by Paul Richard Watson
I go to the express checkout lane because it doesn’t require me to converse or express human emotions. In front of me there is a woman and her son. He is holding her hand and turning first this way, then that, like one of those giant blow-up dolls in front of car lots. With every violent sway, she stays planted firmly, his anchor. She is wearing a purple work-out shirt and yoga pants. She’s not exactly chubby, just built like a mom; I think she’s about my age. I think about the dates my mother has suggested I go on. I haven’t been on a date since graduate school.
The boy sees me. He stops swaying. He looks up at me, awed.
“Are you Spiderman?” he asks.
“No,” I say.
“But your arms.” He points to my bandages. “Is that where you keep your webs?”
“No,” I say. “They’re bandages.”
“Because I hurt myself.”
His mother says, “Leave him alone,” and offers an apologetic smile. I nod, as if to say, no problem.
“He’s in an inquisitive phase,” she says. I look ahead to the checkout console. An elderly woman is inserting what seems like a Bible full of coupons. There is no escape.
“Well,” I say. “He’s a learner.” I offer the boy my best smile. He looks skeptical. “Questions are good.”
She gives a polite laugh. “Not when you’re the one who has to answer them.”
“How did you hurt yourself?” the boy asks.
I see the mother look at my arms, really look at them for the first time; recognizing that I have injured not just one but both of my arms. She gives me a look that one might give a morbidly obese person after they have made a self-referential comment about being fat.
“I had an accident,” I say.
“What kind of accident?”
“A boating accident.” It doesn’t make any sense but it’s the first thing I can think of.
The mother smiles, more weakly now. “Honey, you really should leave him alone.”
“He’s fine really,” I say.
“No,” she says. “He needs to learn to respect the privacy of others.”
I shrug. “I’m used to it.”
She gives me a look I can’t quite place. It’s something between pity and lust.
Finally, the geriatric with the endless clippings is gone and it’s this lady and her child’s turn to run their items over the scanner. I think now I am safe. This woman will quickly purchase her items, pack up her odd, semi-translucent bags and her child and walk timidly out of my life. But it is not to be so.
The kids is like a flash—at my arm and yanking and off comes the bandage. There, eight long inches down my left arm is a mouth sown shut by nineteen stitches (cut down, not across if you wanna get the job done). And I am now naked and the whole pajama-bottomed throng is gaping at me, even the mother, who I even found a little bit attractive. I drop my basket. The eggs break. Milk spreads white across dingy tile.
I say, “Excuse me,” and retire to the bathroom.
I stand in front of the mirror and try to realign the bandage, but the adhesive won’t stick again. I imagine myself walking back to the checkout line, calmly explaining the situation to the supervisor who would, no doubt, be there by now; I imagine walking back to get new eggs and milk; I imagine paying for my groceries; I imagine nervously, apologetically searching the store for the mother and her son, finding them nowhere—all with that horrible arm exposed.
And then she (the mother) is there in the men’s restroom with me and she takes me by the shoulders and puts me against the wall. For a second, I think she is going to hit me. Then I look into her eyes and think she is going to kiss me. She does neither. She steps back, reaches under her shirt and lifts up. There at her chest, are two doll’s breasts—pink colored lumps of plastic/rubber suspended around her abdomen by a contraption which seems to be a bra for people who no longer need bras.
She says nothing. I say nothing. For a moment in that bathroom, we are married—the mirror and sink are our witnesses. And then she is gone.