The neon “open” sign over the single cashier lane at the Stop & Shop blinked on and off like a bug zapper taking in a steady stream of victims. It was apparently fighting to stay useful and perform its simple job which was something it had in common with Gloria, the lead cashier.
Checking out through Gloria’s lane had the unpleasant familiarity of going through customs at the airport. We were all held as hostages in her line and then rewarded with the treat of having her rifle through our hand selected goods, inspect each item, and tell us what we could keep and what we would have to abandon before we reached our final destination.
I was in line behind a business man who wore and expensive outfit and smelled like burnt coffee. He lacked sweat stains that any man from our blue collar town would typically display. I admired his polished shoes with little tassels that reminded me of tiny leather church bells. His shirt was so crisp it took everything in me not to reach out and run my fingers along the rows of pinstripes on his shirt.
Instead, I loaded my groceries onto the conveyor belt. Like a young mother, I coddled my babies ensuring they were steady enough not to topple on their ride up to the register while Mr. Business seemed impatient with the slower pace our town accepted.
He plunked his bottle of wine in front of Gloria while taking out a fresh wad of cash from a shiny money clip. She greeted him by saying, “My husband died from this stuff,” then giving him a look of disgust.
I immediately tried to camouflage myself by singing along with the slow jazz version of Air Supplies “All Out Of Love” playing on the sound system as I hid my cooking sherry in the jungle of impulse items nearby. The man, however, didn’t seem phased by her comment. He muttered a half-hearted apology for her loss and headed casually out the door.
He was my new hero.
I remembered the first time I received a jarring comment from Gloria. Years ago she had chastised me for purchasing Bisquick. She insisted that any self-respecting Southerner should be able to make biscuits from scratch. She then turned my receipt over and wrote the five ingredient recipe I still use to this day. It had never occurred to me that I could actually ignore her advice. Because of Gloria, I began to squeeze my own orange juice, abandoned my favorite diet soda and, after a particularly graphic article she slipped me with my receipt one day, I gave up red meat. Now as each grocery item of got scanned I began to question her influence over me. With each “boop” I was breaking free.
My Twix bar arrived at the register and Gloria held it captive in her grip instead of passing it though the scanner. “I gave up saturated fat five years ago and I think it took ten years off my face,” she said with a pinched up smile. She paused and tilted her head up towards the bright florescent lights overhead so that I could inspect her skin. In all fairness, she did have a fabulous complexion.
I just couldn’t muster up the gumption to reply. Instead, I focused on my feet and started to count my toes. By the time she finally aligned the Twix bar code up to the red line of her machine something in me had snapped. With a singular swivel action I grabbed seven more Twix bars and dumped them on the belt then quickly returned my gaze to my feet. I was bursting inside. I was liberated. Inside of me it was the Fourth of July.
Gloria, for once, had nothing to say.
I didn’t even wait to leave the store before I unwrapped one of the candy bars and celebrated my emancipation with a carmel coated chocolate dipped biscuit finger.
“Well, hello there,” she cooed at the next customer as I headed for the door. “Did you find everything all right?”
“Yes, but I also need a carton of Camels,” he said and I had to stifle the impulse to hover around and watch the show.
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