Checking Out by Kevin Tosca

My fruit, so ripe, so impossibly well-chosen, moved forward on the conveyor belt, and the fat man moved away with his cheap beer and bruised bananas, and I, feeling that movement, slowly raised my head, coaxing it, nervous, from footwear to world, my eyes, I hoped, still capable of dance and charm, my smile, I prayed, poised, but my tongue, I knew, ready to give life to the most meaningful Hi I’d have ever given to her, my heart primed for Yes--Marissa’s Yes to my long overdue question--when I heard her voice address someone to my right, her left, a Hey, a comfortable and charged Hey, and my head whipped up, my eyes followed her own.

He was younger, much younger than me, about her age, handsome and pushing a cart stuffed with groceries. I looked around for his mother, his father--looked for someone like me who could afford such things--but he was alone and his equally electric Hey had been said, followed by a Don’t have time, Gotta run, and I turned to watch her face and her smile, her body forgiving him, wanting him, moving as far toward him as possible in the tiny prison cashiers are given to work and dream in, her eyes having moved too, her lips and her heart.

This was the express lane, and their exchange took no time at all, and then she was ringing up my fruit, bagging it for me, her eyes down, her smile--the bastard’s smile--lingering, her mind, I imagined, imagining things.

So I shelved my Hi, but there was nowhere for me to go and she would have to raise her head, eventually, and when she did she did so quickly, professionally in her fast lane, and she gave me the same wonderful, tricky Hello she always did, and I--dried out and cracked, just so ever much more--smiled back, giving her the kind of pained, brave, bullshit smile men smile when some unwelcome, easily discovered truth has been discovered: my number, one of thousands, old and past its something and knowing I’d never move her like that, not one part of her, not forward, not backward, nowhere.

Outside, I was happy not to have made a fool of myself.

Outside and carrying the plastic bag sagging with the fruit that would be good for me, for my precious health, I couldn’t think of one thing worse than not being able to make that fool come back to life.


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