Alfred hated coming to this same convenience store, but he had to. It was no strange compulsion that made him wander through empty, winding streets, past run-down hotels and restaurants; he loved her. The urge to please her choked his shame, and soothed those burning inhibitions that would have stopped him long before he entered the convenience store. Besides, she was so forgetful that Alfred couldn’t rely on her even for this. He paused before entering the store to look at the October fog settling along the rain-soaked city—stray cat drinking water from a puddle across the street. I wonder what is it that made that cat leave his home? Can’t ask. He couldn’t answer. Turning back to the store, Alfred saw the clerk at the register, her long dark hair flowing carelessly around her face. She tossed it back, smiling. She always smiled.
Her name was Mary, but her nametag read “Pieta.” Pi-e-ta. It was such a beautiful name. All the women who came regularly into the store would talk about her in whispers—coming and going as they pleased. You look wonderful today, Pieta! What is a girl like that doing working there? What an intimidating sight she was. Alfred began fidgeting with his wedding ring as the blood rushed to his cheeks. He felt nervous again. He prepared his face, trying to hold back the blushing, and walked through the automatic doors. Indecision plagued his mind, as two women left the store, whispering “Pieta” as they passed him. Pieta, the blessed virgin, her pale marble skin cool and comforting—graceful, nurturing, beautiful.
Shame burned in Alfred’s mind as Pieta smiled at him.
—Back again, Mr. Stearns?
Her voice always made him nervous; it was so innocent, but so knowing. She knew what he came for, and her coy smile showed it. Alfred wondered if he should just turn around—if he dared face her again. She continued to stare at him, his hair thinning and body wiry but youth still apparent in his demeanor; Alfred nodded at her in reply and made his way through the store, glancing at the coffee spoons as he passed them. A spoonful for each morning in his life. Spoonful. Born. Spoonful when he married. Spoonful when he first came to this store. Spoonful again and again and again, caffeine freeflowing through his veins, exciting his heart and stimulating his mind. From the back room of the convenience store came the dying strains of a soft-playing radio.
Pieta’s gaze rested on him; he knew her eyes. Deep and brown they teased over his figure. He could feel them. Alfred pocketed his ringed left hand. Why did she have to stare? She knew how uncomfortable that made him. He knew he shouldn’t make such a big deal out of it. Really, this kind of thing happens all the time. Men and women come and go, and sometimes men in love do things they normally wouldn’t. The bracelets on Pieta’s bare arms reflected the lights into Alfred’s lonely, shameful eyes. He was afraid of her, a little, but he knew that love gripped the mind more strongly than fear. Ignorance crowned fear—a furious tyrant dethroned by knowledge.
Alfred walked past the marmalade and tea.
—So what are you here for? Pieta asked him. The usual I presume?
Should I tell her? She knows. Well, I’ll tell her.
—You mean the peach yogurt?
—That’s not what I meant at all.
She smiled at him again. That threw his nerves, as usual. But it was impossible for him to tell the truth. He knew better than to be embarrassed in front of her; she knew his mind better than he knew hers, still—impossible to say exactly.
Alfred grabbed the peach yogurt at the back of the store. May as well start the scene—be of some use. Cautiously, Alfred approached the register, he felt almost ridiculous. I always play the fool, here. That Pieta still respected him surprised him, but, though she knew his awkward social capacities, especially in this situation, she saw how he overpowered it. Sacrificed himself for her. That sacrifice dug its way deep into Pieta’s lonely heart and instilled in her a sense of duty; she had to love him.
—Do you want a bag for your items? She asked, ringing up his total.
Fifteen minutes later, Alfred winked at Pieta as he left the store; she blushed and smiled back at him. It was still wet outside, and Alfred rolled the bottoms of his pant-legs in preparation for the walk home. He took his left hand back out of his pocket and walked home with his bag.
His wife lay on the couch, bloated and irritable like some beached whale, softly singing her whalesong. The TV was on, but muted, and her wart-ridden nose pulsated in the flickering light. On her cheeks and forehead she wore a hideous seaweed mask, supposedly to exfoliate her skin; Alfred sighed to himself as he wondered if it really did anything other than make her reek of the ocean.
—What took you so long? She asked.
—You know me, he said, sometimes I walk a little slowly.
A lie, but not a big one. A moment of weakness and indecision didn’t make him guilty. Besides, what could she expect of him? He wasn’t made of stone.
—A little slowly?
Incredulous. Crap. Well, might as well tell the truth.
—Fine. Alfred sighed. I got embarrassed again. I spent fifteen minutes blathering out an explanation to Pieta.
—Al, she laughed, you need to grow up. Just be direct about things. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about.
—I know. I can never say just what I mean. Oh, and I got that peach yogurt you like, too, if you want that later.
She was his beautiful beached whale, her pulsating warts wreathed with the stink of rotting seaweed, and no one could compare to her. He smiled as he reached into the plastic bag and tossed her the box of tampons.
I want the bomb
I want the P-funk!
My band is better than yours...
I want the P-funk!
My band is better than yours...