Checking Out, Part 5

Rex took the plastic card out of his breast coat pocket, held it at arm’s length as he walked towards the woman in horn-rimmed glasses. “This card belongs to my family.” He heard Ariana speaking to him in harsh whispers, urging him to stop, but the voice that had been awakened could not be silenced. “I don’t care how it came to us — it’s ours now. It’s what we use to buy the food our family needs to keep us alive.”

He now realized he had brushed past Ariana, was within inches of the horn-rimmed woman, whose face retained its indignant defiance. He looked down into her shopping cart, and smiled. “You took quite an interest in my purchases — I think it’s only fair for me to show a similar interest in yours.”

The horn-rimmed woman pointed at the card in Rex’s hand. “My tax money — ”

“Yes, I’m sure you contributed at least a nickel into my family’s account this month.” Rex waved in the direction of the exit doors. “As much, I’m sure, as you contributed to road improvements, the police department, and teacher salaries.” He reached down into the cart, what remaining social restraints now lying at his feet, demolished.

“Ah, look here!” Rex retrieved an opaque green plastic bag, held it high above his head. “Some lovely ears of corn! A fine selection, madame. On sale, if I remember correctly. Not the growing season around here, of course, so this was most likely shipped in from a large factory farm somewhere in the south, or west — heavily subsidized, I expect, from the federal government, which help explains its affordability.”

He lowered the bag carefully into the cart, lifted a cardboard carton, aware that he had attracted a few dozen wide-eyed stares from store shoppers and employers. “No-bake cupcakes!” He waved the carton under his nose, sniffing loudly. “The aroma of carcinogenic preservatives is alluring, indeed!”

His eyes lit on the next item in the cart as he discarded the carton. “And of course, no excursion to obtain essential supplies for one’s family — ” he lifted the bottle of vodka in his right hand, pointed to it with his left like he was presenting a trophy — “would be complete, without one of these?”

The cashier who had scanned and bagged his purchases was now at his elbow, urging Rex to stop, and leave. He turned, whispered a swift apology, then began walking backward down the checkout aisle, his eyes focused on the horn-rimmed woman. “Adieu, sweet woman, adieu.” He bowed, his long body folding down to his legs like an enormous book, his right arm rolling forward as he bent. “Your concern for my family’s well-being is noted.”

He stopped, eyes opening wide, and lifted his right index finger, as his left hand dug into a coat pocket. “And my apologies for our purchases not meeting with your approval. Here — allow me to recompense your taxpayer contribution.” And on that last syllable, he flipped a quarter from his thumb into a high arc, the coin falling swiftly a few inches in front of the horn-rimmed woman then rolling on the tiled floor in a tight circle, coming to rest when it spun onto her foot.

Rex turned, grabbed the bags with his family’s purchases, and walked purposefully out of the store. He would stand outside Ariana’s car and apologize to her when she arrived moments later, assuring her that his pique of anger was over and promising not to make such a scene like that, ever. At least (so he thought to himself) not with Ariana around.

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