I always chose Mary's line at the local grocery. She was Slater's age and I well remembered the years of youth soccer when she and her Dad would provide the sideshow entertainment to the game. Mary was loud and overweight even then and her Dad was one of those screaming coaches who came to win. He would put Mary in the game and within minutes she would hurt herself. How I don't know. I would never see the actual accident, only the resulting limp or the abdominal clutching and eventual tears.
DADDY, take me outta the game! She would scream.
Mary, shake it off. Stay out there. You're NOT hurt. He would return with equal volume and vehemence.
Mary always won their battle. She would come back to the bench and be miraculously healed within minutes. The bench was where she wanted to be because that's where she sat and told stories with the other children, where she commentated her own game. Soccer, for her, seemed to be more of a social means to an end and so did the cashier's position she took at the local market years later.
After a long day of work and the thirty minute commute home I would stop by the store, pick up a couple of items for supper and wait in Mary's line. The other girls always seemed to be perturbed to be there, and you'd almost have to coax a smile from them but Mary had a story every day and she would tell you that story with such an extreme exuberance that just the telling of it could make you smile. Sometimes I would go in just for her to continue and I would prompt her with yesterday's ending as I placed my items at her register. She would smile and continue the odyssey which seemed to be her life at such a young age.
Slater would fill me in on the details after I got home. No, Mom, Mary is not in the military. Mary doesn't go to school anymore. I think Mary smokes weed, Mom. He would sit and laugh at me as I would walk in the door with the next saga of Mary's life, But no, Slater, she's going to camp this weekend and this guy who is her partner in the military is someone she's really worried about 'cause he's getting in all kinds of trouble.
Slater would smile. I would smile. It was like Mary had become a member of the family although she had never been to our home. We loved Mary. We loved her stories.
Then she was no longer at the grocery, and I would be stuck with the more socially acceptable looking waif teenage girl with the obvious I'm only here to earn money so I can get away from this town look on her face. Pat greetings and scripted thank yous of which I believe humans can take only so many per day. Before long I was asking one of the baggers, What happened to Mary?.
She got fired, he said. I feel bad 'cause they caught her not charging me for a bagga chips.
The next morning I saw her Dad at the gas station, told him how much I missed Mary at the grocery, how she always seemed to brighten my day with her enthusiasm, her beautiful stories. He responded gruffly with, Well if you see her out driving around you better tell 'er to get home. She ain't even got a damn driver's license anymore.
Okay, I said, but will you please tell her something for me?
He paused and looked at me.
Will you please tell her that her customers miss her? We miss her stories.
Yeah, yeah okay, he said almost dismissively as he walked away.
I'm sure in the whole scheme of things it doesn't matter but I really do hope he did tell her.