Today there was a man a couple of customers ahead of me in line at a local store. He was placing a cartload of hangers– 70 or 80 plastic aqua ones– on the conveyer belt. A stranger behind him made a comment I couldn’t hear, but he answered Yeah, my wife wants to change out all the hangers. Here I am. The things we do for love.
I can imagine his wife standing in front of her closet, waiting for him to come back home. Banishing those plain white hangers. Lining every garment up just so. Are the clothes laid out on the bed? Has she counted to make sure she has the right amount? Why aqua? Why today?
I cannot imagine why he is the one sent to get them. Maybe she was at a critical point in the purging process. Maybe they argued. Maybe this was a set-things-right trip. Maybe he’s a good guy and offered. Maybe he was out and she called and said Bring me 80 aqua hangers. Aqua. You know like blue or green but not. K. Love u.
This was all he had in his cart. Hangers. And then he reached over and threw in a candy bar for good measure. He’ll eat that before he gets out of the parking lot. Secret reward.
Are the hangers just for her clothes? Do they share a closet? Why aqua? Why now? Why am I writing about this?
My turn comes. How are you? I ask the cashier.
She answers, Well, I hate when people ask me that because they don’t really want to know.
Well, lay it on me, I tell her.
My back hurts…I think I screwed it up nine years ago when I fell on some ice.
We get interrupted for a second. She calls another clerk over to help her colleague in the next aisle.
Can you believe this? He is leaving here to go in the Marines in two weeks, but he can’t ring up wine and beer. He’s only 19. I sure would buy him a beer if he wanted one. My son was in the Army. He died in 2011.
Ma’am. I cannot imagine.
Honey, I would not want you to.
She’s wiping away tears. Looks me in the eye. Shrugs. Rings my remaining items.
Yeah, I fell down on some ice. Hurts worse when I sit down. Glad to be standing up. You have a good weekend now.
Yes ma’am. You too. You, too.
Stories and strangers and seconds long conversations every shift. Every day.
I keep thinking about those aqua hangers though. And now that image is connected with a kid I never knew who never came home. And he won’t be buying aqua hangers for any woman. And his mama will tell a story about him that maybe she didn’t expect to tell. And now you’ll know it too. And I’ll wish I could have bought that man a beer.
And on it goes.