My Cardboard Box

Once again, a Sucker

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She was standing to the right of the side entrance. Just close enough to catch the shoppers going in, but not close enough to catch the attention of management and the Sheriff’s Citizen Patrol cruising the lot. It might have been a good location earlier, but the winter sun had set and there wasn’t much light coming from the Big-Box’s halogen lamps. Or maybe she’d picked that spot on purpose.

“Would you like to buy some mistletoe?” she called out softly as I stepped onto the sidewalk.

‘No thanks,” I replied as I headed for the sliding door and the fluorescent lit interior. Just an in-and-out mission. A quick one, if the crowd permitted. It was busy in spite of the lousy economy. Or, as my fatigued brain finally figured, because of it.  Finding the objective was easy. A gift card for an aged relative who “didn’t want anything”, but would be quite unhappy if her request was filled. Not a sentimental Christmas gift. But sentimentality had long been passed over for practicality – on both sides.

I waited along with the tweakers and the badly-tattooed welfare cases as they juggled their carts and their too-many kids toward the register. The worst part was that the wait gave me time to think unhappy thoughts.  I’d long cursed myself for a Sucker. I was the mark you’d hit up for fifty bucks the day before you were discharged, the soft touch who’d stand duty for you on Christmas Eve gratis, the one who’d part with a five dollar bill  in a restaurant parking lot to a woman with too many visits to the glass pipe and get a cheap ring and a ‘bless you’ in return.

But what really bothered me was that I would still wish the guy who we both knew I’d never see again ‘good luck’.  I would still enjoy looking at the stars and the Christmas lights out in the little town across the bay as I stood the mid-watch out in the cold. I had even kept that damned cheap ring in a box among the medals and ribbons I would never wear again, and a yellowed envelope with the photo of The Girl.

Then it became my turn to exchange cash for the card. I swapped empty pleasantries with a cashier with an orange-dyed butch-cut and tribal tattoos on her arms, took my change and bag, then headed out the main entrance and into the cold, for a roundabout trip to the car. No soft-touch this time.

Except that I turned right instead of straight.

She was still there. The light hadn’t gotten better, but there was enough. She might have been pretty. Dark hair framing a slim face. Not young, but not methamphetamine-old. Jeans, sneakers and a dark jacket that held down from geese that had long since flown to the Big Marsh in the Sky. She didn’t look like a desert-rat; certainly not a resident of the Basin. There was no air of resignation; no impression she was “stuck here”.

She looked at me with That Look – the one women seemed to have had ever since I started shaving.

“I changed my mind. How much?”

“Five dollars each.” I fished out my change, pulled off a five and handed it to her. She reached into a wrinkled plastic bag and handed me a cellophane-wrapped packet.

“Thank you and Merry Christmas,” she said. I quickly wished her the same, tucked it into my jacket, walked to the Volvo and started it up.  But before I put it in gear, I sighed and pulled out the packet.  It was a sprig of mistletoe, tied with a silver ribbon and a long silver string. I pulled it from the cellophane and held it up to the light.  There were still tiny droplets of water on the leaves. I don’t know how long I sat there with it in my hand. Then I tied it to the rear view mirror and drove home.

There were Christmas lights in the town below as I made the final turn into the driveway. I didn’t have to work tomorrow and there was still coffee on the stove. And that photo of The Girl –maybe a quick look, just for a comparison before the recent memory faded.

And then maybe a few minutes outside on the deck with the stars and the lights in the valley for company wouldn’t be a bad thing for a Sucker.

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Written by PappyBro

April 26, 2012 at 22:00

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