by Mark Thorson

September 1986

Just the two of them were in the store—the man and the checkout girl. The man was older, his hair graying—probably approaching fifty. He wore baggy jeans with cheap designer stitching, an old nylon quilted coat and a new camouflage hunting cap tipped ahead and a little to one side. In his arms he cradled the items he had gathered from the shelves: a couple boxes of pink and white Good ‘n Plentys, three boxes of Gummi Bears, a one-pound bag of fun-size Snickers bars, a bag of Reeses Pieces, a pounder bag of M&M’s, a handful of Tootsie Rolls, a bag of Red Licorice, four boxes of Chicklets, and a box of cherry-flavored Cough Drops—all heaped in a colorful pile atop a small stack of magazines which he supported with his hands from beneath.

The checkout girl had watched the man pick everything out from her place behind the counter. She was considerably younger than him, and somewhat chubby in figure. She readjusted her smock and touched her hair as the man approached, then started into the pile as he set it down in front of her—sorting through the items with one hand while pushing buttons with the other.

‘How much for the sweet rolls?’ asked the man. He reached for the clear plastic cover along the counter and lifted it.

‘Um. let’s see,’ said the girl; she nudged her glasses back onto her cheeks—fat-rimmed owl glasses with slumped bows. ‘The Bismarcks are sixty-five, and the jelly rolls are fifty.’

‘I better have a jelly,’ said the man, and he pulled out a big white-frosted one with purple oozing out the side. The girl added the fifty into the register and continued with the pile. Under the Good ‘n Plentys and Gummi Bears was the first of the magazines slowly becoming exposed. A promiscuously positioned cover girl lay there in skimpily fringed lingerie; a copy of Hustler.

‘Been grouse huntin’?’ asked the girl.

‘Oh, some,’ said the man. ‘Too much cover yet though, a guy can’t hardly see nothin’.’

‘Yeah, we need a good frost,’ said the girl. ‘It might help straighten this weather out some too.’

‘Oh, I been gettin’ a few here ‘n ‘nare, I ‘spose,’ said the man. ‘But hell, it ain’t really no use yet ya know.’

The girl nudged up on her glasses again. ‘Oh, I bet you’re just being modest now. You’re gettin’ all kinds of birds I’ll bet.’

‘I better have me a couple of them too,’ said the man. He had spotted a jar of beef jerky on the counter—just next to the sweet rolls. He untwisted the lid and dug down inside.

‘You been huntin’ mostly alone then?’

‘How much are these?’ asked the man.

‘The jerkies? Thirty-five each,’ said the girl.

‘I better grab me another one too,’ said the man, and he reached in again.

The girl added the jerkies to the tally, then took hold of another magazine poking it’s price into the register. A copy of High Society.
 The cover girl lay sprawled back in a filmy gauze of satin and lace, her arms stretched above her head clutching large bedposts.

‘So what else ya been up to?’ asked the girl. ‘Been keepin’ yourself outta trouble?’

‘Oh, I don’t know, I ‘spose,’ said the man.

He lifted his hat by the bill, scratching his head some, then set it back on with a slight adjustment, tipping it further to the side and a bit more forward. His eyes squinted at a pyramid stack of shotgun shells on the counter—just beyond the jerky jar. A red tag discount special. Four-ninety- eight.

‘Better throw a box of them on there too,’ he said, then reached over and picked off a box and plopped it down on top of the magazines. Super-Shot express loads. Three inch magnum; number eight shot. Underneath lay a copy of Swank—the cover girl perched atop red satin sheets in scanty black lingerie, her hair blown back, her lips parted, her eyes looking foggily at the viewer.

‘It’s a good price on them shells,’ said the girl taking hold of the box, her stubby fingers stabbing buttons.

‘Yeah, hell, they kill ’em as good as anything, far as I can tell,’ said the man.

‘It’s all my brothers ever use,’ said the girl. ‘They say there’s no sense in buying Federals or Winchesters or nothin’ like that when you can get these—and they seem just as good.’

The man reached into his drooped rear pocket and dug out his wallet. He pulled out a ten and some crumpled singles. The chubby girl pushed the total button and then clumsily yanked out a bag. She began stuffing the items in, then paused to run her pudgy hand along her hair again. She looked at the man as she flicked it, trying to toss it back, but it didn’t go anywhere; it was too thin and matted.

‘Don’t it get kind of boring huntin’ alone all the time?’ asked the girl.

‘Huh?’ said the man. He was turned completely around, focused on something else.

‘I mean, you ever think of goin’ with someone else, or takin’ somebody along or somethin’?’

The man mumbled something, almost inaudibly. He was staring across at the video selection, his eyes absorbing them one at a time—First Blood, Kill Or Be Killed, Deadly Silence, then skipping down past three shelves of dramas and family pictures to— Cheerleader Weekend, Naughty Prom Queen…

‘You seen the movie yet?’ asked the girl, her voice suddenly rising to a higher, livelier level.

The man turned back to the counter. ‘Huh?’

‘You seen the movie? At the Royal?’

‘No,’ said the man. ‘What’s playin’?’

‘Oh, I don’t know,’ said the girl shrugging her bulky shoulders. ‘I just thought maybe you might know.’

‘Nuh, I couldn’t tell ya,’ said the man.

‘I don’t know what it is either,’ said the girl, ‘but I think its ‘sposed to be somethin’ good. Would you like to go or somethin’, sometime, Don?’

The man’s forehead crinkled into a confused frown. ‘How much damage ya got there?’

‘Um . . . twenty-eighty-six,’ said the girl. Then her magnified eyes watched the man’s hand peel through the money. . .then they snuck up and watched his lips mouthing numbers, his eyes busy counting. . .

‘There’s twenty-one,’ said the man.

The girl turned to the till and rang it open, then dipped her thick fingers down into the trays, sliding out the coins. She nudged her heavy glasses back onto her cheeks again.

‘Fourteen cents is your change,’ she said. ‘Want the magazines in the bag?’

‘Yeah, I ‘spose,’ said the man.

The girl’s dimpled hand carefully gripped the gloss-covered beauties and shoved them down inside with the candy and shells; then she held the bag up for the man.

‘There you go,’ she said, then gave him another smile.

‘Okee-dokee,’ said the man. He took the bag and turned for the door.

The chubby girl reached up and ran her hand along her hair again. ‘Thank you now,’ she said.

‘You bet,’ the man answered back.

The girl’s eyes followed the man, watching him lean his weight against the door, pushing out, his arm clutching close the bag of new possessions.

‘Hurry back now!’ she called after him.

‘You bet,’ his voice answered back.

The girl’s eyes blinked—blinked anxiously behind her thick lenses. Then she suddenly blurted after the man, Don’t be a stranger now!’

But there was no more response. The door between them had already closed.

Mark Thorson is the author of several screenplays including the award winning American Passage, and most recently, of the forthcoming collection of short stories, Final Delivery, from which “Final Delivery” was published in the Prize edition of “The Mississippi Review,” and “The Poetry Bitch” published in Alaska. The full collection will be published sometime in 2018. Mark is also an alumnus of the prestigious American Film Institute.