It’s my blog and I’ll write about my shoes if I want to. #2

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These are my walking shoes, and here is the story of how I came to own them….

A long time ago, in a previous life when I had a husband who had a huge extended family and none of them hated me yet, I was friends with one of his cousins. She and I were really close until she started dating the man who became her husband. He and I never really got on too well.

No meanness ever passed between us, just a lot of confused looks. He was one of those people who never made a lick of sense to me. He was just so… nice. Not creepy-nice, or syrupy-sweet nice, more like 1950’s television nice. Aw Shucks nice. He didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, and didn’t eat meat, all things my friend had once done, with relish. Almost over night, she focused in on him and she stopped being fun, started being nice, like him, and we lost all the things we’d had in common.

Anyway… many years after they married, her husband and I briefly shared running as a hobby. Though, hobby is probably to mild a word to describe anything he did. He was the type to get obsessed with things. He knew everything there was to know about running and all the equipment necessary to fully experience all the pleasure one could squeeze out of it. (yes, of course he ran marathons, did you have to ask?) It was truly just a hobby for me, and a short lived one at that. Really, I was more of a jogger at heart.

He offered to take me to his favorite shoe store and help me pick out a pair of shoes, and for reasons I can’t even fathom, I agreed. So the two of us went to the store. Alone. Take any awkward situation you’ve ever been in with another person and times it by 11. We both really tried to find things to talk about, but it’s like talking to someone in a language you’ve just learned. Once you get beyond your health and the weather, you just run out of words that you both know. That car ride lasted at least a week.

When we finally got to the store, he introduced his running buddies, then left me to their salesperson devices while he shopped for himself. (It was a relief, actually.) The sales person figured out that I wasn’t as much a runner as a fast walker and sold me these instead of one of the really fancy and expensive pairs my friend’s husband had been talking about before we got there.

Eventually he drove me home and neither of us ever acted on our promises to go run together someday. Then I lost all of those people in the divorce and that was that.

Regardless, these are really good shoes.

A Joyful Sound

Patrick gave his mother’s unresponsive hand another squeeze before letting go. He stood up and walked over to the window. The view of the park was something even he could admire and he thought again what a shame it was that his mother couldn’t see it. She’d worked hard for a long time to save up the money to pay for this place, it was unfair that she went into a coma before being able to appreciate what her hard work paid for.

With his back to her, he started his carefully rehearsed speech. “Mom, I have something to tell you.”

He turned back to glance at her face and to the machines that monitored her heart and lungs. No change. “You have a grand-daughter, her name is Lilly and she is 36 years old and she has two kids and she lives in the city.” The words came out in a rush, as if now that he’d finally decided to tell her, after almost four decades of keeping the secret, he had to get it over with as quickly as possible.

A Tiger-lily (Lilium longiflorum) in front of ...
Tiger-lily (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Was that a change in her heart rhythm? The doctor said there was no reason to assume she wasn’t aware of what was going on around her. He watched the monitors for a moment longer. No, nothing had changed.

He turned back to the window.

“Do you remember that time I called home from school and said I crashed into a professor’s car and needed to get it fixed? You and Dad sent me two thousand dollars? Well…”

Patrick cleared his throat and realized telling his mother about an unknown grand-daughter wasn’t as hard as telling her about the lie.

“Well, there wasn’t any car accident. I gave the money to this girl I was seeing. She was a really sweet girl, mom, smart and funny. We were friends for a long time before… The point is she ended up pregnant. And I gave her the money to pay for an abortion. She said she’d take care of it.”

Many years later – a little older and wiser, he’d realized that two thousand dollars was too much for an abortion, but the girl hadn’t come back to school the next semester. In fact, he’d never heard from her again.

“I guess she lied to me like I lied to you.”

He watched through the window as a breeze picked up some early fall leaves, swirled them in a mini tornado then disappeared.

“Anyway, she took the money and moved to the city. She raised Lilly all by herself for a few years but eventually she got married. Lilly grew up calling that guy ‘dad.’ She says he was a good dad, but a little while ago she decided to find me.”

Lilly tracked him down to the law firm in the city where he’d worked since graduating. She didn’t call ahead, she just showed up one day. He’d known almost immediately who she was. She looked just like her mother. But it was his own lopsided grin he saw on her face that clinched it for him.

“She didn’t ask me for anything, she just wanted to meet me and to see what kind of guy I was.”

