Bench 104: Allie Loved All Things Strange Part 1

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Jack turned from the left aisle lined with biscuits and soft candy toward the small cash counter. Two middle-sized, blue-bordered refrigerators sat at his right. He eyed the cold bottle of water behind the glass wall. So, instead of heading to pay for his biscuits, he pulled opened the glass screen and grabbed for the water bottle, picked it up, and put it back. It was too cold for his old self. His brain would freeze with only a sip of it, hijacked by the tiny invisible icebergs floating in the first gulp.

He changed his mind but his hand checked the temperature of other bottles lined up on the lower shelf of the vertical fridge. Finally, his fingers found a mildly cool water bottle and he proceeded toward the cashier. For a Tuesday afternoon, the ceiling fan moved in a lazy manner. Humidity and heat enveloped the tiny grocery store. Jack wanted to pave his way out, however, he couldn’t do so without paying.

Earlier, the cash counter was empty. Now, an elderly woman, not exactly in the senior age bracket still steadily heading toward it, stood at the counter. Her pale skin still looked new to wrinkles that hadn’t terrorized her entire skin just yet. She seemed to fumble with the money she was pulling out of her wallet. Her handbag sat at the counter, open in front of her while she held her wallet. The cashier’s reader had green neon digits over it, saying 10.94.

It was a simple charge yet the woman continued shuffling notes, unsure of which dollar note to hand over to the cashier. A 25 cent coin slipped from the grip of her fist. Others followed suit, dropping from her wallet. Jack realized that the stranger was taking way too long. But he helped her out in picking her currency from the pale white tiled floor. Her hands shook irrevocably. Something about her wasn’t right.

As Jack helped her, he observed that the woman had deep blue eyes, lined with a thick row of eyelashes, full lips, and a long nose. Only a few wrinkles of worry sat on her face. Other than that, she looked incredibly fit. Maybe someone who had only recently left work or was about to launch into her retirement, Jack guessed. But just as Jack stole a polite look into the woman’s eye, definitely younger than him, he realized that she was, somewhat, nervous, even panicked.

For a split second, Jack wondered if he ought to distance himself from the woman. But on second thought, she didn’t look suspicious at all. The cashier, Billy, a middle-aged fat man with a large, brown mustache called out from behind his seat, “Please hurry up, ma’am.” Then, he dug his head back in the man’s magazine he was scouring. Jack knew Billy was a sweet but lazy man after years of visiting the grocery store.

Jack adjusted his thick-rimmed glasses with a black frame. He touched his hat lightly, becoming nervous himself but coming to understand what was happening. He politely smiled at the woman then extended his hands for assisting her. At the same time, he said, “It’s okay, ma’am” and took her leather, brown purse. “There,” he added, “let me give you a hand. And… here goes your money. 10 dollars and a few cents. That’s all. Nothing to worry about.”

Slight relief touched the woman’s features but the underlying confusion pursued, waging a war in her mind. She put her purse back in her bag, picked her shopping bag, smiled a little, and left. Jack paid his money, got his change, and followed suit.

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