Gerry walked into the hardware store. He knew exactly what he wanted. He knew where the hoe and rakes were, about six aisles deep into the store. He was several yards in when he heard, “Ahem . . . excuse me.” He turned and found himself staring at two golden brown colored agate eyes peering at him over a COVID mask. “I’m sorry, but you can’t come in here without wearing a mask.” Gerry said, “Damn it (more to himself than anyone else) . . . I always have my mask.” The girl just looked at him, her head nodding a bit . . . just enough to let him think that she didn’t believe him. Gerry continued “I’m only picking up a couple of things. I’d probably have them in my hands right now if you hadn’t stopped me.” Gerry knew he was wrong, but now he was getting defensive and he didn’t want to back down to this little snippet of a girl.
“I’m sorry, but you can’t come in here without wearing a mask, “she said again. Gerry looked at her and said, “Yes, you already told me that.” The girl looked over his head and behind him like she was seeking help. “I’m sorry, but . . .” Gerry jumped in, ” . . . you can’t come in here without wearing a mask.” The girl looked down and away. “I . . . I can’t remember what I’m supposed to say next.” Was that a tear he saw edging from her eye and starting to wet the pale blue paper mask? Gerry’s mind flashed to a vision of her wearing a mask with cute tiny flowers all over it instead of an industrial version. Gerry could sense that other people were watching the two of them. The girl was maybe a second from starting to cry. Gerry saw a couple customers coming to put their oars in the water . . . or perhaps to do him damage.
Gerry could feel a tickle in his throat and he thought to myself, “I will not cough, I will not cough . . .” just as a cough erupted from his throat . . . “I’m not sick . . . (cough) . . . (cough).” The girl backed away . . . the customers backed away . . . He held up his hands in surrender just as a burly looking man in a red vest with a name tag and wearing a mask walked up and said, “Is there a problem?” The girl shook her head and said nothing. Gerry shook his head and said nothing. The crowd of people shrugged their shoulders, but a couple nodded their heads and rolled their eyes.
Gerry, choking back a cough . . . finally said, “I forgot my mask and this nice young lady was reminding me that I had to wear one to shop here. My mind was elsewhere.” Little Miss Snippet quietly explained, “I was just about to offer him a disposable mask when he started choking.” Gerry explained, “I wasn’t really choking. I’d been eating peanuts . . . and uh . . . uh . . .” The burly guy said, “No problem, two of our clerks came in early this morning to watch a training program on overcoming objections to wearing a mask. We just want to make sure everything goes smoothly.” Before Gerry could speak Little Miss Snippet offered him a mask, which he fumbled with getting it on. Burly guy walked away and Little Miss Snippet said, “Thank you. This is my first day on the job.”
Gerry laughed and said, “I’m just glad we weren’t by the garden tools. I think several of the customers might have grabbed a pitchfork to work me over. “They both laughed. Gerry continued, “You seem pretty young to be working here.” Little Miss Snippet said, “I’m just two years younger than you are.” Gerry did a double-take and took a closer look. “I was going into the tenth grade when you were a senior.” Gerry, acting quickly lied, “Oh, yeah, I remember you . . . uh . . .” “Jenny! No you don’t. Besides, both of us are students at the university, well, virtual students at the virtual university, anyway.”
Gerry slowly pulled his mask up high enough to cover his eyes, his nose and his mouth . . . but not before he checked out her finger for a ring. “Double damn, Gerry. What else can you do wrong here today, “he thought to himself. “Oh, well . . . here goes.” “Are you free for dinner tonight?” Jenny’s eyes sparkled as she said, “No,” and she shook her head, “Not unless you show up with a mask.”