Patrick paused for a moment. The park was almost empty this early on a weekday morning, but he could now see a woman walking along the path towards the front door of the nursing home. The woman led two kids, a boy and a girl, by the hands. The girl had red hair like his. Her name was Patty.

“She wanted to know if I could handle being a grandfather, since I missed out on being a dad.”

He’d never married. His college sweetheart left without saying goodbye and took his heart with her.

A joyful sound came from the heart monitor. As he turned back towards the bed, he watched his mother move her hand on her own for the first time in weeks.

“Doctor!” Patrick yelled.

The attendant burst into the room. He scanned the equipment then pulled out a stethoscope and listened to the old woman’s chest.

“What’s happening?” Patrick asked.

The man took off the stethoscope and pulled out a flashlight.

“Well, I think… maybe,” he said, flashing the light across his patients eyes. Patrick’s mother blinked slowly, once, twice. “Yes. Good. It looks like your mother is waking up.”

Unfinished Memory

A few months ago, Robbie’s 2nd grade class had added a class photo and a picture of the last Space Shuttle to his school’s time capsule. Today, as he stood near his grandfather’s grave, watching the people throwing mementos on the coffin, Robbie thought it was just the same. Except no one was going to dig it up in fifty years and ooh and ahh over all the old stuff.

Robbie thought long and hard about what to throw in for his grandfather. Mom said it should be something special that would remind Grandpa of Robbie. Just like the teacher had said, the picture of the last Space Shuttle was something that made this year special.

Grandpa liked playing cards, usually War because there was no way to cheat. He liked puzzles, the ones with millions of pieces. But throwing a deck of cards or a box of puzzle pieces didn’t seem right. They weren’t special enough.

The thing Grandpa loved most was his trains. In the basement of his old house, Grandpa had a huge oval table with a hole cut in the middle to stand in. A model town covered the table with a train track running through it. There were tiny trees and fake grass and little houses and stores and even streets with cars that could get stuck at the railroad crossings.

Every Sunday they went over to Grandpa’s house for eggs and bacon after church. As soon as he was excused, Robbie ran downstairs to see if he could find the new thing Grandpa had added to the table. Mom always warned him not to break anything but he knew it was ok because Grandpa liked fixing things.

The basement smelled funny and the lights that hung from the ceiling made a funny sound. Sometimes one of the long bulbs would start flashing on and off. Grandpa would just tap it softly with his finger to ‘calm it down,’ and it would stop. When he was little, Robbie asked Mom if Grandpa had magic in his hands, because they could fix anything. Mom just laughed and said that Grandpa was Clever and that was better than magic.

Sometimes the new thing on the train table would be easy to find. A new house or a new train car. But sometimes the new thing was really hard to find. Once it had been a tiny gray cat walking along the sidewalk. Grandpa, amazed at how fast Robbie spotted the cat, had told Mom that she should be proud to have such a Clever boy.

At the grave, it was Robbie’s turn. In his hand he held the most special thing in the world. It was a tiny model school-house, Robbie’s first addition to the train table. It wasn’t finished. Grandpa went into the hospital right after the Sunday that they started working on it. This morning, when they were all at Grandpa’s house before the funeral, Robbie sneaked downstairs to see if he could add the white paint for the windows and doors, but the paint had dried up.

Robbie uncurled his fingers and looked down at the little half-painted structure laying in the palm of his hand. This really wasn’t like the school’s time capsule, he thought, because Grandpa was the only one who would ever see the things they put in the grave. And even though the model was the most special thing in the world, it seemed wrong to throw it in like this.

He looked up at Mom and whispered, “I want to finish it.”  Mom nodded and wrapped her hand around his, closing both around the unfinished memory.

http://www.bachmanntrains.com/home-usa/products.php?act=viewProd&productId=653
image source: BachmannTrains.com

 

Just a Trim

leaf on hardwood floor
(Photo credit: Steve A Johnson)

