Walmark

W

You ever feel so lonely everyday feel like a month of Sundays? I do, and most days I don’t feel like gettin’ outta bed because of it. But I always do. Like today.

I push my walker through my shoebox-sized apartment that my daughter set me up with. She even filled it with enough furniture to start a store. No idea why. I’m the only one who lives here, and she’s ten minutes away but hardly ever visits. Some days, I feel like an old pair a cowboy boots buried in the back of the closet. Outta sight. Outta mind. 

My daughter got me a smart television, too. Whatever the hell that is. It’s got five hundred channels, so she tells me. But I only need two to watch my CSI and NCIS shows. I like that Mark Harmon fella. Not in a sexual way. He’s a good actor, ya know?

Now don’t go rollin’ your eyes. I know I’m moanin’ a lot. I do appreciate what she’s done for me. Especially this here recliner. It’s just that I’m lonely. Profoundly.

My cellphone rings and I ‘bout jump outta my skin. It rings again and again. I’m gettin’ all annoyed, now. Dang thing’s shoved so deep in my pants pocket, requires the jaws of life to get it out. No lie. My fingers ain’t quite what they used to be. Not with my arthritis actin’ up.

I finally get it unstuck, and the display reads MICHELLE. Well, I’ll be damned. I slide the green ACCEPT button over and say, “Howdy. This is a nice surprise.”

I grunt now and then, so she knows I’m listenin’, then I say, “Yeah, I ain’t forgot. I’m goin’ to Walmark in a bit. What’s that you say? I don’t care if I’m mispronouncin’ it. All right. Good hearin’ your voice.”

My daughter called to remind me to pick up my meds. Like I don’t already know that. I know she means well. But hell, can’t she spare more than thirty seconds? She gave me this here fancy cell phone for Christmas, yet she rarely calls, ‘cept for things I already know. Most of the time when it does ring, it’s the wrong number. Well, that and sales calls. My favorite. I let the fella…or darlin’—I ain’t sexist or nothin’—I let ‘em rattle on about what they’re offerin’, and pretend like I’m interested. Anything to keep ‘em on the phone as long as I can, ‘cause once they know I ain’t buyin’ I’m all alone again.

Well, I suppose I ought to stop gripin’. Gonna take me a while to get ready. I snicker. A two-legged hound moves faster than me. 

I grab my jacket and wince. Arthritis in my right arm been actin’ up sumptin’ extra lately and I can’t hardly use it none. Five minutes later it’s on, and then it takes me another ten minutes just to walk to my truck. The whole way it feels like I’m steppin’ on nails, ’cause the diabetes done mucked up my feet. 

I stop and stare for a bit at the open door of my truck like I’m ‘bout to climb Mount Everest. I give a quick look around, make sure nobody watchin’ then hop up into the seat. I turn around and lay on my back, then tuck my legs up and slowly roll into position. 

Phew! I’m ‘bout worn slap out. I use my cane to pull the door shut and slip the key in and start it. I check my surroundings real careful like, ‘cause I don’t want to accidentally run someone over like my son-in-law done then ease on out real slow.

#

I pull into the Walmark parkin’ lot. It’s busier than a church on Sunday mornin’. Must be one of them sales goin’ on. I got a handicap license plate, though. I cruise on up to the front and slam on my brakes. Would you look at that? Some kid just pulled into the last spot, and now he’s joggin’ right past me. I roll my window down and yell. “Hey! That’s for handicap people.” 

He turns and gives me a shit eatin’ grin and says, “I got a placard, gramps,” then disappears into the store.

That egg-suckin’ dog. I hope Walmark got a spare motorized scooter. Then we’ll see how much he’s smilin’ when I run his ass down. 

Eventually, I do find a spot and go through the same routine to get outta my truck as I did to get in. I enter through the automatic double doors, and I’m blasted with cold air that sends a chill down to my bones. I step through quickly and stop dead in my tracks.

Can’t believe my eyes and adjust my glasses.

Standin’ before me is just about the prettiest woman I ever seen. She got a face like an angel and a smile that makes me forget all ’bout my troubles. She hands me a wagon, and I stand there starin’, mouth hangin’ open like a fool. 

