Closer to Paul

by Patti Jazanoski Read author interview September 15, 2005

The retarded guy that works at Walgreen’s is following me around the store again. I’m standing in the tampon aisle, the one that’s kryptonite to the boys from school but with this guy it’s not working. I’m holding OB Ultra Plus and he’s charging towards me wearing tan cargo pants, plaid shirt, and the requisite blue vest that hangs open over his pot belly. He’s clumping down the aisle like he doesn’t get it. I skirt the corner, turn up the shampoo row, cut across the main thoroughfare to the end of the store, down the row with food and back up in front of the cooler section. I could really go for an iced mocha.

I try to decide between low fat milk or full cream. I haven’t had any snacks all day.

“I like your walk,” he says. I look up, startled. No one’s ever told me that before. Janice and Jandalee and all those girls have got the walk down. I plod.

He’s staring at me, not really smiling but there’s a slight quivering in his lip. He’s going to say something more. His coarse blond hair is plastered down the way somebody’s mother would do it.

“You have a nice walk,” he says in case I hadn’t heard him the first time. Or maybe to broadcast to half the store, he’s talking so loudly.

“Thanks.” I look in the cooler, away from him.

“You work at that other store,” he says, “The one downtown.”

“That’s right.” I get this from time to time. When people see me away from the Five and Dime they sometimes get excited and remind me where I work, like I’m a celebrity in my home town.

“I’ve seen you there. You work the register.”

He is edging towards me and I open the cooler door. It’s glass, of course, so I can still see him, but I’m glad it opens out between us. He shuffles back. I step into the cloud of cool and feel goose bumps rise; I’m wearing a tank top and my Hawaiian print board shorts. I ponder one last second and pull down a bottle of coffee. Low fat.

“I can work the register, too,” he says. His body is shaking just a little, like he’s got a neurological disease on top of everything else. “I can ring you up.”

“That’s OK.” I turn away and walk down the aisle the opposite direction. For about ten seconds this feels like a good idea, because I don’t have to pass him and I don’t have to get any closer, but then I realize he is watching me from behind and I can’t wait to get to the end of the row. I turn the corner, cut down Food again, half expecting to see him standing there, but the coast is clear. I notice they now sell Cap n’ Crunch with Crunchberries.

I thread my way to the cash register in front, and get in line, holding the bottle which is very cold. There is one person in front of me so I wait. The air conditioning in this store is too high, like they are trying to show off. The Five and Dime never sets up fans until August.

I’m standing in line wondering if he is watching me but I refuse to look. I remember his face from a minute ago, the first time I stood so close to him, a few feet away, almost too close for strangers. He has a man’s moustache—no doubt about it—not the wimpy strips of hair the guys at my school have. He has blue eyes, too, something I never noticed before. Not Paul Newman blue, but close. Closer to Paul than I’ve ever seen in this town.

About the Author:

Patti Jazanoski is a graduate of the Creative Writing program at the University California Santa Cruz. She lives and works along the central coast of California.

About the Artist:

A native of Ohio, Marty D. Ison lives with his wife transplanted in the sands of the Gulf of Mexico. He studied fine arts at Saint Petersburg College. In addition to the visual arts, he writes poetry, short stories, and novels. See more of Ison's work here.