Kristi Conley and Lisa Eldridge

Kristi Conley

Hard Numbers
by Lisa Eldridge

Inspiration piece

I was waiting in the express line at Hot Nuts and Elegant Foodstuffs. The store still has that name, even though I believe it has not sold hot nuts since the 1950s, at least. Truth be told, it is no longer much of an elegant establishment, if it ever truly was, but they have a good liquor selection and some nice tongue cutlets come the Autumnal Equinox.

I was nervously counting my items. There were either seven items or eleven, depending on whether I counted the apples individually or as one unit. If the apples had been in a bag, naturally I would not have worried, but they were not in a bag and so I could not stop staring down at them, five large American Dipshits, unbagged and unfettered and rolling around on the conveyor belt. I knew I should have put them in a bag. In the Express Line, There Are Rules. Ten items or less (fewer)! Ten items or less (fewer)! Even a child knows the Express Line Rule is sacrosanct. Yet, there sat my apples, in amongst the other sundries and geegaws I had need of, mocking propriety and adding up my total grocery order to more, not less (fewer) than ten items. I had to admit it to myself: five apples, loose, equal five apples; five apples in a bag equal one bag of apples. I believed then, as I still believe, this fact to be incontrovertible.

Why then, you ask, if you (I) were (was) so determined (as a right-thinking American) to follow the edicts of the high-end supermarket lines, had you (I) not placed your (my) five apples into one plastic bag and ended your (my) conundrum? Ah, ha! You might well ask. Oh, you are asking? Well, I will tell you.

There had been plenty of plastic bags, a plethora of plastic bags, available in the produce department. But procuring one would have meant risking an interaction with the produce department manager, Price Preston, who for reasons known only to himself always stood directly in front of the plastic-bag dispenser while surveying his domain.

Thus my dilemma. In order to procure a produce bag for my five apples, I would have had to approach said produce manager, Price Preston, to obtain the item. Price Preston, my former lover. My past paramour, Price Preston. My princely past paramour, Price Preston. Well, you get the picture. We have a history.

Of course I was over Price Preston! Our whole thing, our old fling, was water under the bridge, onions over the oubliette. Our wife-carrying trophy was draped in spiderwebs in the falling-over shed, and if I had remembered to put it out at the curb on household waste day, I would almost definitely have done so already. But it was still awkward when we ran into each other. If forced to speak, we always greeted each other with fauxthusiasm, but the tension was palpable. Preston Price always captured and held my gaze a little too long, and this is a small town and I did not need people gossiping about me more than they already did, Lord knows.

So I had my five apples, smoked oysters in a can, three bottles of drain opener, dried tarragon, and a fifth of Lipschitz Pirate-Spiced Rum. A total of eleven items, I was forced to admit. I brooded and fumed. Damn that Price Preston, I fumed furiously. Still causing me grief almost 20 years after the embers of our blazing Summer Fling had abruptly cooled. How dared he!

If I had had the foresight to bring my own plastic bag, my life might have taken a very different turn that day. But I was standing in the ten items or less (fewer!) line with eleven items, and the clerk was that strange dog-woman who always gave me the stink eye whether or not she had a reason. Her stink eye was on me now.

I am not, by nature, a shrinking violet. All the checkout lines were long that day, and I had places to be and little time to waste. But flouting the ten items or less (fewer!) law might have proved the tip top of a slippery slope to loss of couth. I would not stand accused of undermining the “elegant” in Elegant Foodstuffs.

So, with great ruefulness and care, I repacked my basket and moved two lanes over to a regular line, behind a short, stocky man with a heaping cart, which he was slowly unloading. As his hotdogs and canned tuna and pimentos moved smoothly down the belt, I unpacked my basket. Sighing softly, and settling in for a long wait, I picked up an issue of Celebrity Death Watch Weekly to peruse while I waited.

Do you know the feeling that sometimes comes over you when the world holds its breath? The tingling in the air, the sudden rush of energy through your solar plexus? It can signal danger, or it can signal something wonderful. As I placed the last apple on the belt, the man in front of me turned around; saying nothing at first, he placed his hand over mine, over the apple, over the conveyor belt. It was he. It was Price Preston.

“Still buying the American Dipshits, Delphinia?” When he spoke, it was in the soft yet deep throaty tones that I still heard in my dreams.

I tried to speak, but my throat was suddenly dry. I coughed, discreetly, and thought about removing my hand from underneath his. “Hello, Price Preston. Yes, I do enjoy a daily American Dipshit. I always have and probably always will.”

“You know,” he murmured, leaning toward me and staring into my eyes, “we don’t get much call for that variety anymore. But I have a standing order for a dozen, so we’ll always have them in stock for you.”

I must have blushed a deeper red than the apples themselves, because then he smiled, showing his white, unusually small teeth. With a grand gesture, he removed the rubber rod that separated our orders, and handed the clerk his credit card. Before I could protest, my items were bagged and paid for and in his cart, and Price Preston was leading me out of Hot Nuts and Elegant Foodstuffs, into the future and the bright light of day.

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  1. Posted May 28, 2011 at 10:22 pm | #

    I am there! In the ten items or less (fewer!) line with Delphinia. Such verisimilitude! I see Prince Price Preston as he carries Delphinia off into the future. I know he is not being fauxenthusiastic.

  2. Posted May 28, 2011 at 11:52 pm | #

    Lisa’s writing sparkles with wit, and Kristi’s response matches the mood perfectly. Right, I’m off to read my copy of Celebrity Death Watch Weekly…;-)

  3. Posted May 31, 2011 at 12:17 am | #

    Delphinia, you can always get American Dipshit apples from your admiring mother’s backyard tree! And Kristi’s drawing is hauntingly evocative.

  4. Posted July 19, 2011 at 6:38 am | #

    Thank you all so much! I haven’t been back here since Kristi and I posted our pieces way back in May, and I had no idea we had such nice comments. Thanks to all of you!