“Thank you,” I say, finally. I remember I got my low-cut tank top on and unzip my jacket a bit to let her take a gander at my machismo. 

She bats her round brown eyes at me. “Welcome to Walmart,” she says. Her voice is like a finely tuned motor. Smooth, yet full of power. One step on the pedal and I bet she… Whoa boy. I’m all tingly like, now. Better put a stop to them thoughts. Not very gentlemanlike.

“What’s your name?” I ask. She brushes her long white hair back over her shoulder then points to her badge. I take the wagon from her and tip my Navy ballcap. “Thank you, Bernadette. I appreciate your assistance.”

I notice her eyin’ me, then she says, “Thank you for your service.” 

I roll on past, grinnin’ from ear to ear. As I get to the produce section, I glance over my shoulder and see Bernadette lookin’. Can’t blame her. I play it cool and smile then continue on.

The whole time here I can’t stop thinkin’ about Bernadette. That smile. That voice. I move as quickly as I can, but when I return to where we met, she’s gone. Replaced by a fella. Dang it! I admit, my body just slumped a little.

I ask him where she went, and he says, “Her shift is over. Probably went home.”

“She workin’ tomorry?” I ask.

He pauses to think a moment then shakes his head. “Today is Wednesday…she won’t be back until Monday.”

I push my cart back to my truck, draggin’ my feet just a bit then return to my empty apartment. I fall into my recliner and turn on the television. Gonna be a long week.

#

The following Monday I get up real early. Not because I want to, but because I don’t sleep much no more. Why? Well, you know that shirt? You know, the one that says SHIT HAPPENS. Well, it ain’t just a vulgar saying. I’ll leave out the details, but believe me, shit does happen when you get old. 

I make myself breakfast-three turkey sausage links, couple of fried eggs and wash it down with a glass o’ milk. Fueled and ready to go, I put on my best tennies, cleanest shirt and shorts I can find then head on over to Walmark. It’s early, so I’m guessin’ Bernadette’s shift is just startin’. 

The parking lot is almost empty, and I got no problem gettin’ real close. A few minutes later, I walk through them automatic double doors, blasted with cold air, again. I laugh to myself thinkin’ if I had hair, I’d look like somethin’ out of a movie with it blowin’ all around. But I ain’t’ got none. You shoulda seen me thirty years ago…

I digress and apologize.

I look around but don’t see any sign of Bernadette. In fact, I don’t see no greeter, neither. Damn. I’m too early. Well, that’s all right. I’ll just turn back ‘round and wait in the truck. I got nothin’ else to do. I start to head out when I hear that voice.

“Hey, I recognize you,” she says, and my heart starts racing. 

She remembers me

I straighten and pull up my short sleeves a bit. Just enough so my biceps are showin’. Machismo, you know.

“Bernadette, right?” I say, playin’ it cool.

“That’s what the name tag says.” She laughs, and I feel weak in the knees. “You got a name?” she asks all sarcastic like but playful. I like that in a woman.

“Roy—Roy Hammond,” I say like a stutterin’ fool.

“Well, Roy Roy Hammond.” She giggles. “Nice to meet you.”

We talk for a spell ‘bout our kids and jobs we had in a past life. Man, she’s not only easy on the eyes, but real comfortable to talk with, too.

She pauses now and then to greet customers and roll out carriages. Eventually, her boss comes by to check up on her and gets a real stern look on his face. I get the hint and head for the door.

“Roy,” she calls out. I pause just as I’m blasted with another shot of cold air.  

“Yes?” I say.

“Aren’t you forgetting something?”

I search myself, but for the life of me, I can’t think of what she means. My memory ain’t what it used to be, so I reckon’ it’s possible I forgot somethin’. “No,” I finally say.

She puts her hands to her beautfiul, curvy hips. “You didn’t go shopping. I’d hate for you to get home and realize you forgot to get something important.”

I smile. Ain’t’ she considerate. I say, “I got exactly what I came for. See you tomorry.”

#

I come by Walmark for the next couple weeks; every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. She only works them days. She talks, and I listen, and together we laugh about everythin’. I’m even wise to her boss, and every now and then pretend like I’m shoppin’ for a bit, so he don’t get suspicious. When he leaves, I come back and pick up where we left off. 

