Friday, January 8, 2010


Photograph by Seth Townsend (not posed)

She knew how to listen. She had to. She worked at Walmart, in the Optical Department, fitting people with nice new frames at reasonable prices. If her ears weren’t open to the customer’s needs – that’s how her manager explained it – her customers might complain and consequently she might return to cash-register duty quicker than she could say two-for-the-price-of-one margaritas at Don Pablo’s. Her manager was in his forties, on the lean side of chubby, on the friendly side of angry, on the divorced side of married. He had been a Walmart Associate since Walmart came to town, sixteen years ago, and he understood what it took to succeed with the company. Commitment. Understanding. Joy. She liked her manager. Her boyfriend insisted the manager was full of shit. Her boyfriend said a profound difference existed between knowing how to listen to people in a simple employment setting and how to listen to people in the context of a complicated, socially stratified environment beyond the world of white-trash retail. Her boyfriend was smart. He taught World Literature at the Community College and encouraged his students to dig deeper, to translate the nearly impenetrable language of the universe into something they could use at their jobs, with their families, with their friends. His life, he said, made other people’s lives better.

She worked most weekends because that’s when the bulk of the Optical Department’s traffic would come in. Her boyfriend worked most weeknights because that’s when the best students from town were able to attend the courses he taught. When she was off work, during the week, she liked putting on something nice and going out for drinks and dinner with her girlfriends and chatting about this and that. When her boyfriend was off work, in the daytime and on weekends, he liked staying home and reading novels by foreign writers and having long telephone conversations with people he knew in graduate school, miles away, lifetimes away, he said, back when life had purpose beyond mere self-sustenance. Occasionally, in their apartment, she would watch him running his hands through his hair and sighing into the telephone. He would say, This town is just so mentally dead. She had been born and raised here. She had always been happy here.

One Monday afternoon, she was off work and her boyfriend didn’t have any classes to teach and she asked him, point blank, why he loved her. He thought about this for a while, seemed like a few minutes, and finally he said, Space. She was supposed to guess what that meant. She took her keys and went for an afternoon drive instead. Everything looked about the same as it always had, maybe a few more chain stores, maybe the trees had gotten bigger.

When she become bored with driving, with reassessing, she called her manager and asked if he felt like meeting her for happy hour at Don Pablo’s. Don Pablo’s used to be a Country Kitchen and before that it was an A & W Root Beer stand and before that it was a pizza place named Riggli-something-or-other but that was a long time ago. She remembered that the guy who owned the pizza place died and a lot of people in town were sad.

Her manager had a blue Chevy S10, clean, shiny in the late-afternoon sun. He backed into a spot and stepped on the parking-lot asphalt and hiked up his pants and made his way toward her car like an animal might to a block of feed. No matter how much exercise he might do, for the rest of his life, he would always have a double chin. He would always be a Walmart Associate. He had gone as far as he was going to go. So had she. She opened her door and looked up into his eyes, a milky gray, and smiled a smile that wasn’t true, that wasn’t human need, that wasn’t love, that wasn’t why life is worth living through, not yet, not this afternoon, not in this town, but it was the only smile she had left.

1 comment:

  1. i like it. and no she doesn't race cross; ex ravens cheerleader and WWE wrestling diva. awesome ass and those legs are insured for some good awful amount for good reason.



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