Jen marches into the seemingly empty kitchen and eyes the house plant. It hangs neglected, yellowed, wilted, from a hook in the ceiling. Jen crosses the room, snatches the shears from the knife block then turns to attack the plant.
“A house full of people, and no one takes care of the plants.” She says to herself.
She starts cutting, removing dead leaves and stiff vines.
“Ten people in this house,” she says, her voice rising with every snip of the shears. “Six adults and four children, and not a single person remembers to water the damn plants.”
Brown and yellow leaves flutter to the floor.
“OK, you can’t expect the shit-storm to handle watering duties, but there is no excuse for anyone else.”
“Shit-storm” she says again, enjoying the sound of her new nickname for her sister’s baby.
“Shit-storm,” snip.
“Shit-storm,” snip.
“Shit-storm!” She yells.
The denuded houseplant hangs quietly. The cuttings form a pile at her feet.
She steps back, away from her work, slapping the shears onto the kitchen table.
She hears a gasp.
Bending down, she sees her nephew, her brother’s middle child, crouching under the table, a toy car clutched in his little hand. He looks up at her through wide eyes under a tangle of too-long hair.
“You need a hair cut, kid.” She tells him.
He scoots away from her, eyes growing even wider.
She laughs, “No, no, not now, not by me. Don’t worry, kiddo.”
Smiling, she puts the shears away, gathers up the cuttings and takes them out the back door.

Watching the Clock

clock
watching the clock
(Photo credit: klynslis)

I see her. She sits at the kitchen table, the laptop is open and her hand is on the mouse, but she is looking out the window. She looks bored. Her eyes follow the movements of her four-year-old daughter. She looks back at the laptop. She clicks to refresh the screen. No new emails. She turns back to the window.

I know what is going through her mind, she is wondering what her son is doing right at this moment. She knows he is fine, but she can’t stop wondering. He’s been her constant companion for six years. But now, three weeks into kindergarten and it’s like he’s been going to school all his life.

This morning she walked him into the school as usual, but instead of holding her hand, he ran ahead, into the surging mob of children. She could only watch as he found his own way to his classmates, as he started a conversation with his teacher. She waited for him to remember that he hadn’t given her a kiss goodbye. She waited and waited, her younger child’s hand forgotten in her fist. He never turned around. The teacher marched the children in a sloppy line into the classroom. She watched her son. He smiled and laughed and talked and completely forgot to look, to turn, to see her standing there. Waiting.

I watch her wander around the house while he is gone. She takes good care of her other child. She straightens and washes, she picks up and puts away.

She watches the clock and I can hear her say, “he is having snack time now. Now he’s at lunch. Today is Wednesday, so now he is at the library.”

She watches her daughter playing by herself.

I see a little girl, a second child, just like her mother. She will grow up content within her own thoughts. She won’t seek validation from others, she will grow up confident and strong. She will never be dependent on anyone. Until she has a child. A child so completely a part of her that she will depend on his moods to know her own.

Until the day he forgets to turn back: on that day he will release her. She will return to her own thoughts, recognize her own moods. She will take a breath and look around, and say, “Now what?”

My Oasis

Beer
(Photo credit: W.D. Vanlue)

Her oasis looks like a bar. An old English style pub, dimly lit with lots of cozy corners where a person, or two, can hide in the shadows, away from the eyes of the bartender. The bar never closes and the clock never quite makes it to midnight. There are no cell phones on her oasis, and although there is someone out there, waiting for her call, she is never late.

I say oasis and you think of sand and sun, but she is too pale, bright lights hurt her eyes. You ask, are there palm trees growing there? No, there is nowhere to grow things, because there is no outside. It is all inside, in the gloom of perpetual one-minute-before-midnight, when even 100-watt bulbs cast only shadows. But there are wedges of pineapple, pierced by tiny umbrellas, precariously balanced on the edges of frosty, cool drinks. She can see them when some slinky chick enters the bar and orders one. She is envious of the slinky ones, not for their looks, but for their youth and their freedom.

Free? No, she is not free. The outside world frightens her. It demands things of her that she is not prepared to do. If she steps beyond the edge of the oasis, then the clock will strike midnight, and it will be time for her to make that dreaded call. Outside the bar door there is a pay phone; in her pocket there is a quarter. She will lie to someone she loves. (I’m so sorry, I didn’t notice the time. I’m leaving now. I’ll be home in twenty minutes.)

You ask me if there are other people in the bar. As I mentioned earlier, there are the extras, the slinky chicks and the business casual men, the ones who flit through and have no speaking parts. They make up the moving, changing background that gives the scene depth. Their drinks are fake, just tinted water.

The bartender? Well, he can’t or won’t leave either, but I’m not sure why. The conversations she has with him are vague, confusing. He always has a clever line, but just when she thinks he is trying to seduce her, he walks away to fill someone else’s glass. He knows her name and her favorite beer and he never makes her wait. But he never crosses to her side of the bar.

