BY DAVID MOORES
Copyright is held by the author.
THE GUY on the checkout this afternoon at Staples, Merle it said on his name tag, gave Charlene a “What can you do?” look. The woman at the front of the line was taking about forever.
Charlene had just one measly item, a cyan print cartridge for Christ’s sake. She tapped her foot and eyeballed the woman — skinny, frizzy sort-of-blondish hair, who was rummaging through the cards in her purse. Why did anyone need that many cards anyway?
The object of Charlene’s impatience had a fatuous grin on her damn face, the sort of grin that wrinkles your nose and shows your front teeth. Charlene thought it made her look like a guinea-pig.
“Oh look at me,” the look wanted to say,” what a lovable ditz I am.” To Charlene it said, “Too bad. So what if I’m holding up the entire line. You’ll all just have to deal with it, ’cos I don’t give a fart.”
Merle spoke up. “Ah Miss, could I help these other good folks while you find your card?” Merle rose several points in Charlene’s grateful estimation. The three people ahead of her shifted their feet and looked hopeful.
“Yes please, Merle,” said Charlene, “I really need to get back and finish my printing.”
Ms “owner-of-too-many-cards” kept the smile plastered on her silly face. “It’s okay, I think this is the one. I have an appointment too, you know.” She proffered the card to Merle. He slipped it into the reader and passed the reader to the woman. “Oh, don’t you have tap yet?” she asked.
Charlene saw slumping shoulders. Exhalations of breath sounded. The guy ahead of Charlene turned to her. “You ready to scream yet?” he asked, in a not-too-quiet voice.
Charlene was about to answer when she felt the familiar tickle in her nose. Damn allergies. She groped for her nasal spray. Too late. A spasm of explosive sneezes took her, barely giving her time to cover her face.
Card-woman’s expression went from false smile to horror. She dropped the reader on the counter with a clatter and covered her own face.
“Dode worry,” said Charlene, it’s only allergies, dot infectious.” The woman hunched her shoulders and shook her head, not wanting to hear it, at the same moment as Merle, who had been staring dejectedly at his screen, turned toward her. “Uh, sorry, Lady, your card was rejected.”
Groans from the lineup.
“Ah, Jesus,” muttered the guy ahead of Charlene. He reached into his wallet and spoke up. “Hey, here’s cash. This’ll cover it. Forget the change.”
Over Merle’s protests he slapped three 20s on the counter. Merle’s jaw dropped. He stared at the banknotes as if contemplating some unfamiliar insect poised to do him harm.
“Me too,” said Charlene, wiping her nose. The woman was still rummaging for another card as the rest of the lineup followed suit and everybody broke for the exit.
Driving back to the office, Charlene reflected that a phrase beloved of Jack, her boss at Mainstreet Finance: “Cash is king,” really did still offer an escape from those challenged by the proliferation of plastic.