By Benjamin Epstein:
I remember the day I met her like it was yesterday. How could I not, it was yesterday.
I remember how the sun was shining, the birds were singing, and the trees were doing that thing trees do where they stand still and don’t move.
I remember driving towards Trader Joes in my Toyota convertible, cruising along the avenue, and being flipped off by a guy because I didn’t see him and almost ran him over.
I remember walking into Trader Joes, buying various products, and taking the free sample, turmeric.
It wasn’t long till I had bought all of the things that I had wanted to buy. I then went to the front to purchase my items. That’s when I saw her, in all her beauty. She was standing behind the checkout counter wearing a green uniform. Her eyes were like diamonds and her hair was like a waterfall of dead skin cells.
She was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen, except for maybe the grand canyon and a sculpture of a bird made out of hamburger buns that I recently saw when I visited Pittsburgh. She was the kind of girl with an ordinary amount of ears and skin that was mostly over her bones.
I knew then, in that moment, that I was in love.
I remember staring into the depths of her eyes as she uttered, “Would you like paper or plastic?”
However, I didn’t care about paper or plastic. Instead, I decided that it was time for me to put on the charm. I spoke:
“Hey, what’s your name?”
“Uhhh… Christine,” she said. “It says my name on the badge.”
“Oh, oh yeah.” I stammered, briefly flummoxed. “I knew that. I was just making sure that you knew that. You know, it’s important to know your name. Anyways, uhmmm…” I tried to think of something to say. “So, what’s a girl like you doing in a Trader Joes like this?”
“I work here.” she said.
I nodded, sweat glazing my face like glaze on a glazed donut. “So, yeah, wow, you must be auhm… you know, a usual. Usual person.”
She sighed, “Would you like paper or plastic?”
I couldn’t take it any more, I had to ask her out.
“Will you go out with me?” I blurted, the words tripping off of the tip of my tongue. “What?” she said.
“W-will you go out with me…” I stammered, my old social anxiety creeping through my brain.
She looked at me, and the air seemed to hang in the air.
Finally, she spoke. “Okay. Where?”
I was filled with elation at this news. It was wonderful! At that moment I was so happy, I felt like I was at the supermarket.
“Yippee!” I shouted. Then I remembered that I had to be cool to impress her. “I mean, ah, yes, thank you very much. Ahm… how about Francesco's over on Fifth Street at say… 7 pm tomorrow night? Are- are you free then?”
She looked at me and shrugged. “Yeah, sure.”
Oh, this was wonderful news. I was full of joy and happiness and organs. I wanted to sing, but I didn’t because I was in a public space.
I practically skipped my way away from the checkout desk, I was so happy. I made my way to the door and it felt like I was walking on air. And I was. I forgot that there were stairs leading down from the door and I ended up falling.
Thankfully, I was unharmed, but I then realized that I had left my bags in the store. So, I went back, grabbed them, and ran back out, this time making sure to not trip on the steps.
I was filled with joy as I drove home, and I was awash with happiness as I lay in bed that night, and I was lost in a dreamland of euphoria throughout the entirety of the next day.
Then, the time arrived. The date. Oh, I was so happy I could have sung!
I remembered walking through the restaurant, and there I saw her, sitting at a table. She was wearing the most gorgeous dress. It was black. Her hair was just like it was at the grocery store and her eyes were also the same.
I walked over to the table.
“Hello.” I said
“Hi.” she said.
The rest of the night was like a dream. We talked, but I mostly talked. There was just something about her that made my words roll off of my tongue in droves.
I talked about how I had a boring desk job at a pencil company, but my deepest desire was always to be a writer.
I had tomato puree on bread with a mozzarella sauce. And Christine had cheese. Just cheese. A big block of cheese. I don’t know why they served that. Nevertheless, she ate all of it. Every last bite.
Dinner was eaten, the bill was paid, and we went outside. It was there, outside the restaurant, that Christine spoke, “So...how about you show me your place?”
I was elated.
We took an Uber over to my place. The car ride was fairly quiet. I realized that such an action was not very date-like, but I just didn’t know what to do, so we sat in mostly silence while the Uber driver played some very unpleasant sounding music.
However, we eventually arrived at the apartment complex that I live in.
The elevator took us to my floor, and then our legs took us to my apartment.
We both entered my apartment. It isn’t a nice place, but it’s a place. I have the usual sort of furnishings for an apartment: a tv, a couch, a life size wax sculpture of Elvis Presley that I got as a birthday present and never had the heart to return. I don’t know why I was given it, I don’t even like Elvis Presley.
“Here it is,” I said as I walked in. “It’s not much but it’s a-”
It was at this point that I heard the click of a gun barrel. I turned around to find Christine pointing a gun at me.