I think sometimes, he looks down on her, disappointed. He knows perfectly well what she is up to and he doesn’t like it. I like to imagine some of his disapproval hides some frustrated longing though.

And who else is there, you ask, what is it really that keeps her there? Are you implying that the comfort of a familiar bar and beer that always keeps one buzzed but never drunk and time standing still isn’t enough? No, it is not, you are correct. Even with all that, she would be bored in no time.

And it is the certainty of constant boredom on the outside that keeps her in there.

If you must know, there are pockets of stimulation in that oasis bar. A pocket may not seem like the best simile, but wait, I will explain. A pocket is dark and secretive. You can not see into a pocket, you can only grope blindly with your fingers, and try to recognize what it is you are looking for with only your sense of touch.

She sits at the bar and sip her beer, making it last. The bartender has just made some flirtatious remark and walked away. She spins slowly on a red leather bar stool. Not a bright red; there is nothing bright in this bar. Well, there is one bright thing. It shines on her finger like a laser, slashing the comforting darkness to ribbons. A diamond set in a band of gold, and pull as she might, it won’t come off. She twists it so to shield the light in her palm.

The red bar stool is comfortable. It curves perfectly to her back, but doesn’t let her slouch. It spins smoothly without resistance or squeaking. In a slow spin, she scans the room, looking for… A someone, maybe me, maybe you, who can lure her with dark eyes and knowing looks into a velvet lined pocket of time. A moment within a moment. A moment of exquisite sensation that lasts as long as forever or no time at all.

What are you trying to say? Escapism? Well, yes, you are right of course. But isn’t that what the word ‘oasis’ implies? An escape from the harsh realities of the world.

It doesn’t matter that the reality is one of your own making.

What else can she do? She changed, but her reality did not change with her. You escape into music or books. I escape into my words. She escapes into a bar that never closes, that serves drinks that relax while never inebriating, where she is whomever I want to her be. And I never have to deal with the consequences of her actions.

Statue (flash fiction)

statueAmelia stood on the edge of the tour group cluster and dutifully stared at the statue. She didn’t belong with these people. The only person close to her age was the guide and she suspected she made him uncomfortable. His engineered expressions that elicited laughter from his usual audience of octogenarians evoked only sighs from Amelia.

She reminded herself that she could leave at any time.

They’d been in Rome for two days; the next stop was Naples. She’d paid ahead of time for the guided tour package, thinking she might learn something, but all it did was exhaust her. She was sleeping well for the first time in months.

The statue, pockmarked and missing its original details, stood alone, far from its companions on the steps of the palazzo. Amelia could imagine the suffering it had experienced over the centuries. To endure so long only to be ogled by strangers, the thought brought tears to her eyes. She turned away.

Behind her, modern Rome rushed by in a haze of tiny cars and scooters. Commuters forced to drive in circles to avoid the ubiquitous past.

The sight of a rounded green car like the old Volkswagen she’d owned with her ex-husband pulled her own past into the present. She cut the memory off and turned back to the group. But the group was gone. Fear and panic filled her. She froze, only her eyes moved, darting, searching. The group didn’t move fast, they couldn’t have gone far. Would they notice she wasn’t with them? Would they care?

She’d resented them, all those old, nosy gossips, digging into her past, but now she wanted them back. If they came back, please come back, she promised she would tell them the truth: that she hated being alone. It was the reason she had stayed married for as long as she did. She would have stayed forever if her husband hadn’t finally, oh so gently, pushed her out the door.

“You’ll be better off without me.” he’d said.

The old ladies echoed his words, “you’ll be better on your own.” And now they had, oh so gently, walked away from her.

Amelia stood motionless, surrounded by strangers, and waited to be found.

 

Magic

Today’s Prompt:  “Suppose you woke up one morning and had magical powers for a day.”

This is a strange prompt for me as I am a skeptic at heart. If I have not observed something with my own senses, then it does not exist. Moreover, beyond my own experiences, I only accept something as fact if it is observable in repeatable, objective testing, and documented by disinterested parties.

On the other hand, my favorite books to read are of the fantasy-fiction persuasion. As long as it is contained within the pages of a book with a dragon or a wizard on the cover, I will suspend my disbelief for as long as the author keeps the magic spells flying.

