The Galacto-Mart had a separate postal code—for every department. It was so big that customers could rent small electric cars at the front and high-speed resupply trains ran under the floor. It could be seen from space. It could be seen from the Moon. It was reported to have its own airport somewhere on the east side. It was big, is what I’m trying to say.
I always felt a sense of stomach-churning awe when we drove past the front entrance, built like a modern tower of Babel. We had heard rumors of the fabled toy department, the mecca of all things juvenile, somewhere in the misty expanses beyond Lawn and Garden. It was our dream to see it, just once, but my parents never ventured more than a few hundred meters into the store, just far enough to pick up their prescriptions at the pharmacy, eat at the first food court and maybe grab some groceries from the borderlands of the grocery department. We begged them to visit the whole store, but my dad joked that it made his credit card hurt to think about it.
Finally, we decided to strike out on our own, my brother Kiefer and I. I was twelve and he was ten, so we weren’t babies, although I didn’t want to tell my parents we were going. There were stories of kids who wandered off in Galacto-Mart and just never came back. Rumor had it they turned up years later, wearing store vests and earning minimum wage.
My friend Jonas came too since he had overheard us talking about it and insisted. It’s not really that I didn’t want him to come but Jonas always gave up on things easily and I knew this was going to be an epic trek that would test all our abilities.
We set out one Saturday morning, when mom would be expecting us to go out and play anyway. I left a note for them in the cookie jar, where they would discover it eventually but hopefully not too soon. It was my secret hope that we would be back first, but I wasn’t confident. We took the bus over and then we were there, staring up at the massive building.
“Hi, welcome to Galacto-Mart,” the greeter/customs officer said. She looked over our passports and stamped them. “What department are you headed to today?”
“Toys,” I said.
She got an apologetic look on her face. “Oh, I’m sorry. You have to be eighteen to rent an electric car.”
“That’s okay, we’re going to walk.”
She looked shocked. “Walk? That’s near the back. That’s almost to Automotive!”
I just nodded and walked on, Kiefer and Jonas following and trying to look cool. “Do you want me to at least make a hotel reservation for you near the halfway point?” the woman called after me. I ignored her.
At first, it was fun. We bought provisions at the closest food court and set out, hitting a large book section and then a section of party supplies. We sat down in Stationery and ate our lunch on a table we built out of reams of paper.
After Stationery, the journey immediately got awkward. We hit the plus-size lingerie section and although we tried to go around it, it went on and on and we finally dove in. None of us talked as we walked through forests of huge bras and panties. I was blushing and I didn’t dare look at the others to see if they were too.
Finally, we were out and into girls’ socks, which was marginally better. Jonas started making fun of all the patterns and we all started it, pretending we were going to buy girls’ socks and giggling in relief from being away from lingerie.
We finally hit another food court around four in the afternoon. I could tell Jonas wanted to go back and I started to regret bringing him. We ate lasagna and then started again but it was soon clear we couldn’t go much further. Kiefer was lagging and Jonas was complaining and even I was starting to feel that it was getting to be too much. Then up ahead, I saw computer games and I thought we had finally made it. But when I asked a worker, he said that Computer Games were part of Electronics, which was a sub-division of Household Goods, nowhere near Toys. We spent several hours playing with the games until I figured we should get going again.
This time, we didn’t make it far. Jonas was about to turn back on his own, until I reminded him how far we had already walked that day. Kiefer was drifting off on his feet. We made camp in the Menswear department, under a forest of shirts, snuggling into a nest of hockey jerseys.
We were woken up by a worker wielding a hanger and a scanner gun. He almost got me, but I dodged him and we escaped into the boxers aisle.
The rest of the next morning was spent wandering through aisles of dog collars, road salt, beanbags chairs, and the like. Jonas sat down in the beanbag chairs and refused to get up until I threatened to leave him. There were maps along the way and I could tell we were getting close. Then, just before noon, we saw it over a rack of rakes: the Toy department.
It opened up like a valley. On one side was a fluffy mass of pink and white. Unicorns and kittens romped around and behind it, a Barbie’s dream castle towered up. Near it was a castle made of Legos, wooden blocks and other building materials. There were Nerf artillery and machine gun nests on top.
To get in, we had to roll a pair of huge dice and go the number of spaces it said. My space said, “Go right in!” Kiefer’s said, “Go back to plus-size lingerie.” He started crying, so the attendant let him roll again. Jonas’ square said “Go immediately to Barbie’s dream castle”, which didn’t make him too happy.
We had all just gotten in, when an electric car pulled up outside and Mom and Dad got out, looking both worried and furious. They whisked us away and grounded Kiefer and me for a month for running off. Later, when they calmed down a bit, they said maybe we could back to the Toy department for my birthday.
I hope so. I’ll never forget that place, where the streets are paved with Legos.