An Encounter at the Register


The thermostat acting up and flashing ‘replace batteries’ isn’t an emergency, but I will say Julia is more comfortable and pleasant when the ambient temperature is comfortable and pleasant.

The hardware store is only a ten-minute walk, and the sun is beaming this morning after the insult of several inches of snow yesterday. I’m happy to make the trip.

The batteries are upfront near the register, where other point-of-sale enticements are displayed—like that Baby Ruth. I’m pulling a package of AA batteries from a hook just as a woman enters the store, with purpose, with march in her step, and she takes her place right in front of the register. Then she sees me and motions with her hand that I could go first, because I was kind of there first, although she could make the case for herself being first because I hadn’t finished removing my purchase selection from the rack yet, and technically was still in shopping mode not paying mode.

I say thank you, but she can go first. She seemed in a hurry.

I realize my mistake immediately. She hadn’t come here to shop—she hadn’t walked down any of the aisles, she hadn’t even chosen an item or two at the register, she just went to the clerk with a bag in hand. In that bag was an assortment of items she laid on the counter—a paintbrush, cleaning solution, a box of screws, a package of mouse traps. The pile grew. She tells the clerk she wants to return all of this, and she doesn’t have her receipt, and she’d be happy to take a gift card instead of a refund.

The clerk sighs. He looks at his screen, looks at the mélange of items, then at the woman, and says, “I have no idea how to do this.”

He gets on his communications system and asks for help on a return and credit. I can hear the voice coming through the speaker issuing instructions on how to execute the function. Choose this option and click that button and look up this information and then do a sort . . .

He was completely lost.

I said to the woman—lightly, with humor, because we’re all in this together—“Maybe I should have gone first.”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” the woman says.

“No, really, it’s okay.”

What I meant was she should have insisted I go ahead of her because she knew she’d be there for ten minutes sorting all this out and I had only a package of AA batteries to pay for.

But I’d had my chance—she had offered, I declined.  

I started to feel annoyed but quickly let it go. There was nothing to do except settle in and wait. I had things I could think about. I always had thinking to pass the time.

The manager from the back of the store showed up at the register. Now two of them were looking at the screen and the assortment of products to be returned. The manager’s brow creased, but he started right in on the keyboard. The woman interrupted him. “Could you just take him first, please?”

She stepped back and I stepped up and paid for the batteries and I thanked her and thanked the clerk. On the walk back the snow was gone and some flowers were in bloom and now our house will remain comfortable and pleasant.

By David Klein

David Klein

Published novelist, creative writer, journalist, avid reader, discriminating screen watcher.


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