While contemplating the last paragraph, I looked up the phrase “suspension of disbelief,” wandered through the surprisingly well-written entry for it on Wikipedia, and discovered Tolkien’s idea of the “secondary belief” which is, for me, far more relevant. I copied this from the Wiki: “Tolkien says that, in order for the narrative to work, the reader must believe that what he reads is true within the secondary reality of the fictional world.”

That is what I am doing while I read. I transport my mind (as long as the story is a good one) into that fictional world, and I don’t have to suspend anything. I am there, and the authors truths become my own.

If I woke up tomorrow morning with magical powers, I would be, while they lasted, inside my own secondary reality. I would believe completely. However, the next morning, when the magic is gone, I will be, once again, content within my tangible, skeptical world.

A Pirate Life

English: Skull and crossbones
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The lad’s hammock swung below Old Fran’s in sync with the slow roll of the ship.  Old Fran had expected the sound of the boy’s sobs.  His own chest tightened in sympathy.  The bunk was otherwise empty, the men still celebrating their victory up on deck.

“It gets better lad, I promise you that.”  He said it in a whisper.  The boy didn’t hear him over the noise of the men and the creaks and groans of the old ship.  The ‘old’ ship was younger than Old Fran, he was forty-three or close to it, but both groaned when they moved.

Old Fran didn’t raise his voice above a whisper, not wanting to put much effort into the lies he was telling.

“Ay lad, soon you’ll forget all about home and hearth and your dear old ma, and the mates will be your whole life and family.”

It was what a man had once said to him, his first night on board, some twenty-odd years ago.  The man, Saint Jean – he’d been a french priest before turning pirate – he’d been kind to a young lad, far from home.

He’d died not six months later.  A nasty death, a mis-fired cannon sent a hundred pieces of flaming metal into the man’s gut.  He’d lived for a week, wallowing in pain, searing the lesson of an ignominious death in Fran’s mind.

Saint Jean had lied to Fran; it never got any better.  Oh there had been moments of bliss, of days when he’d have been up there with the boys, drinking and feasting on the spoils of the day’s capture.  The alcohol worked to numb the visions of blood and death and the fear, the soul-killing fear that today would be the day the bullet or the sword found you.

A sound of movement and a shadow blocking the light from above woke him from a doze.

“How ya fairing there, Old Fran?” The captain stood at the entrance to the bunk, his features invisible but his outline aglow.

“Middling fair, captain, to be honest.  I do believe it’s high time for me to be finding a warm port and some fat old madam to feed me into my grave.”

The captain chuckled, a sound false in Old Fran’s ears.  He wasn’t cruel, this young captain, and he was the most successful captain Old Fran had ever sailed with, but he was cold and practical. A frightening combination.

“And you, boy? Yes, I hear your sniveling.”

The lad bounced out of his hammock, “Fine, Captain, sir.” His enthusiasm ruined by a hiccup.

“You’ll stop that whimpering before the men come down, or you wont last the night, boy.”

“Yes sir, captain.”

“Good.  It ain’t an easy life, but it’s a fair one.  You worked hard today and you didn’t falter.  You earned your share of the catch. You be proud boy, and put away those tears.  This is your only warning.”

Your only warning, Old Fran repeated to himself.  He’d gotten a similar warning from a very different captain, ages ago, in the form of a back-handed blow to the jaw.  Not as kind, perhaps, but more honest.  The lad stiffened his spine and barely restrained a salute.

“Aye aye, Captain.” He said.

A glint of light caught the captain’s eyes as he shifted his stare to Old Fran.  It chilled him to the bone.

The captain turned away and climbed the ladder out of the bunk.  Old Fran relaxed, a shiver running up his spine.  Yes it was time to retire.  They’d make port in Hispaniola in a week or so, to sell off the spoils of this latest victory.  With his share, Old Fran could surely find some old madam who’d let him a room and some comfort for his old bones.

“Old Fran?” a whisper came from below.

He wanted to feign sleep, but the decision to end this pirate life made him generous.

“Yeah, laddy?”

“It’s the blood, sir, on the woman – she looked like me sister back home, sir.  The captain, he said to keep lighting and lobbing the hand grenades and the woman – she caught it, I saw her, she caught it right in her hands like it was a ball and we was playing catch.  It exploded, right there, in her hands. I just can’t stop seeing the blood all over her dress.  Her hands, I seen them blown clean off, I can’t get it out of my eyes.  Every time I close my eyes, it’s there, right in front of me.”