This caught me rather off guard, seeing as that was a rather unusual occurrence. “Uh…” I said “Okay… uhm, is this like, roleplay?”
Her eyes narrowed, “Where are your valuables.” she said. It was a question, but she said it more like a command.
The sprinklers that were my sweat glands started to go off.
“Please tell me that this is some kind of roleplay.” I said.
“You wish.” She pointed the gun so it was right in front of my face, about a gerbil’s distance away from my nose.
I stared into the awful mouth of the gun. It almost seemed to lick its lips in anticipation. The kiss I was expecting was from a human mouth, not from the mouth of a gun. It was then my fight or flight instinct kicked in. However, I couldn’t decide between flying or fighting so instead I just stood there.
“Uhhhhh…” I said. My head was like a copier that was not working in that my head was not working and all that was coming out was a weird noise “Uhhh…” I continued. She hit me across the face with the gun and my body fell onto the floor like a bird with unusually heavy bones.
“Where are your valuables!” she yelled.
“I don’t have any valuables!” I replied, the words spurting from my mouth “I have nothing to take! Please, please don’t hurt me!”
“Shut up!” She yelled “Now tell me where your valuables are!”
“Wait- which one do you want me to do?!” I yelled.
She blinked and then yelled back at me
“Give me your wallet!”
“Okay, that just confuses me more. Do you want me to shut up, tell you where my valuables are, or give you my wallet?”
“Gaaah!” she yelled “You are insufferable! Shut up, then give me your wallet, then, after that, tell me where you keep your valuables!”
“You really need to work on your communication skills.” I said.
“I don’t need communication skills.” she said “I have a fucking gun!”
“Oh, oh yea…” I then quickly fumbled around in my pocket and then pulled out my wallet, my hand shaking like a cat that had swallowed an electric toothbrush. I was still on the ground, and she had the gun pointed down at me, like the scene from that one movie I watched in college. “Can I keep the photo of my grandmother?” I said, meekly.
“C-can I keep the photo of my grandmother?” I said “It’s, it’s well, it’s the only one I have…” “Why don’t you have more photos of her?”
“I… wh… I… can I just please take the photo out?”
She seemed to be very annoyed by the question.
“Fine!” she shouted.
The shaky sausages known as my fingers flipped through my wallet. I tried to take out the photo of my grandmother, but my hands were shaking so much that my credit cards all fell out. “Shhhingles!” I said (I have a habit of replacing swear words)
“Goddamnit!” she screamed “Why can’t you do anything right! Pick those stupid things up!” “O-o wait what?!” I did a double take “Y-you… what do you mean, I can’t do anything right?” My lip began to quiver like jello that someone had just frightened.
She looked at me strangely.
“W-what do you mean I can’t do anything right?” I began to blubber “A-am… do you think I’m a… loser?”
“No… well, yes…”
Tears began to form on the lids of my eyes.
She looked at me and sighed “B-because… well, first off, the way you were acting at Trader Joes…”
My sobbing grew louder and tears began to flow from my eyes “I’m a loser!!” I sobbed. “I’m a big, stupid loser!”
She sighed “Oh for the love of…”
I continued to cry “I’m a loser! I’m a stupid loser and I’ll never become a writer because I’m so stupid…”
She sighed again and kneeled down next to me “No, no, no… you’re not a loser… you’re just… just…”
“WAAAaahhh!!” I said.
She patted me on the back “Hey...hey… don’t cry, hey, hey… come on…” I hugged her.
“O-okay…” she said as I sobbed into her shoulder like she was a human sized tissue.
She wriggled herself away from me.
“Look,” she said, “I don’t really think you’re a loser. You’re just not very good around people, and you’re kind of...I don’t know… I guess you are a loser b-but in like, you know, a likable way… you know? Like someone from a sit-com. You’re a likable loser.”
I wiped my tears away “Do you really think that?” I said.
“Of course…” she said “I think that you’re a very likable loser. The only reason why I’m robbing you is because well, you know- I need money…”
I sigh escaped my lips “You still broke my heart.” I said
There was a silence.
Finally she spoke, “Okay, uhmmm, this is kind of weird… so I’m just going to leave. Bye.” I merely watched as she put her gun back into her pocket and walked out. I tried to blurt out a goodbye, but she had already closed the door behind her.
I never saw her again.
She was my brightest and quickest passion, a brief spark of love that went as soon as it came and came as soon as it went.
I still think of her sometimes. I remember her eyes, and the way she held that gun, and the way she yelled at me to give her my money. I know I’ll remember her for as long as I live, or at least until next Tuesday. She’ll live on in my heart like a parasitic tapeworm, squirming around and feeding off of my energy. Maybe, someday, we’ll meet again, in this life or the next. Maybe our paths will cross and we can share a moment and talk about what was and what could have been.
But until then, we’ll always have Trader Joes.