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Richard Mitchell

The Counter

So there I was. Waiting in line. There was a line, let me assure you of that. That is the crux of the of the matter here, the meat of the story. I was waiting there in this department store, one of those fancy ones that have an extensive amount of cashmere. I was waiting there for my girlfriend. She wasnít there, but I decided I would buy her something, thatís why I was waiting, thatís why I was in line. For her birthday. See, I never expected I would date a girl like this. She was all appearance and girl-y, you know, one of those girls that really got dolled up, one that looked the part and smelled the part and acted the part because, deep down inside, she was just that and not much more. She was attractive and had a good sense of style, a real captivating sense that really drew you in. Once you were in though you found out there wasnít really that much else, but by then you sort of forgot why you were there in the first place and just played dumb because she was beautiful. And the next thing you knew she was talking about marriage and kids and houses ad nauseum. Just talking though, not like we were engaged, but things could go that route in a momentís notice. If I let it. But I was there and she was there and things were ok and I liked going to dinner and all the stuff that went along with what we were up to.

So, like I said, I was in line and waiting at the counter of this department store, something like Bloomingdales but not. How do I know there was a line? Because I was waiting behind this woman in tight black spandex pants. How do I remember? How do people remember anything? Plus, I was looking at her ass and that was something to remember. I would never say that to my girlfriend. I mean, come on, I wouldnít want her to know I was staring at another girlís ass while I intended on buying her a birthday present but the facts are the facts and I remember waiting behind her. She bought some perfume, not the kind that I wanted to buy for Angie, my girlfriend, but another kind. I had in mind the perfect bottle. She said she wanted it but I know she hadnít gotten around to buying it yet, the perfect gift for someone, the one you know they want but they havenít treated themselves to yet and you get to beat them to the punch. I was proud. I had a soft, warm glow to be honest. Waiting in line with my chest puffed and my heart of hearts secure in the fact that I was a good boyfriend, possibly great even. I mean, why not, I wasnít fucking Hitler, I was nice and easy going and paid for dinner and everything.

The woman with the nice ass, or great ass since I am telling the facts as they truly happened and not the way me or anyone else would like to remember them, I mean if it was the way I would like to remember them I would rather not remember the thing at all, but thatís not the point, is it? Well, she bought her bottle of whatever perfume girls with great asses buy and I took her place in the front of the line. In the front. There was not another person in sight of the perfume counter, trust me. It was about lunchtime on a weekday and things were slow at the old department store, the one stop shop for yuppies and degenerate housewives waiting for their next Zanax to kick in. So I waited at the counter while the attendant, a rather attractive yet older black woman did some paper work and looked to be doing some inventory. I canít say because I never worked there but I can say that I didnít mind, she was doing her job and I was a perceptive and considerate potential life partner with a great present. She bent down and checked boxes with her pencil. I spun in circles with how her, Angieís, face would look when she saw how nice I was. I was nice. I am nice.

I was waiting what couldnít have been more than fifty seconds when she waddled over. She couldnít have been more that four feet. She was sort of hunched. Maybe I am a little prejudiced at this point but she was a little hunchback with a hair dye job. Thatís what I first noticed. She came over to the counter and stood directly to the right of me. I can remember her smell of awful perfume and hair spray and onions. I can remember what she said exactly.

"I need help, I have a return to make," she said pointing to a bag with a perfume bottle in it. I waited. No response. "I have a return here," she said, pointing to the bag even more dramatically and raising her eyebrows like she was speaking to the deaf. Still no response, the woman behind the counter continued counting the bottles and making her notes, clearly having dealt with women of this sort in the past, ignoring her intrusive yammering for real business. "I demand a sales person, I want a refund!" she cackled, possibly with all she had left, the decrepit old shell. I stood straight, still proud of my insight, still proud of my counter position. The sales woman made her move. "Can I help you?" she asked, her head turned, looking down at the merchandise. "YesÖ" I said just as my squat intruder babbled something about a return, a problem, a receipt and an exchange. No, no.

