Friday, October 31, 2008

Reality Check On Register Two

Here's another one of my early short stories. Definitely tongue-in-cheek, it's my homage to James Thurber's "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty." I had a good time writing it, and was pleased when it ended up published by Pindeldyboz in 2004 and named to storySouth's list of Notable Stories that same year. It's not SF or fantasy (unless you count the one going on inside of the main character's head...), it's just meant to be fun. It's also only 1,200 words long; one of the shortest I've ever written.

Reality Check On Register Two

She walked through the bookstore’s door and ships set sail, angels sang, and Carl finally knew the true meaning of the phrase ‘to drink in her beauty.’

“Drink in her beauty?” he whispered to himself, “I could drown in it.”

He had heard the expression countless times, disregarding it as drivel for poets and dreamers. Appreciating her beauty was as complicated as a grain of sand on the beach getting wet under the crashing waves.

As she crossed the floor, her honey-colored hair waving to him, his next thought was, I have to meet her. I have to know her name.

He knew, however, that it was crucial that he approach her without appearing as frantic as he felt. He had never had trouble with women before, mainly because he knew to stick with the ones at his own level -– ground level. Basement even. But this Park Avenue penthouse goddess with the exquisite swan neck was too compelling to resist. He had never been able to resist a neck that was so fine. A neck that was so nibbleable.

If not for that neck, he could have been content to drool from afar...

As assistant manager of the bookstore, Carl had freedom when it came to approaching customers. Still, he would have to exercise caution; this was going to be a dangerous chess match. He had to plan each move carefully -- consider all the possibilities, her likely counter-moves, his response to her counters -- if he wanted the game to end in mate.

She appeared to be heading for the Romance section. Perfect.

...“Excuse me, miss. Can I help you find something?”

“Yes, thank you. A friend recommended
Savage Kiss. Do you know who wrote it?”

“Actually, my darling, I did,” Carl said. “Especially for you.”

Her blue eyes widened. “What is wrong with you?” she demanded, looking like she was trying to decide between slapping his face or storming out the door...

All righty then. Clearly that was not be the way to approach her. Something more subtle was required.

Besides, she strolled through the Romance section and stopped in Fantasy, picking up a special-edition volume of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Carl circled to the rear of the store. He wanted to appear to be strolling up from the back, not stalking her.

He had already gotten himself in trouble that way last month.


“Yes, miss. How can I help you?”

“I can’t find a price on this book. How much is it?”

Carl thought a moment. The price was on the inside flap in very small print; many people missed it. But simply giving her the information precluded any other conversation.

“Not off the top of my head,” he nodded slightly, “but if you’ll follow me.”

He took the book from her, careful to brush her fingers with his own before leading her to the cash register. If only he could find a way to touch that neck.

First, Carl needed to find out if there was a boyfriend. Forcing casualness, he asked, “Is this for you, or is it a gift?”

“For me. Just one of those things I’ve always meant to read, but never got around to.”

“I think you’ll enjoy it very much. I know I did.”

She smiled...

Yes, that was much better. A day-trip to Middle-Earth and an unimaginably beautiful woman; that was a fantasy he could work with.

Carl realized he wasn’t walking anymore; he had gotten so lost in his thoughts that he stopped in his tracks. If he didn’t move -- and soon -- she would ask someone else. As Carl cut through the children’s section, he saw her find the price inside the flap, shake her head, and return the volume to the shelf. No, Carl thought, no; that was going to go so well.

Suddenly Carl found himself frozen again.

She was looking at him.

Oh, God, he thought, she saw me following her. He turned as quickly as he dared and tried to bury himself in the gardening section.

...When Carl finally dared to look up again, his boss, Anne, and the woman were walking straight toward him.

“That’s the man,” she said, pointing directly at Carl’s cold-sweating brow.

Anne said through grit teeth, “Again, Carl?”

Carl’s eyes got wider and wider with each horrifying moment, stinging and burning because he couldn’t even make himself blink, much less speak. Say something, dammit, say something now, he ordered himself. Nary a word dared crawl out of his mouth.

“That’s it! You’re fired!” Anne barked loudly enough for the whole store to hear...

Carl blinked. Maybe if he went up to the checkout area. There were three cash registers open there; maybe he could get lost in the hustle and bustle.
Carl couldn’t think of anything else he could do. But he had to do something. Go somewhere. Anywhere.

Approaching one of the cashiers, he said, “Go ahead and take a break. I’ll fill in for you.”

But no sooner had he taken his place behind the counter than she appeared. Her. She clutched a thick book to her breast, the top edge of the book rubbing up against her perfect neck, and oh, how Carl wanted to be that book.

He snapped his eyes down. She was looking at him in a funny way. He liked working in this bookstore. He didn’t want to lose his job.

As she got closer to the front of the line, Carl slowed down, obviously annoying the customer he was supposed to be helping. The single line of customers only spread out to the individual registers and Carl was hoping she would end up with either of the other cashiers. And at precisely the moment she reached the front of the line, both of the other registers opened up. Perfect. He sighed, processed the credit card in his hand, and prepared to set his irritated customer free.

“Excuse me, can you tell me how much this is? I can’t find a price anywhere,” said a melodious voice as a special-edition volume of The Lord of the Rings appeared before Carl’s eyes.

He looked up. It was her.

What was she doing here? What did she want? Panic set in and Carl felt his head spin. He moved to take the book from her and she somehow managed to brush two silky fingertips over the back of his right hand.

She said, “My name is Rose.”.

Carl grabbed the walkie-talkie off his right hip.

“Anne,” he frantically said into the walkie-talkie, “I need a price check on register two. Price check on register two.” He retreated two steps from the woman and her book, which lay impotently on the counter between them. His walkie-talkie remained silent. Rose smiled.

“Aaaannne...,” Carl called into his unresponsive walkie-talkie. His eyes were locked wide open.

Rose pat the book with a firm hand and said, “You know what? Forget about it; I think I made a mistake.”

And she walked out of the store empty-handed.

Imagining that the book might still be warm after lingering next to her heart, Carl picked it up and opened it...

...and found her phone number, written on the title page in lipstick...

The End

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