Sunday, June 2, 2013


He spotted her over the head of a life- sized Taylor Swift promotional cut- out for jeans.

Taylor Swift, a young country singer, who, at least in this ad campaign, appeared to only smile with one side of her mouth.

But this girl, she was not smiling with any part of her mouth. She was doing her job like a bitter automaton. Bitter was an assumption, but she did not look at all happy.

But how many Saturday night Wal-Mart cashiers were?

He wheeled his cart, filled only with two XXL children’s button down shirts, over to her check- out line. He cupped his breath and smelled it. He was thankful for the check-out conveyor belt; it would ensure a marked distance between her and what he had just smelled in his hand.

He was on the spot, so his woo- lines would have to be old standards.

Perhaps something along the lines of, “Give me your phone number or a tissue, because if you don’t give me those digits, I’m going to cry.”

Her name tag read Bonnie. Bonnie in Scots- Gaelic meant beautiful.

Beautiful was a bit generous, but, if, on any slow night, light on the customers, her co-workers were to throw together a hastily organized Employee Beauty Competition (as the blue collars liked to say, “for shits and giggles”), competing against all the old folks and tax deductibles on staff, she just might win. Her looks were the stuff of big fish in small ponds. As the prize announcing her victory, he envisioned a plastic tiara ganked from the toy aisle.

Tuesday would be the 2008 presidential election. Obama/Biden vs. McCain/Palin. He decided to use this in his opening.

“Is it true that Wal-Mart has been pressuring its employees to vote Republican?”

He had heard this on the news. Undercover of hastily arranged morale pep talks, Wal-Mart honchos stood accused of haranguing their employees to vote pachyderm.

“Huh?” she replied. She had a red state drawl.

He repeated the question.

“Is it true that Wal-Mart has been pressuring its employees to vote McCain/Palin?”

“You’re looking for a can for paintin’?”

“Nothing, forget it.”

He felt stupid, though she deserved the honor more. His shame only made her that much more attractive. Light brown hair to her shoulders, real, honest- to- goodness cerulean eyes, freckles across the bridge of a button nose. Twentyish, thin, shapely in the legs. She was clearly wearing stretchy jeans similar to the ones that Taylor Swift had been promoting in the life- sized promotional cut-out. He couldn’t decipher her breasts with the loose cashiers smock covering them, but her legs became discernible as she leaned away from the conveyor belt to turn off her register’s glowing light.

Never one to quit while ahead, he decided to try again.

“Do you get an employee discount?”

“I get a discount on everything,” she bragged. “Twenty percent. But if you’re askin’ me to discount these shirts for you, the answer’s no.”

Her southern twang would be fun to imitate.

“If I was your friend, would you let me use your discount?”

“Maybe. But you’re not my friend. I’ve never seen you before in my life.”

He picked up the pen available to customers for filling out checks and signing credit card slips and scribbled on the back of his receipt.

“Here’s my phone number. Call me. Maybe we can be friends. And someday, you’ll let me use your discount.”

It was all so perfectly trashy. Wal-Mart, discounts, political ignorance, the scruff on his chin, the way his breath smelled. Her snotty disdain for no reason and tight- fitting Taylor Swift jeans.

When he had sex with her later that night, he didn’t use a condom. It was the perfect trailer park coda and he liked good endings. She, the Wal-Mart cashier with two kids at home, babysat by her mother, with absolutely no fear of getting pregnant by him, the smelly stranger, who bought his clothes 20 years too small.

©Fiona Helmsley

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