“No thanks, uh...” The man pushes his glasses up to better see Melanie’s nametag. “...Melanie.”
“Thanks for shopping at Riteway Market.”
Sighing, she watches the man leave – he’s only the third customer since noon – while her fingers rub the little badge. As the story goes, she was named after a 70s folksinger who Grams watched perform at Woodstock.
After her parents died, it was Grams who raised her, and Grams loved every minute. Melanie smiles reminiscing all the nights spent in tie-dyed t-shirts singing “Kumbaya.” Grams was the best. Is the best.
The thought causes her to tap her jeans’ back pocket, a double-triple check that her three folded twenties are still there – gas money, or at least most of it, for next week’s trip to Grams’. If she’s lucky, Mr. Dracon, the store manager, will be handing out a twenty-five dollar Christmas bonus like last year.
The squeak of Mr. Findley’s cart, one of her favorite customers, arriving at her checkstand tears her from her reverie. For the first three years she worked here he always came arm in arm with his wife, but when she became ill last year, that came to a sad end, along with the dance in his step. Today he seems more distant than ever, the effort of placing a can of Folger’s coffee, a dozen eggs, a discounted loaf of bread, and two Banquet TV dinners as if each weighs a hundred pounds.
“Is today Wednesday?” he asks, pulling his wallet.
“No, Mr. Findley. It’s only Monday.”
His head drops and he begins returning the items to his cart. “Guess I’ll have to come back...my Social Security comes Wednesday.” He turns, but Mrs. Cranston, one of Melanie’s least favorite customers – a middle-aged woman who wears as much attitude as makeup – stands behind him.
For a moment, Melanie can’t breathe, her heart aches. But as Mr. Findley and Mrs. Cranston stand in a stare-off, something stirs within, and her hand slips into her pocket, pulling her long-saved gas money. Without a second thought, she tosses the folded bills just behind the shaken old man.
“Mr. Findley...I think you dropped something.”
He turns and looks down, his face going pale as he sees the money. “That can’t be mine.”
“Well...it fell out of your pocket.”
“Oh, my.” Shaking, he picks up the twenties and once again empties his cart onto the conveyor, all the while peering upward as though the ceiling might rain more treasures.
“Thanks, Mr. Findley,” she says, handing him his bag.
She turns to see Mrs. Cranston, impatient as ever, glaring from behind the card-reader, and quickly rings her up. Yet, as she hands her the receipt and thanks her, she catches just a hint of a smile.
Taking her groceries, Mrs. Cranston rounds the register’s end, but then stops. “I think you dropped something, dear,” she says, before continuing toward the door.
Looking down, Melanie sees a small wad of twenties at her feet.