by Tom Mahony
The hippie market is next door to my office. I buy a sandwich there almost every day. There’s no other place nearby to get food, and I’m too lazy to make my own lunch. The deli at the market is excellent. The people are friendly, and though they prepare the sandwiches with a plodding slowness characteristic of devout stoners, they also maintain a stoner’s freakish attention to culinary detail. The tomato slices are works of art.
There’s only one problem: the granola woman who works the register is always inviting me to one rally or another. She’s really into rallies. She’s really pumped up on “causes.” I’m neither for nor against her causes. I just want to pay for my sandwich.
Today I stand in line behind several people. Today I will ask her to please refrain from soliciting me for future political rallies.
The line moves forward. I’m up next. I don’t want to alienate this woman—she seems nice enough, and sincere in her beliefs—but I have to say something, as the situation has become untenable. I dread purchasing my daily sandwich. But I must be careful in my technique. If things go wrong, I’ll have to face an even more awkward exchange on future sandwich runs.
I reach the register, preparing for the confrontation. But she doesn’t invite me to a rally. She seems subdued, just mutters a greeting and rings up my purchase. I wonder what happened. Has someone else complained about her pamphleteering? Has she become cynical and apathetic overnight?
“Everything okay?” I ask.
She shrugs. “I got laid off today. They’re cutting back on staff.”
I’m struck by the news. I feel bad for her, and tell her so. Though I can’t deny a certain relief, I regret my past irritation with her. She’s a thoroughly decent person. I almost feel nostalgic for her proselytizing.
“I hear they’re looking to hire a receptionist next door,” she says. “You work there, right?”
I hesitate. We are in fact hiring. “I’m not sure.”
“Not sure that you work there?”
“That we’re hiring.”
“There’s a big sign on the window advertising the position. I saw your name listed as the contact. I recognize it from your debit card.”
“What do you think? Do I have a chance at the job? I could really use the money.”
I clear my throat. “What are your skills?”
“I can do it all. I was a receptionist for five years before I started here.”
This is getting bad. “It’s dull work.”
She points at the cash register. “You think this is exciting?”
I start to panic. My mind races. I can’t think straight.
“We get along, right?” she says. “Other customers are so rude when I talk politics. You always seem interested, like we’re on the same wavelength.”
Same wavelength? I should’ve spoken up long ago, as apparently every other customer has. At least this woman is firm in her beliefs. I’m always weaseling out of confrontation and stand-taking. Who’s the kook here?
I have to come clean. I could not possibly work with her. Avoidance and apathy have cost me dearly throughout life. I either take a stand now or I never will.
The line stacks up behind me. I glance at the irritated faces. Everyone’s watching me. They know the score. One by one they’ve made peace with the woman by politely telling her to shut up. I envy them. As they glare at me, I can read the look on their faces: what kind of man are you?
What kind of man, indeed.
I turn back to the woman. “When can you start?”
* * *
Tom Mahony is a biological consultant in California with an M.S. degree from Humboldt State University. His fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has appeared in dozens of online and print publications, including Surfer Magazine, Flashquake, The Rose & Thorn, Pindeldyboz, In Posse Review, Boston Literary Magazine, 34th Parallel, Diddledog, Foliate Oak, and Decomp. His short fiction collection, Slow Entropy, was published by Thumbscrews Press in 2009. He is looking for a publisher for several novels. Visit him at www.tommahony.net.
Stock image credit: Pioi