A New Fear
The big man reached over the counter and placed his large hand on the drugstore clerk’s head. Like her head was a doorknob. And opened her up. The head, like the plastic top of a bottle of gas water, twisted right off. Blood. Like carbonated water shot up out of the bottle’s. Neck. The big man had always loved fountains. Ain’t that pretty?
But of course. That’s not what happened.
The big man’s hand was on the girl’s head. The girl called Josephine. She smiled uncomfortably. What if he sneezes? A spasm might bring about her end. But she was an employee. Of a large pharmaceutical firm and had to smile. Even in death the customer was always right. In this case the large man was left. Handed. Which he released. Which gave some relief to Josephine. Josephine had never had the urge. To be a name on an accident report. Or a sidebar on You Tube.
“Just come back from Nassau.” The big man was called Everest. Which wasn’t his real name. That was Reginald. The third. For a big man Everest had a small voice. Almost childlike in its timber. Like a tiny Flem. Yodeling in the Alps. For his cross star lover in Brugge.
“See the tan on my arms.” Everest flexed his arm. Josephine couldn’t help but notice that one side of Everest’s arm was brown. But the other side was white. Like the moon. Whose face is always on the sun. Like it didn’t trust its solar father. None of this occurred to Josephine. Who was a simple girl with a grade eleven education. Smart in all things. Except trigonometry. What she surmised was, that due Everest’s size there wasn’t enough time in the day for him to tan all of his body.
“You should see my legs.” Everest smiled. He was ready to pull up his pant leg and show the tan on his calves.
“No, thank you, sir.” Josephine said then whispered. “Management takes a dim view of customer’s showing their body parts.”
Everest smiled. Hesitatingly. He leaned over toward the minute cashier. He checked her name on her uniform.
“May. I love that name. May. Spring like. So full of hope.”
It was then that Josephine realized that she had put on May’s uniform. It would have been May’s name on the accident report. May, whose head would be spinning around like a top on the floor. Caught on tape by the store cameras. Bought up for the late night news. May always wanted to be in show business.
“Did not want to come back to all of this .Last thing I wanted to face was the cold.” Everest said. The big man shivered. Not actually shivered but acted as if he was shivering. And proud of his performance.
Josephine looked behind Everest. There was a large line of customers. Waiting. She was afraid to say anything. Everest was that big.
He placed his purchase, a hemorrhoid ointment, on the counter.
“It’s for my wife,” he added then winked. Everest did not have a wife. He was having some difficulties with hemorrhoids. He did not want to place an image of himself using the ointment in the girl’s mind, so he lied about having a wife. The girl looked so happy. And spring like.
Josephine smiled with relief. She rang up the purchase on the cash register and put the ointment in a small plastic bag. She felt quite gay. Focused. And for the first time in years, confident. Nothing like a brush with death to clear the mind, she thought.
“People are so friendly in Nassau.” Everest continued, his eyes rising to the ceiling as if he was praying. “Pat on the back. A smile. Polite conversation. I’m not sure what it is. Not such a rat race.” And then added, “I suppose.” As if having a firm opinion was impolite.
The big man’s smile melted into consternation.
Josephine’s skin began to crawl. A new fear tickled her funny bone.
“Not like Canadians.” Everest looked down at Josephine with a scowl. “We are a cold lot. A stark and stern people. Parochial in our imagination. You can always tell when an immigrant becomes truly Canadian. They stop paying attention. To mother nature.”
With this mention of mother nature a small cloud was released from the giant’s bowels. People behind Everest began to gag. An old woman had to sit down in her walker.
The girl looked around hoping to see another clerk. She had no idea where this conversation was going. And she remembered the stories related by the other girls who worked at the drug store, stories about strange men who leered, ogled, drooled. The girl looked up at the large man, thought for a moment, then responded.
“I think you should move on.”
“Hurry up, mister,” a voice from behind several people at the back of the line now curling down one aisle and up a second.
Everest turned around. A small boy, about six or seven years of age, stood in front of his father. The two looked like two versions of the same person. They were dressed identically, blue jeans, t-shirt, leather jackets, and white running shoes. They smiled the same. The father was clean shaven. The boy had a tattoo on his forearm. Of an anchor. The father blushed and squeezed the boy’s shoulder.
“That’s no way to speak to people,” the father said looking down at his son. The boy looked up at his father, grinning.
“You’re upside down.” The boy laughed.
Everest looked at the father. He raised his hand and pointed his finger at him.
“I recognize that accent. Where are you from?”
“Brampton,” the father responded.
“Originally,” Everest added.
“Nassau,” the man said.
“Nassau, eh?” Everest nodded. “I thought I recognized that accent. Just came back from Nassau, myself. Lovely people. How long have you been here?”
“Three years,” the father said.
“My father is a copper,” the boy said proudly. “And if you’re not careful, he could put you down in three shakes. Ain’t that right, father?”
The boy looked up at his father. The father looked down at his son. They nodded. Other people in the line muttered amongst themselves.
Everest put his hand on the boy’s head to rustle his hair. The boy swung at the man’s hand. Everest laughed but did not remove his hand. The boy swung again.
“Leave my head alone you big ox!” the boy cried.
Everest continued to laugh. Everest liked kids. Most kids liked Everest. They liked his size. And his gentleness. And his laugh. Not this kid. And it did something to Everest. He felt like twisting. Like flipping this kid’s head. Off. Maybe the father detected this change.
“Maybe you should take your hand away,” the father suggested.
Everest smiled. “Kids like their hair rustled.”
The father reached out and grabbed Everest’s wrist.
“Please!” the father said.
There was a moment of silence. Everest pulled his hand away. He looked at the clerk who smiled uncomfortably.
“How much do I owe?” he asked. There were tears streaming down his cheeks.
“Two thirty five,” Josephine said.
Everest reached into his pocket and took out some change. After he had paid and the clerk handed his small plastic bag to him, Everest turned back to the father.
“People’s feelings can get hurt, you know.” And turned. And ran out of the drug store. On his tip toes.