Old Fran sighed.  It was the lad’s life now, there was no turning back. It wasn’t an easy life, as the captain said, and the pay was as fair as a working man could hope for in this world. The captain hadn’t lied about that.

“It gets better lad.  Memories fade.  Soon you’ll forget all about home and hearth and your dear sister, and the mate’s and the ship will be your whole life and family.”

“Yeah?” the lad asked, his voice sounding hopeful to Old Fran’s ears.

“I promise.”

Stocking Shelves

Annie knelt on the rough carpet and sorted through the bin on the floor beside her, trying to remember what went where in the store. The shelf in front of her held cotton swabs and cotton balls, and the bottles of hydrogen peroxide that she’d just finished stocking. At fifteen, Annie was young enough to still cringe at the thought of those brown bottles.

To the left of where she was kneeling, the shelf held first-aid stuff and the mini travel items. To the right were the baby care items. Behind her lurked the feminine products. Annie blushed at the thought of them. So far she’d avoided stocking that section. She’d seen that skinny, blond guy, she couldn’t remember his name, stocking that section the day before and had blushed for him. He hadn’t seemed to care, and she’d felt in awe of his maturity, even though he looked maybe eighteen.

The bin had only makeup and toothpaste left in it and Annie sighed, dreading moving the still heavy bin to the next aisle. Some of the other employees used the shopping carts to move the bins around, but that was against the rules. She felt too new to start breaking the rules already.

Just as she was about to get up, she noticed a woman standing a little way down the aisle, staring at the tampons. The woman’s face was blank and she stood still, one hand on her purse and one hand on the shelf in front of her. Annie’s mind flashed to the ‘anti-theft’ training video she’d had to watch on her first day of work. The video showed bad actors pretending to steal things or scam the cashiers. Most of it was ridiculous, but one part came to mind now. “If you see someone acting strange, such as standing in one section for too long, ask them if you can help them find something.”

Annie looked up at the two-way mirror that spanned the upper half of the wall at the back of the store. The office was up there and the manager, Richard, should be looking down at the customers, watching for ‘strange’ behavior himself. He was probably just doing paperwork as the store was always quiet at this time of day.

She didn’t want to talk to a stranger, but she wanted be a good employee. With another glance up at the two-way mirror, she stood up and approached the woman.

“Can I help…” She stopped speaking at the sight of a tear running down the woman’s face.

The woman turned, startled. “Oh! I… I’m fine, I just…” Her hand flew up to the side of her face and found the tear. She seemed about to speak again, but instead she squeezed her eyes shut, clamped her hands to her mouth, and crumpled to the ground, crying. Her shoulders shook, but no sound came out of her mouth.

Annie spun and took two steps to the travel items section and grabbed a mini-tissue pack, ripped it open and pulled out a tissue while taking the two steps back to the woman. But that didn’t fix anything because the woman didn’t, couldn’t see her.

A part of Annie’s mind panicked. It screamed at her to run away and find a grown-up. But another part told her she knew exactly what to do.

Annie knelt down next to the woman and wrapped her arms around her shoulders. “It’s okay,” she murmured, the way her mother did the last time Annie had fallen and scraped a knee. “It’s going to be okay.”

They sat like that for only a moment before Richard appeared at the end of the aisle.

“Annie?” He looked the way she thought the skinny, blond guy should have looked when he was stocking the feminine products, eyes darting around, not wanting to acknowledge the awkward thing in front of him.

The woman took a deep, shuddering breath then pulled away from Annie. Annie offered the tissues and the woman accepted them.

“Thank you. I’m sorry.” She said, wiping her face and moving to stand.

Richard offered a hand and helped her up. “Are you alright, ma’am? Should we call a doctor or would you like some water or…”

“No, no, I’m fine, just… Really, I’m fine.” She tried to smile, but it was painful to look at. Annie moved away, back to her bin.

“Thank you, I’m terribly sorry about…” The woman turned and rushed towards the front door. Richard moved to the end of the aisle and watched her leave the store. Annie heard the familiar tinkling of the door chime.

Richard asked, “What happened?”

“I don’t know, she just started crying.”

He waited, maybe thinking there was more to the story, but Annie shrugged.

“She didn’t pay for the tissues.” Annie said.

Richard gave a little chuckle, “That’s okay. I think we can spare the 99 cents.”

He walked away and Annie turned back to contemplate her bin.