This story is by Barry Herbert Parmeter and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
Through no fault of his own, Gene realized more than he could see, hear or document.
So when he read the temperature at -6°F, he realized it was actually -13°F to -18°F due to the 10 – 15 mph gusting windchill and, at 11:15 PM, still needing 3,000+ steps to complete his 10,000 step daily regimen, Gene retreated to his local 24 hour Meijer Store where, at 11:57 PM, his 10,023rd step found him the last of 8 in the only open checkout lane.
That lane was already delayed due to a young mother’s series of credit, debit and food cards which were denied. The night shift change of both manager and cashier further complicated a timely resolution.
Unaccustomed to being bored, Gene’s insatiable curiosity milked his privileged position in line to check out the customers ahead of him who could not yet check out!
Meijer’s huge windows seemed to be transformed into 39 weather webcams providing a panoramic view of the parking lot debris being tossed about which dreadfully mesmerized most in line. His bearing and demeanor were perfectly reflected in his attire: his Armani wool-cashmere long coat, textured silk scarf, Briani Vanquish II suit, Berluti shoes and cashmere lined lambskin gloves.
What grabbed Gene’s attention was the gentleman immediately in front of him.
The apparent calm emanating from within him stunningly contrasted with the outside chaos.
His bearing and demeanor were perfectly reflected in his attire: his Armani wool-cashmere long coat, textured silk scarf, Briani Vanquish II suit, Berluti shoes and cashmere lined lambskin gloves.
Who was this man? He was not the king wearing no clothes. Was he a Statesman? An Ambassador? Vice Admiral commanding our Seventh Fleet? Had this gentleman ever stepped foot in a Wal-Mart, Target or Meijer store before tonight?
Then Gene realized the man’s stage 8 intensity! Was he a Zen Master? Was he practicing Yoga? Was he in a trance? He seemed so preoccupied that he seemed oblivious to the frustration of the checkout delay.
Gene even changed his own blinking pattern just to see if the gentleman even blinked. Nope! He did not.
OMG! Gene now realized more than he wanted to know. Gene realized that inside this man was being torn apart. He was so overwhelmed that he was oblivious!
Gene felt compelled to reach out to him and hundreds of thoughts came to mind: none of which could have ever crossed the chasm. He seemed beyond reach.
Then Gene realized what was missing. The gentleman was missing a hat! Bingo!
Having no idea of what he was about to say, Gene, shooting from the hip in his usual ‘Shoot-Ready-Aim” style. feigned a bully and while shaking his finger in the gentleman’s face, he outrageously scolded him:
“If I ever catch you out here in this kind of weather again WITHOUT WEARING YOUR HAT, I’m going to TELL YOUR MOTHER ON YOU!”
Both Gene and the Man heard those 25 words for the first time: at the same time.
Gene chuckled slightly hoping to elicit a smile. Thst did not happen!
Rather in his gentle manner, he listened to Gene more intently and respectfully than Gene had ever experienced.
Though only 20 – 25 seconds of thoughtful, ponderous silence had passed, it seemed longer than it takes the light of our sun to reach earth.
His only response was nonverbal: An 1/8 of an inch nod of his head in agreement before he retreated back across the chasm.
Totally embarrassed. Gene thought to himself “That was crazy! What an idiot am I!” He was right on both accounts!
Gene turned obliquely away to escape those 25 outrageous words, to minimize and deny they were ever spoken when he felt a warm,gentle but warm hand on his left shoulder. Turning back, the man’s face was 4 inches in front of his.
Most graciously, the still nameless gentleman ssid:
“I want to thank you! I want to thank you for MENTIONING MY MOTHER! When I leave here (12:20 AM), I am going to visit my Mother. She is very sick. (Gene heard ‘sick unto death’). About an hour ago I took my Mother to the Emergency Room at Henry Ford Hospital just down the road.
Neither the Doctor nor any of the Medical Staff – not even I myself – expect her to be alive when I return. If she is alive, it will only be only for an hour or so and she will be unconscious.
There was another emergency in our family and someone needed something from this store. Due to old age and night driving, there was no one else who could get it, so I had to leave my dying Mother!
Now – this situation here – I was immobilized: I couldn’t leave and I couldn’t stay! I did not know what I was going to do!, I was torn apart inside! I just had to tell someone! I just had to tell someone!”
Then from deep down within himself beyond the depths of his own despair, he painfully and pitifully groane:”THERE WAS NO ONE TO TELL! THERE WAS NO ONE TO TELL!”
When you mentioned my Mother, I knew I could tell you!
Thank you so much for MENTIONING MY MOTHER. I knew I could tell you.
Without ever breaking eye contact, both stood in awe in a sacred silence on sacred ground; not even the checkout line moved.
Gene then heard, “You and I both know that what just happened here will not change anything on the other end. But I want to thank you because I am already OK! I am already OK with whatever happens, whenever it happens, however it happens!
Thank you so much for mentioning my Mother!
Two nameless stranger – A Mother’s Only Son’ and an ‘Outrsgeous Tattletale’ – now eternally bonded, parted each to his own endeavors.