For Children

Allegra Noelle Wong

In Bloomingdale’s Labyrinth

5th-6th Grade Prose Honorable Mention

Girls, most people think, like shopping. Therefore, they must like Bloomingdale’s, right? Wrong. I hate it. I dread every claustrophobic second spent inside that crowded and cavernous space. But, our family has a special use for Bloomingdale’s: it’s our cut through en route home. No matter what falls from the sky—snow, sleet, or rain—we have a ready-made escape plan.

Today is just such a day. I jump off the subway at 59th Street (my house only a few blocks away) with my mom, Alexandra, and brother, Thomas, following. A snow storm is predicted so I am wearing my rain boots, but have forgotten an umbrella. The unexplainable haze of the subway station washes over me. The sound of a subway player’s drums fills my ears. Together, we get on the escalator, my mom asking motherly questions about the school day. Emerging from the subway system, we are met with heavy snow and freezing rain. Outside, my first step is ankle-deep slush. My next step makes a sucking sound as I pull out my sunk shoe. Cars and cabs flash past. How I wish we could take a cab the rest of the way home.

My mom points across the street, and yells over the sound of oncoming traffic and sudden storm, to Bloomingdale’s twinkling lights. The contrast between the dark all around and the blinding lights startles me. Ever since last year, little light bulbs hang down the facade of the building, snaking vines that give off a welcoming glow. We run across the street, push past the heavy doors, and enter the warm heated air. It’s unusually crowded, with throngs of people everywhere. Tourists and holiday shoppers mill around looking at handbags and clothes. People are loaded down with B.B.B.s (Big Brown Bags), and are using them like shields. My mom’s heavy boots click across the long corridor of black and white tiles.

Thankfully, we make it through the makeup section without getting crushed. My mom, unfortunately, decides to wait out the worst part of the storm here. So we get on an elevator, or, at least, we try to. The elevator system in Bloomingdale’s is nonsensical. Nearly ten elevators stretch along one side of the store, and when you push the button any one of these can open at any time. So we spend the next five minutes dashing back and forth like sprinters, trying to get onto any elevator. When the door of an elevator finally opens in front of us, it is packed. My mom, who has adapted to being a New Yorker (she was born in Boston), pushes her way in. My brother grumbles something about department stores, but there is otherwise no sound besides the rustling of bags and bodies.

On the 7th floor, we get off and shuffle past kitchen stuff and luggage. Now I am suffocating, bundled up in my winter coat and warmest gloves. But I take none of it off, hoping that we will soon be leaving. Like Theseus, without Ariadne to guide us, we are caught in a never-ending labyrinth. After searching for a small eternity, we reach the umbrella section. Dozens of the most expensive umbrellas in New York are lying there, daunting us.

“No one will ever buy these,” I flatly state.

Thomas takes a nice one off a shelf. It is a black umbrella with an automatic release handle, and a neat little case to slide into.

“We should get this for Dad,” Thomas says. “It is the perfect gift.”

The umbrella gets everyone’s approval, but my mom warns us that we cannot use it today, in this storm, because it would get ruined. On our crusade to get outside again, we stop to buy the umbrella. The lady at the cash register smiles down at me.

“How old are you?” she says, scanning the ticket.

“Ten years old,” I say, shrinking into my mom.

“OK! Here you go, kiddo!” she chirps, handing me the umbrella.

Outside the window, we see the storm has subsided. So we fight our way back onto the elevator and downstairs, where we are hit with the stomach-churning smells of too much perfume. Slips with perfume stains on them get pushed in our face, left and right. Taking in a gulp of polluted air, we rush through. The exit cannot come soon enough. Suddenly, our beeline is cut short.

“Perfume?” a lady asks. “It’s Chanel No5.”

“No, not today,” my mom says curtly.

Still, she shoves perfume slips into our hands. Instinctively, I drop them. My mom just turns away and races ahead. Taking my hand, we rush out of the perfume department into fresher air. “AHHHH!” My brother lets out a sigh.

After walking past the dark colors of menswear and Mont Blanc pens, the exit comes in sight. The slushy street outside does not look welcoming, but after the perfume pushers, fresh air is necessary. Just before we reach the exit, though, a wall of heavenly smells hits us. It is Magnolia Bakery. The clash between the bakery’s sublime smells—all batter and icing—and the stale mix of perfumes is arresting. Just beyond, the freezing air rushes in with the opening and closing of doors.

“Please?” my brother pleads. Smiling, my mother leads us into the bakery. Behind glass display cases, dome-shaped cupcakes, with tiny Christmas trees and Hanukkah candles, compete for our attention. Behind them are stacks of cookies and cakes galore. Without thinking, I decide on the Sea Salt Caramel Chocolate Chunk Cookie. It tastes just like it smells—heavenly. The chocolate and sea salt compliment each other perfectly, while the caramel melts on my tongue. For this, the whole trip is worth it.

Bundling up, with sweet-tasting mouths, we step outside. Every so often, Bloomingdale’s may be tolerable.