Not as Nice as Target
Short fiction by Robert Blum

A road in central New the back seat of a Toyota Camry, I peer out the dirty automatic window and observe the landscape gliding by: houses, some two stories, some three. An empty field breaks into view, disturbing the quiet monotony of the neighborhood. There are upturned roots near the road, and the grass is spotted with mounds of dirt.

My Aunt: This used to be an apple orchard. They are turning it into a development.

My Mom: That is horrible

Aunt: Yes I know. The houses are supposed to start at 400.

I can imagine this. The way the field will look in five years. Winding, senseless asphalt curving this way and that. House after house, blue lights flickering in the night....

The field ends. A valley begins after some time on one side of the road. The rectangular pattern of parking-lot lights can be seen at a distance. A large sign reads: Heritage Plaza. The valley is filled with vast parking lots and immense, hangar-like buildings.

Aunt: This place is really growing. We have a Home Depot and a Wiz now.

Mom: Oh, do they sell clothes?

Aunt: The Wiz? Oh no. Electronics.

Mom: Oh. And you have a Target. Did you here that Bradford’s is going out of business?

Aunt: Yeah, I did.

My Mom asks me if I remember Bradford’s. I ask if it is a department store.
Mom: Yes, a kind of low-class department store, like Target.

Aunt: Not as nice as Target though.

I say that I think I do, remember it that is.

When we reach my Aunt’s house my Uncle complains that it is cold.

Mom: Are the kids home?

Aunt: No. They are out.

Mom: Oh, where?

Aunt: Lizzie is at a friend’s. We will have to pick her up later tonight. Greg is out.

Mom: You don’t know where?

Aunt: Probably playing cards somewhere. He likes to gamble.

My Uncle injects a rhetorical: Who cares? My Aunt tells me Greg has bought a Playstation Two and that I can play it if I like. This prospect excites me.

The house with the number twenty-one on the stands amongst others of its kind, in a black asphalt cul-de-sac. We eat food inside.

Mom: Did you hear about the earthquake in India? It is so horrible….
My Uncle interjects a rhetorical: Who cares? He sits down with a sigh, picks up the television controller and turns on the stock market news. Reading a sewn pillow on the couch near my Uncle:
Mom: “King of the Remote.” Did you make that?

Aunt: No, I bought it. I thought it was perfect for him.

Mom: It’s funny. This wallpaper is new huh? Show me all the new things in your house.

Aunt: OK.

They go up the stairs. Eventually they go to bed. My uncle does too, after complaining about having to leave the house again to pick up Lizzie. Lizzie talks on the phone in her room. I am alone downstairs. I watch the 45-inch television screen intently, sometimes laughing, sometimes grimacing. I watch. Greg comes in with a friend. They ask me if I want to gamble. I have lost five dollars to them recently. I say I want to watch TV. They understand and start a game on the kitchen table.

I watch a lot of TV. Greg’s friend leaves. Greg brings his Playstation Two downstairs so we can play on the 45-inch screen. We play. My Aunt comes downstairs, looking groggy.

Aunt: Guys, go to bed.
She sounds disappointed in us. We are intent on the screen for it is a critical part of the game. We grant my Aunt a minimal response. She goes back upstairs. Greg gets a Mountain Dew and starts to drink it. It being very late, I ask if it will keep him up. He says he has one every night before bed. After some time we decide to go to sleep. It is quiet in the room I sleep in, except for a clock ticking. Outside there are some trees and a reddened sky. I remember how my uncle said that there is nothing to do in New Jersey.

Robert Blum