On the third Monday, I finally worked up the courage to ask her out. We went for a cup o’ Joe, and that’s when things got…romantic. But I’m a gentleman and I ain’t sharin’ much with you. You’ll just have to trust me when I say it went real well.

#

The next month was the best I’ve had in years. We done somethin’ every weekend together. Got the same taste in movies, too. Yep, she likes westerns. And she likes that Mark Harmon fella. Says he’s real cute. 

At this point, I moved to the next step of our relationship and invited her to my apartment for dinner. Now settle down. At my age, a date at home ain’t what it used to be. We got plans to watch some NCIS. And I’m makin’ dinner. I used to be a cook in the Navy, ya know. Even had a job in the Marriott kitchen, so I got what you kids call skills.

The doorbell rings.

She’s right on time. I like punctuality.

I open the door and can’t believe my eyes. “Michelle! What are you doin’ here?” I ask.

“Nice to see you too, dad.”

I apologize to her. “You caught me off guard, is all. Come in. Come in.”

“Why are you all dressed up?” she asks then sniffs at the air. “And what’s that smell?”

“Whaddya mean? It smells good, don’t it?”

“Doesn’t it,” she says, aways correctin’ me. I let that slide on account I’m in a particularly good mood this evenin’. “It smells fine,” she says. “I’m just surprised is all.”

“Uh-huh.” I close the door, and when I turn around, she’s in the kitchen.

“Making a several course dinner? Table set for two?” She raises an eyebrow and smiles. “You have a date.”

“So what if I do?” I say a bit too defensively than I ought to have.

“I didn’t mean anything by it,” she says. “I’m just surprised is all. And I’m happy for you. Kinda relieved, to be honest. All this time I thought you were here alone and—”

Suddenly, the doorbell rings.

Bernadette.

“Is that her?” Michelle asks. “I’ll let her in.”

“You’ll do no such thing,” I say.

“Whatever. If you want, I can escape through the balcony?” She laughs. Always makin’ jokes, that one.

“You’re fine right where you are,” I tell her. “But it’s my place and it’d be right gentlemanlike of me to be the one who greets her.”

She shrugs then plops down on the couch.

I open the door and catch my breath. “Bernadette, you look amazin’,” I say. “As usual.”

“You’re too kind, Roy,” she says. “And cute.”

The skin on my face is burnin’ now. I hold Bernadette’s hand as she steps over the threshold in her polished black shoes. She’s wearing a white collared shirt with gold dots underneath a cream button-down sweater. She looks around, smilin’ then notices my daughter.

“Oh, you have company. I’m sorry if I came at a bad time.”

Did I mention how considerate she is?

“Not at all,” I say. “This is my daughter, Michelle. She was just leavin’.”

Bernadette looks disappointed and says, “Too bad. I’ve heard so much about you. I was hoping to get to know you better.”

I step behind Bernadette and shake my head at Michelle.

“I can stay,” she says. “As long as my dad doesn’t mind.”

Brat.

“Of course,” I say. “I can’t think of a better way to spend the evenin’ than with my two favorite ladies.”

They sit at the table and I set another plate then rush around the kitchen like a hummin’ bird. Don’t want Michelle tellin’ any embarrassin’ stories about me while I’m not there to defend myself. I serve the food, finally and say grace, and then we dig in.

“Where did you two meet?” Michelle asks.

“Walmark,” I say. She gives me a look and I know what she’s thinking. I don’t care. I just sit there quietly, listenin’ as Bernadette tells the story.

I can’t tell you how good it feels to have company, again and no longer feel alone.

About the author

Jonathan Austen

Hello, and welcome to my creative madness. I'm a writer, an IT professional, and adventure seeker. Fueled by my passion for people, places, and new experiences, I pour a lot of my personal life into my characters and stories. 

Here, you'll find short stories and random thoughts for your enjoyment. So, check in regularly and discover something new.

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Jonathan Austen

Hello, and welcome to my creative madness. I'm a writer, an IT professional, and adventure seeker. Fueled by my passion for people, places, and new experiences, I pour a lot of my personal life into my characters and stories. 

Here, you'll find short stories and random thoughts for your enjoyment. So, check in regularly and discover something new.

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