"Excuse me maíam, but I believe I was here first," I said in my Sunday school voice, smirking a smirk of recognition, as if the sales person and I went way back to old days, the days where the thought of dealing with walking skeletons who wore designer scents were things unimaginable, inconceivable. The old troll never even looked at me. Didnít even bat an eye. "I have a return to make, this product is garbage," she said, glaring right into the sales womanís eyes. I think her nametag said Liz. Liz wouldnít look at me either. "Just a second," she said as she made her final pencil stroke and began to listen to the old midgetís story.

"No," I said, disregarding the fact that Liz had made no concession to the fact that she plainly saw me waiting here before Ms. Igor showed up, " I was here first." I wasnít trying to be standoffish, I just wasnít about to take this lying down. There are lines for a reason. Itís first come, first served, not whoís the biggest asshole wins. Time began to move slower. The old bag started to yell about her return, how it wasnít what she wanted. I countered with a rant of my own, not to be outdone, about how I was standing there and watched this woman walk up to the counter and attempt to supercede my position, possibly not in that exact language, but you get the gist. The goblin refused to stop talking, refused to stop blathering, insisted on saying, "I want help now, I donít care about this man next to me, I have already spent my money here on this trash and I want it back. I want my money back now and I donít care who likes it."

My face filled with hot, searing blood. My body began to tingle, starting at the top of my head and tickling down into my arms and ending in my fingertips. "How would you like it if I tore off your little head?" I asked her. I have never, ever even come close to this behavior in public before. Sure, Iíve said things Iíve regretted and maybe even made a few old girlfriends cry but that was all behind closed doors, all in a different time and place, in a different universe. There was something about this woman and this situation that made me unable to control myself, that made me stand in the glow of the fluorescent light, before noon even, and stand there and say what I said. I was not being idly abused by this woman. I was not going to stand there and take it. Not today. Not by her.

The woman stood staring right ahead at our contended accomplice but I knew I had lost Lizís preference with that comment, if I ever had it to begin with. She got on the phone and within seconds a security guard came to escort me out. I knew the phone was a bad sign and I began to plan my exit. I wanted a good closer but all I could muster up was, "Youíll be dead soon, you old shit." Not my best moment but my heart was pumping with more effort than it had ever had. I almost had to tell it "pumpÖpump". I tried to fix a look on my face like a man who got a raw deal, the look of sly righteousness and spite, like James Dean and O.J. wrapped into one. I was lead to the door by the security guy, who never said a word but gave me a death stare as I walked out the door he opened for me. I had hoped he was going to grab my arm so I could coolly announce, "hands off" or some such quip from the lexicon Bad Ass but he knew better than to mess with a guy who almost kicked an old ladyís teeth in. I wasnít proud of myself, believe me, but I wasnít ashamed either. The whole scene had taken place so fast it all whirled through my head as I began to wander back to where I thought my car was parked. I was about half way there when I decided to turn back.

I was going to wait for that little creep and really let her have it. The whole reason I even said anything was because I wasnít going to let that spoon-fed little monster get away with thinking the world revolves around her wrinkly, saggy body. I took my place a few feet away from the door the rent-a-cop kicked me out of with enough distance away from it that no one would be able to see me through the glass. I wasnít sure what I was going to say to her exactly but I was going to say something. I was going to scare her and make her understand she is not allowed to treat other human beings like this. Has she lived her whole life and not found this out yet? I guess the security guard walkie-talkied my description to the other mall security guards because about two minutes after I took my post, a car pulled up and the man inside told me I better leave or there would be charges filed against me. I walked away as if I hadnít even heard him and decided to on my own volition. I found my car and drove home. I bought Angie a puppy instead and we named her Snickers.

  • Richard Mitchell lives in Philadelphia, PA and is a recent graduate of Villanova University. This is his first published work. He is currently attempting a collection of short fiction while pursuing his graduate degree.

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