Power Trip

Deborah Hendrick on Wednesday, November 15th, 2006

If Delano hadn’t been so tired, maybe it would have worked out differently. But the clerk was rude to all the customers in front of her, and then when he rang up her gallon jug of milk and loaf of bread, dish-washing soap, can of automatic transmission fluid, and two Butterfingers, the total was wrong. Politely, she said, “Oh, but you can’t charge tax on the bread and milk, only on snack-size foods, or one serving size.” She spoke clearly, and smiled at the man.

The clerk, tired from a long day of cheating the state and short-changing his customers, became enraged and told her she could pay the price or leave the store. So Delano tried again, because some times new clerks didn’t understand the regulations. “How long have you worked here Sir? Maybe you don’t understand what things are taxed and what is exempt.”

“Get out of my store, woman.” He cursed at her, and his skillful blending of English, Spanish, and some other eastern European language was far more lyrical that Delano would have imagined.

“Please,” she tried a third time, “Would you ring up everything again?” But he swore at her again, berating Delano and her mother, for daring to tell him how to run his business.

“Here, Lady,” said the tired man behind her, “Let me pay the tax so we can all go home.”

“You are very kind, Sir,” said Delano, with an old-world cadence of her own, “and I thank you for your offer, but no.” So Delano stepped away from the counter and went outside. When the suit-clad man who’d offered to buy her groceries came out, she asked him for his business card, and offered him one of her own. “And save your receipt, please, until you hear from me again.”

Delano left, and drove across the parking lot to the restaurant next door. She leaned against the fender of her car where the clerk could see her, and stood there in the slushy remains of an early season snow, except she was unaccountably hot and had unbuttoned her down-filled coat, revealing her well-advanced state of pregnancy.

The clerk watched and cursed some more, while she made a series of phone calls on her cell phone. If she was calling her husband—well, he’d throw him out too, when he showed up.

When he looked up from his register again, he found three County Sheriff’s cars blocking the parking lot, and a white car with a state emblem on the side parked next to the woman’s car. Two deputies were padlocking his gas pumps, and a third one was barring the door, to keep anyone else from coming in. Soon a very enthusiastic young man, who looked all of twenty-three, and the pregnant woman walked back into his store.

She opened a thick leather wallet, and showed him her badge and identification from the state comptroller’s office, while murmuring something about suspicion of tax fraud. The young man introduced himself as Jonas Frank, and then displayed his bona fides to the angry clerk, who now appeared to be gargling in some mythological tongue, but it didn’t matter anymore. As for the deputy standing with them, he was wearing his credentials on his chest and hip.

About an hour later, as Delano and Jonas were well into the lock-down process, she gasped and clutched her belly, and grabbed Jonas’s arm so hard that her fingers left five little bruises. She felt a rush of water. The deputy guarding her carefully helped her into his cruiser and drove her to the hospital, staying with her until her husband arrived.

It was three months later that Delano stopped by the little store again, on her way home from work. The parking lot was pristine, and inside the walls were freshly painted and bright, and the whole place gleamed. Into a small basket she gathered bread and milk, Pampers, a can of spray starch, and two Butterfingers.

When her turn arrived at the counter she was relieved to see that the cashier’s total agreed with hers. Because Delano’s secret, occasionally troublesome gift, was the ability to calculate percentages and sums in her head as quickly and correctly as others could look at a digital clock and tell the time. Then her heart soared with delight as the shy young girl behind the cash register counted back Delano’s change, out loud and into her hand.

“Thank you,” said Delano, and “welcome to the neighborhood.”

Topics: Short stories

One Response to “Power Trip”

Kelly Says:
November 15th, 2006 at 2:08 pm

I liked it. K


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