Checking Out, Part 4

Rex focused on his task at the checkout terminal, pressing buttons as if he were defusing a bomb.

“I work at Wal-Mart, I see them SNAP cards all the time.” Rex decided it was best to nod, acknowledge in as limited way as possible the horn-rimmed woman’s observation. Across the counter in front of him, the cashier began bagging Rex’s purchases, an action which now seemed to get the horn-rimmed woman’s attention.

“Is that ground round?” Rex glanced up at the cashier, who froze with a pound of ground round in her left hand and a plastic bag in her right and shot her best mind your own business look back down the aisle, before continuing.

Still trying to ignore the woman behind him, Rex heard Ariana speaking in her broken English, only to be cut off by the horn-rimmed woman. “Ground chuck isn’t good enough for your family?” Her laugh crawled up Rex’s long back like a cockroach. “Your monthly subsidy not good enough to afford ground sirloin?”

Rex winced, gritted his teeth, his tension relieved somewhat when he saw the cashier hurrying to bag his order. But he recognized the problem — Ariana still had to get through the checkout, and leaving her alone would be an affront to the friendship between them, a friendship affirmed through years of transporting he and his mother each week to the Stop and Shop Market.

Pop Tarts?” The cashier was about to place the Economy Size box of Frosted Strawberry Pop Tarts (the only thing her eight-year-old sister would eat for breakfast) into a plastic bag. “You sure you’re allowed to buy things like that with food stamps?”

“Yes.” Rex was surprised the word had come out of him, was disappointed that he’d lacked the self-control to continue ignoring the woman’s taunts. But now that he’d taken the bait, he was determined to be the powerful fish that would drag this unsuspecting, arrogant angler down into the sea. He turned, smiled, and walked back up the aisle.

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