our way through the bedding section, working further to the right so that we are somewhat behind the elevator.
When we reach the opposite side of the large room, we find the entryway and sign that we expected. A stairway leads down to an area that seems to float halfway between this floor and the floor below. The sign over the opening to the stairway reads “TOYLAND” in large letters. We stop and regard the sign with silent reverence.
I vocalize it slowly, speaking each word with an initial capital letter. “The Toy Department.”
Sarah looks at me. “You must go down there without me.”
This doesn’t really surprise me. “What will you do while I am down there?”
She looks around at the merchandise nearby. “I don’t know yet. But I’ll be here when you are finished.”
I nod, and proceed through the opening (‘portal’ seems more appropriate given the feel of the place) and down the steps. How many steps are there? It seems like a large stairway and a huge room, but this is for the same reason that the conversation room seems so cavernous. I have not been in the corresponding “real” place for many years, and I know for sure that it no longer exists. In “reality,” the entire building is gone now. But when I was last there, I was small myself. The room into which the stairs descend seems as large and as packed full as a contemporary single-floor toy store at the mall. The details of its layout vary from clear to “fuzzy,” like the details of the conversation room. It occurs to me that the conversation room is (if one assumes the geography of “reality”) about twenty miles from here.
On my right, on the way down the stairs, there is some kind of arrangement on the wall that includes mirrors. When I look at my reflection, I see the younger boy. I stop for a moment and look down at myself. Still played by Gellar, long blond hair and all. I look back at the reflection and see the boy again, only a bit younger this time. The association here is much stronger than with the conversation room. I am definitely supposed to remember being here as a child. That seems to call for some emotional and mental preparation, so I close my eyes and take a very deep breath. After a moment, I open my eyes again. Now I see that there is a woman waiting for me at the bottom of the steps. She looks vaguely familiar.
I walk the rest of the way to the bottom of the stairs to meet her. Once I have reached the bottom and stopped again, she smiles. “May I help you?”
It had not really struck me until now that, apart from this woman and myself, apparently there are no other people in the room. Bruce was the only other person that Sarah and I encountered on the way in.
I look at her face. She is probably in her late forties or fifties, with graying hair done up in a way vaguely similar to a beehive. I was right that she is a woman, wearing a dress with a muted floral pattern, but she has a discernible mustache. She is wearing a name tag, but all it says is “DRONE.”
“You’ve waited on me, or maybe I should say my parents and me, before.”
“We have. I am sort of a composite.”
I just nod at that. “I assume that ‘helping me’ today does not mean selling me anything.”
“Correct. If we can find what you need, there will be no charge.”
“What is it with the toys theme? What is this about, really?”
She tilts her head slightly, as if to express that my expression of ignorance is sweet or cute. “It is about having.” Her head straightens. “…or wanting to have.”
As she finishes speaking, I notice that the red toy box from the conversation room is sitting on the floor a few feet behind her. “Having. Of course.”
A single, officious nod.
I look around again. “There is no one else here.”
“When you remember being here, it is always as if no one else was ever here. This is a place where you were always alone in an important sense.”
I look in her eyes and see the tiny reflection of the boy. “Like the kiln, in the woods.”
Another officious nod.
Can she help me?
“I’d like to see the G. I. Joes and the Barbies. Perhaps the Barbies first?”
I notice for the first time that there is music playing in the background. I know it, and sing along softly. “The lamb seems right out of place…”