Here’s the draft of a short-short story:
Water splashed underfoot as Manuel walked down the line for at least the hundredth time this morning. Raised umbrellas helped keep shoppers the required six-feet apart. He watched a woman get out of a silver Lexus, leaving three kids with faces pressed against the windows. She took a place at the end of the line and raised her umbrella, a bit late as her wet T-shirt revealed “headlights on” and deep cleavage. No mask.
“Lady, you’re not getting into WalMart without a mask,” Manuel said. “Put one on, or get back to your car.” He’d given up saying “please” weeks ago, not long after the store announced its mask mandate.
All heads turned to watch the encounter. The man in front of the woman stepped aside, giving her a wide berth.
“You don’t understand,” she wailed. “I desperately need marshmallows.”
“I understand perfectly,” Manuel said. “You’re spewing germs and putting these good people at risk for your essential marshmallows.”
The woman, who looked vaguely familiar, stood her ground. Manuel wanted to drag her to her Lexus, but he obeyed the store’s “never touch” rule. Could there be a crappier time to lose a job? “Who do you think you are, a Kardashian?”
Chuckles came from the line, and a deep voice said, “She’s the broad in that loan-shark commercial.” The speaker then thrust out his chest, and in a mocking all-too-bright voice said, ‘I got my title back at TitleBack.’”
“Hah, a Kardashian wanna-be,” someone called out. “Entitled.”
A few groans sounded.
The woman leaned toward Manuel, her Botoxed lips parted. He thought she was coming onto him, but there was a plea in her eyes and voice. “My little boy has leukemia, and he can’t swallow pills unless I put them in marshmallows.”
Manuel went weak. “I’m sorry. Wait here. Don’t get close to anyone.” He strode to the store’s front door where his co-worker, sheltered from the rain, clicked her handheld counter and let three shoppers enter. “Cheryl, do you have an extra mask?”
She reached into her fanny pack and pulled out a cloth mask. “Will this do?”
Manuel took it from her. “Thanks. Trade you places in forty minutes, OK?”
She grimaced, but returned his fist bump. “Bet you the rain will be over.”
Manuel returned to the TitleBack woman and waited while she placed the mask over her face and slipped the elastic loops behind her ears. He couldn’t be certain, but was that a smirk behind the face covering?
After that, the line moved in orderly fashion. Manuel just wanted everything to be over: the rain that chilled his feet and legs, the line of shoppers that never ended, the disease that ravaged his mother’s lungs.
He kept checking the time on his phone. Thirty-seven minutes had passed when the TitleBack woman emerged from the store with a bag in hand. One of her kids dashed from the Lexus, snatched the bag from her, and looked inside. He turned back toward the car, waving the bag and hollered, “Hey, guys, Mom’s gonna make s’mores.”
Do these strange times inspire you to write? I love hanging out with my early 20th century characters in New Mexico, but I just got an urge to write this story.