In the men’s department at Macy’s, an old man is buying underwear. Stooped and slow, he shuffles his small shuffle steps to the counter three times with arms full. He wears a once-tailored blue serge double-breasted suit that now hangs greedily about him. His suit pants are doubled over in front, fly askew. The belt is cinched tight, the end disappearing somewhere behind him, and his white shirt, now yellowed, hangs poncho like even though it’s tucked into his pants.
His old man’s shiny pink scalp shows through his sparse covering of pure white hair, his face shaved smooth reveals eighty-plus years of lines and blood vessels. He checks the tag of each item with a pocket magnifier.
A teenage salesgirl remembers her beloved grandfather being buried in a similar suit a few months earlier and doesn’t take her eyes from him. “Going on a trip?” she asks.
“No,” he says and shuffles off.
“Sixteen pairs of shorts is a lot to buy at once,” she says on his return. “Most people buy only a three or at most a six package. That is usually good for several years — wouldn’t you say?”
The old man looks at the salesgirl, “This will save me the trouble of shopping too often.”
“Underwear is not returnable,” she says. “How do you know you’ll be the same size?”
“I know,” he answers; so calmly that it infuriates her.
“How can you be so sure? No one can know,” she says, her voice rising. Her anger is in adverse proportion to his serenity.
The salesgirl won’t let it go. “But what about your suit?” she asks.
The old man pauses. He looks into her hostile eyes.
“Well? What about your suit?” she insists. “Look how much your size has changed.”
“I’ve had this suit a long time. It’s too good to get rid of. What’s it to you? Why do you care?”
Looking at her nails and not at him, she answers, “I’m only doing my job.”
“No. This is not your job. As a matter-of-fact you’re being nosy and rude.” He speaks as if age gives him permission to speak the truth uncouched in pleasantries.
She turns red, bites her bottom lip, and stares at him through misty eyes.
“And you probably think I shouldn’t buy green bananas either?” he says.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” she asks, feeling a putdown she doesn’t understand.
He walks to the sock aisle where he loads his arms with 100% white cotton socks, which he brings back and dumps on the counter. Defiantly, he heads for the tee shirts.
Paul Beckman’s stories are widely published in print and online in the following magazines amongst others: Connecticut Review, Raleigh Review, Litro, Playboy, Pank, Blue Fifth Review, Flash Frontier, Metazen, Boston Literary Magazine, Thrice Fiction and Literary Orphans. His work has been included in a number of anthologies and published in a dozen countries. Paul earned his MFA in creative writing from Bennington College. His latest collection of flash stories, “Peek”, published by Big Table Publishing weighed in at 65 stories and 120 pages. His website is www.paulbeckmanstories.com