AT Murder Mall on a Wednesday afternoon things are generally quiet.
The security guards haven't started their shifts.
Shopping trolleys are sometimes abandoned in the streets during the week, and late in the day, or left felled in gutters and up-ended like giant metal insects with wheels.
But they're not arranged defensively like a barricade or a border beyond which the uninitiated shouldn't cross, like it is on some weekend nights. It's been that way sometimes outside Murder Mall, feeling like you have to storm the shopping trolleys to get your muesli and mince, but not on a recent Wednesday afternoon.
No. It was all quiet on the Murder Mall front when I went to get cat food, which was a pity. It can feel a little wild there and I don't mind that. It was just kids and parents doing the grocery shopping dance - "Can we have pizza for dinner?", "No", "Why?", "Because we're having spag bol", "I hate spag bol", "Then you'll have nothing" - and a bunch of wanderers like me, avoiding the noisy aisles and trying to remember the things we'd come to buy while filling our baskets with essentials, like chocolate.
Murder Mall isn't its name, by the way. It's a shopping centre with a perfectly sensible title, although it's slightly geographically confusing. But the title went out the window the day a relative called it Murder Mall after a visit on a Sunday night to buy cat food (we all like cats) and, from memory, toilet paper and milk. Staples, anyway.
The relative, and I'll call him Fred, hadn't been there before. But he decided to make it his local after standing in line behind a bloke wearing a cow onesie and a woman in pyjamas, ugg boots and a fluffy dressing gown with little sheep on it. Their discussion strayed from buying noodles and ice cream to visiting their mate in jail the next day.
The cow man and the ugg woman went into lurid detail about what certain people said they were going to do with the mate if they ever got their hands on him. And although their talk went for, at best, two or three minutes, my relative insisted he eavesdropped on discussion of potentially nefarious criminal activity involving an unknown number of shadowy presences. Hence Murder Mall.
I said he'd been watching too many police crime shows. But I wasn't surprised by what he said. One of the charms of Murder Mall is that there are no dress rules. No-one blinks an eye at adults wearing Superman outfits on a Tuesday morning. Pyjamas for after-dark ice cream runs are almost mandatory. And I almost yawned as Fred expounded on two people talking in line about their mate in jail while waiting to buy their groceries.
There hasn't been a murder at Murder Mall yet, as far as I can tell, although bodies have been found in the car park. The majority snore or look the worse for wear when they're prodded awake.
"Was that it?" I asked. Fred was a little deflated. He leads the kind of life where people don't go to jail. Just the idea of visiting one was exciting.
There hasn't been a murder at Murder Mall yet, as far as I can tell, although bodies have been found in the car park. The majority snore or look the worse for wear when they're prodded awake by security, or melt on the bitumen as the sun hits. Warmer weather increases the likelihood of people wandering from a nearby pub on their way home at night and reaching their limit by Murder Mall's car park. They sleep it off until security, sun or shoppers stir them awake.
There are screamers at times outside Murder Mall.
If you park your car on the street near the tattoo removalist - offering half price "skin services" in time for summer - you can sometimes catch the colourful conversations of locals bidding each other good day, or a swift and brutal end to life. It varies.
One day I parked and crossed the street and between opening and closing the car door, looking right to check for traffic and taking a first step there was an explosion of sound near a bus stop, a man's quick exit and yelling from a group left behind. There was swearing, a shriek or two from a woman who seemed to be the most aggrieved, supportive comments from others and consensus about good riddance to the bloke who did the runner.
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A bit of street theatre on the way to buying dishwashing liquid, I thought. For free. It's why I like Murder Mall. That, and it has a huge range of cat food.
I'm old enough to remember the excitement we felt when the first real shopping centre came to town when I was about 10.
The Imperial Centre was an expansion of a Woolworths supermarket. I remember standing outside Woolworths looking across to the darkened new mall after they pulled the security boards down just before its official opening. The glass-fronted shops, escalator and open spaces leading to areas we couldn't see were quite dazzling.
Now I was 10, and it was 1970 in regional NSW. A wild night for me back then was being allowed to stay up to watch TV after 8pm.
The Imperial Centre's still there, but it was eclipsed in the mid 1980s by a mega-mall a couple of kilometres away that was huge when it was first built, and has subsequently chewed its way through a large chunk of a suburb as it's expanded, and then expanded some more.
It's the kind of shopping centre that has a "town square" of sorts, a local library branch, medical centres, government services, and it's where people head when they decide to do their Christmas shopping. Any day now the Christmas decorations will be out and shop owners will go slightly crazy by December 24, after weeks of "Jingle Bells" and "The Little Drummer Boy" on a repeat loop.
But I haven't seen anyone in a cow onesie or wearing pyjamas at this shopping centre, and the conversations you overhear are tame, by Murder Mall standards.
Fred's dropping in to Murder Mall this weekend, he tells me. He's torn between wearing pyjamas and a moose suit.
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