I was standing third in the checkout line when I noticed her. In front,
the second shopper ahead of me. At first, I thought: This can’t be much
of a wait. Plus, the lead lady had all her bags checked out, in a pile.
She was an indeterminate sixty, her blond hair tastefully frosted, her
skin rosy pink under the fluorescent light. With her black suit and
matching loafers, she looked a bit too classy for this grocery store.
Maybe someone I’d want to be touched by. Not that other women I have
waited behind while shopping haven’t been attractive. This one just had
a certain extra something. She kept touching her bags, neatly piled at
the front of the counter.
The woman behind her, the one directly in front of me, was also blond
and also over 60. She wore an efficient tweed suit. While her groceries
waited on the conveyor belt, she tried to help her friend, touching her
arm, encouraging her while she fumbled for her credit card. Her hair
tumbled over her expensive leather purse as she touched every pocket and
zipper, peering in, murmuring to her helper, nodding to the checkout
lady. The checker, gray mop of hair cut into a rough pageboy, was
everybody’s grandma. Small and efficient, her right hand on her
register, she touched the waiting groceries with her other hand.
“Take your time,” she said, with an apologetic glance at me.
“No problem,” I smiled. “I’m retired. Got nothing but time.” I was
enjoying this pretty blond’s machinations and soft whispers.
I leaned back, as her friend asked, with a little poke, “Where is your
“Here it is,” she said in a soft breath. “It’s a gift card.” She pushed
back her glasses. Clear blue eyes peered into her purse. That gave me
time to travel down her black pants suit. I could see the pale tops of
her feet peeking over her loafers and imagined touching them as she
walked barefoot toward me over a plush carpet.
“I’m sorry,” she said to me. I smiled. With a gentle touch, her friend
plunged her hand into her buddy’s purse. She looked familiar. Like
someone you would meet at a coffee hour or working for some doctor.
“I’m terribly sorry,” blondie said, looking at me.
I waved generously. “That’s all right. Take your time.”
At this point, a third woman, another senior, moved behind me. She poked
my back with her two yogurts. I imagined them nipples touching me and
“You want to go ahead?”
“Oh no.” Now she touched me on the back with her finger. “I have time.”
“Yes,” I answered, “we have time.”
“And I have my gift card right here,” our leader raised her Gucci wallet
in triumph. “This was a gift from my husband.” Her friend breathed
impatiently as blondie slowly removed the card. “This is a gift card,
you see.” The checker nodded. She touched the raised letters and
numbers, then inserted it in the reader. When that failed, she inspected
the back of the card, then swiped it through the reader. Failed again.
The checker leaned over.
“Your card isn’t working.” Tweed suit plucked the card from her friend’s
hands. Now squeezing the plastic, she plunged the chip in. When that
didn’t work, she touched, then ran the stripe.
“Well?” Grandma checker stared at the register. “It’s not working.”
“I don’t understand it,” the shopper said softly as her friend handed it
back. “It worked just fine last time.” The checker shoved back her
“I’ll call the service desk.”
“Maybe there’s no money on it,” the friend said.
“Oh, that’s not possible. There are thousands and thousands of dollars
on it,” she said. “My husband bought it for me to make my life easier. I
used it recently … thousands and thousands of dollars.”
“Well. . .” The checker stepped out from behind the register and took
the card. She poked, she swiped. She shook her head. “It’s just not
working,” she said, and walked over to the service desk. The manager, a
young brunette trotted over. She peered at the card, touching it,
turning it over.
“Hmm, this is our store card.”
“Yes. My husband bought it for me. He put many thousands of dollars on
it. It worked just fine last week.”
The manager compressed her lips. She wrapped the card in a plastic bag,
then forced the chip end into the reader.
“Nothing.” She forcefully slid the striped edge through. She lowered her
nose to the reader. “This card isn’t working.”
“I don’t know what to say … thousands and thousands of dollars.” Tweed
suit was tottering impatiently on her heels. She began to tap her
groceries piled on the conveyor belt.
‘Two yogurts’ standing behind me said, “Lord, isn’t this all just too
touching?” and moved to another aisle.
“Maybe your card has no money on it,” Tweedy suggested. “Come on, we
have to go.” The manager took the card over to the service desk. I
smiled at the checker. We all leaned forward expectantly.
“Your card has a balance of zero. I’m sorry,” said the manager, handing
“Maybe the manager can tell you when the last transaction took place,” I
volunteered, touched by her plight.
“No, I can’t do that. It’s zero.”
“There’s an 800 number on the back. Maybe you can call that,” said the
friend, pointing. My blond touched, then turned the card over in her
hands. She sighed.
“I could use one of my bank cards. You know, my husband bought this for
me to make life easier.” Rubbing, tenderly replacing the card in her
wallet, she looked at me for a long moment. “Then he died. My husband
My eyes filled with tears. I touched the wet lids, thinking of my own
wife. I imagined her left alone. And I hadn’t even bought her a store
card. “I am sorry.” My vision blurred, but I was ashamed to touch my
eyes further and wipe away tears in front of these women.
“Oh well,” she said as the friend assisted her in running her bank card
through the reader.
“It worked,” said the checker, kissing her fingers, she raised her hands
to the sky.
“Yes, I think I’ll call the 800 number. Better than that, I’ll talk to
my son. He’s a banker,” she said, smiling and nodding to me. Made me
imagine being touched by her lips. The checker fanned Tweedy’s purchases
into their bags quickly, as though fearing another interruption. Pushing
their pyramid of groceries in an oversize cart, the two women
disappeared into the parking lot. I touched and wiped my face quietly
and checked out.