Hailey’s grip tightened around the handbag, her knuckles white with her bones piercing through. She held on to everything. Grudges, promises, disillusions, what she could be in control of. She was endlessly hanging on, and she was not about to lose this fight. The bag was hers. Nothing else felt secure in her life.
She was facing a slightly stout woman with dry blonde hair whose features, although they seemed gentle, were contorted in a teeth-baring grimace.
“I saw it first,” the woman snarled.
“I grabbed it first,” Hailey barked back while the commotion around them beat against their ears. The next day, she would see her blurred face and ruffled hair circulating on news channels. The bold title “Black Friday” would hang over her while a voice-over commented on the downfall of Western society.
The crowd pulsed against them as their shoving continued. Anonymous faces sprung up before Hailey's, screaming at her until she had lost sight of the other woman. Squeezed in between slimy bodies, her muscles were pulled and tugged from all sides as her arm reached out for what she wanted.
“My husband just divorced me,” the woman shrieked at her as soon as she had reappeared from the swarm of fighting limbs, their eyes meeting in a clashing gaze.
“I’m drowning in student debts,” Hailey riposted at once. She wouldn’t fall for the woman’s tricks. She wouldn't allow herself to pity her.
“My daughter has surgery next week,” the other pressed on.
Hailey turned her head away from the woman’s sight. Stop guilt-tripping me, she thought. I don’t care, I don’t care.
A rush of screams poured over them. The human tide turned and pushed Hailey against her rival. The proximity made it possible for her to reach the woman’s head. Impulsively, her hand clawed at it, racking strands of hair from her skull. She had transgressed the physical barrier, torn it down as if it had never been there.
Tears glossing over her eyes, the woman wailed loudly above the crowd. She grabbed Hailey’s shirt, pulling down the collar until her loose chest hung exposed. The shirt ripped open and when her belly flesh gushed out, the woman burst out laughing. Hailey balled up her hand into a fist and wrung the woman’s hair. But her cackle would not stop – it continued resonating all around her, and Hailey’s sagging belly thrust forward as she pounced on the woman. Her nails dug inside her victim’s nape, her fingers hanging on to the throbbing neck. Each vein formed a bump under Hailey’s palm. She shivered. Her thumb grazed the protruding throat, and her thoughts instantly emptied themselves of words. Hailey was hollow, feeling nothing except the pulse, drained of everything except for its dull beating.
The chaos surrounding her shifted into a soft pace. Shouts and shoves aligned themselves into a single movement. The stout woman tugged at the bag while Hailey hung on to the beat of her breath. The struggle of flesh around them surged with clashing desires.
“It’s mine,” Hailey cried out, her voice finding the words as she spoke. “It’s mine,” she whispered again before letting go.
The ceiling above them trapped the sweltering heat of their bodies. Employees were running in circles, helplessly trying to break people apart. Shoppers were whimpering on the ground while others shouted lost insults into the crowd.
The short woman was clinging to the bag, muttering to herself, “I saw it first.” She brushed past Hailey’s drained body, her gaze gliding over her. The people in the crowd lurched from side to side as if they were strands that, despite being bound together, were going in different directions.
Hailey could only ever grab at things. Once they were hers, she lost them. When waking up that Black Friday morning, she had had a single goal in mind: hang on to what she wanted. But the woman’s pulse had made the fight grotesque. Did it even matter? Was it not clear that they were all desperately hanging on to the same thing? A string of insignificant somethings hung draped around their necks, while a relentless beating animated them like pantomimes. As it pulsed, their corpses swayed and their minds decayed. They continued hanging on to promises and to fading moments, to the somethings that were beyond keeping. They were all faint chalkboard hangmen drawings, strangled by what they would not let go of. Hailey thought of that game, smiling as though she had found the answer. On the blackboard, each drawn line became a limb of the hangman’s body until it formed a whole. Only then did the rope tighten itself around the stick figure’s throbbing neck. Only then was the board swiped clean again.