Looks

Picture of liquor store

I thought I now understood what writers mean when they say the air was ‘close;’ that you wore it like a face mask, like scuba gear.It clung to me as I walked around the liquor store trying to figure out what to buy. I had just come in because I couldn’t stand the sun anymore. I couldn’t stand it catching on shiny stuff in the sidewalk cement and making me blink or trying to turn my scalp into an itching, overheated landscape for sweat to collect in and run down into my collar. I had been surprised at first that there was hardly anyone else in there besides the young guy at the counter in front, but then I realized there was no air conditioning. There was only a tall fan blowing the dry air around as it oscillated, ruffling the edges of the tabloids in their racks every few minutes. But at least the sun was out there and not on me.

I finally grabbed some stuff at random including two or three different drinks and headed up to the register. When I got there, I was in line behind two women.

The shorter of the two caught my eye first because she was pretty. She had light brown hair that was thick and wavy and her face had that clean, smooth skin that only young women have, like a glow they are born with and that life will gradually rub off. She was standing quiet while the other woman was having an irritated conversation with the store clerk. The woman was irritated, anyway. The clerk had a goofy smile on his face that might have indicated he was over his head.

I realized that this woman was pretty as well, though you could not see it so clearly at first because of the over-sized heavy glasses she was wearing. Her hair was dark and straight to her shoulders and she dressed like a Jehovah’s Witness going out to call on householders while her companion was in neat casual wear and flip-flops. There was a resemblance and I thought they might be sisters.

The woman in glasses was tilting her head at the clerk as if she suspected that he had just made an unfunny joke. “Excuse me?”

“I said, she doesn’t have any ID so I can’t sell her the cigarettes.”

The woman blinked at him. “She’s a married woman. With children.”

“That doesn’t mean she’s old enough to buy cigarettes.”

His adversary took a step back and closed her eyes. When she opened them, she looked at the other woman, but got no help. Her companion stood, looking off into the distance, as though the conversation was not about her but about something else; something she did not find interesting.

Then the clerk said, “But I’ll sell them to you.”

The woman’s head shot around to him. “You’ll sell them to me.”

“Well, you’re obviously old enough.”

The woman closed her eyes again and sighed, although it did nothing to reduce the tension she was almost vibrating with. “Very well.” She put a candy bar on the counter and looked at her companion, who pulled a bill from the pocket of a cigarette purse and handed it to her. She laid it on the counter and scooped up the change and the candy and handed the change back to her companion, who stuffed it in a pocket with one hand while picking up the package of cigarettes with the other.

The woman in glasses, shaking her head, went to the open door. She looked back at the clerk, though it was not clear what expression she wore.

The clerk and I had stopped moving. He was looking at her expectantly.

“I’m in junior high school,” she said, and stepped out of the store into the sunlight, which made her bright around the edges and somehow diminished.

Her older sister had opened the cigarette pack and lit one with a disposable lighter. She took in a deep drag and smiled at us, a weak, dreamy smile, and she shrugged. Then she walked out herself, her flip flops squeaking on the store linoleum. The tall fan caught the plume of her exhaled smoke and dispersed it into the flapping pages of the tabloids.

Outside, the junior highschooler had unwrapped the candy bar and taken a vicious bite. “This world is fucked up,” she said as she strode out of view.

The clerk and I looked at each other from the corners of our eyes.

“You want a bag?” he asked.

 

The End

I Had A Feeling

When feelings are facts, how are we to find our way?

Table set for two

Image from Wikipedia Commons

The two of them sat across the table from each other for the first time since they had begun dating.

It was a wrench for Chris, who had never thought they would end up so estranged, so at odds with each other. But that was what this dinner was for – to try to reconnect and come once again to that satisfying place where all felt right. To both of them.

Tracy was studying the menu, but did not seem to be finding any satisfaction in it. There was a deep wrinkle between dark brows and grey eyes moved restlessly over the offerings as though the type was not decipherable.

Chris was not interested in the menu, either, and settled on a dish that was an old standby, unlikely to be either delicious or unpalatable: something that could be eaten while being ignored.

After they had given their orders, Chris started the conversation.

“I’m glad you could make it.”

Tracy buttered a small slice of bread, looked up for an instant, then down again and began to eat.

“I felt anxious that you weren’t answering my texts.”

Tracy set down the piece of unfinished bread. “I felt confused and not sure that answering them would do any good.”

Chris winced. “Did I do something that made you feel that way?”

Tracy shrugged. “I can’t think of anything in particular, it’s more that, you know, that I felt that things had gone wrong.”

“Gone wrong?”

“Like we weren’t connecting anymore.”

Chris felt a cold spot in the stomach. This was more serious than expected. “But I didn’t do anything to make you feel that way, right?”

Tracy shrugged again. “Like I said, I can’t think of anything in particular.”

“Can you tell me when you started feeling like this?”

Tracy picked up what was left of the buttered bread slice and ate it, chewing slowly while thinking. “It would have to be just after we went to the concert.”

Chris was shocked. “But we had so much fun and I was feeling like we belonged together and really, really got one another.”

There was a sudden spark in those grey eyes. “You did? You never said anything to me about it.”

“I didn’t think I had to. I was certain you felt it, too.”

“I did, but then the next day I felt all confused and I wondered if we really felt the same. So I got really sad and sure your texts about wanting to talk were so you could dump me.”

“Tracy – no!” Chris reached out to take one of Tracy’s hands. “Of course not.”

“But I felt it was true!”

“I understand. And it was probably my fault because I didn’t take the time to make sure that you knew how I felt.”

“I see,” Tracy said. “So it was true, but not.”

“Absolutely,” Chris said, looking deep into Tracy’s eyes. “I really, really believe we were meant for each other. Can you feel the strength of my belief?”

The spark in Tracy’s eyes suddenly became a glow. “Yes! Now I feel it! I can feel the real truth of it! Can you feel my understanding?”

“Yes!”

They continued to hold hands until the entreés arrived, feeling content.