Miles In Her Shoes
“How are you today?” an apathetic boy asks, waiting for the items on the conveyor belt to reach him.
He just turned sixteen. Greasy, chin-length hair. Tall, skinny, pale-faced, acne. The nametag on his shirt says “Miles,” but that’s not his real name. His parents didn’t buy him the car he wanted for his birthday, so he had to ride his bike to work. His co-workers gave him shit about it.
“Fine,” an agitated girl replies.
She just turned nineteen. Long, dark hair tied in a knot. A wilted dandelion behind one ear. Loose fitting clothes, no makeup, dark circles under her eyes. A crying baby strapped to her chest. She doesn’t have a car anymore. She walked here from her apartment, four miles away.
“Find everything you need?” the boy mumbles. He tries not to wince as the baby screeches, causing the heads of several customers in the adjacent line to turn and gawk shamelessly.
“Ssh …” the girl soothes. “… sorry, what?”
The boy spots a blob of fresh spit-up on the girl’s shoulder and looks away. “Nothing,” he says.
He hastily scans her items, not wanting to listen to the baby crying any longer than he needs to.
1 roll of toilet paper
1 can of baby formula
3 cans of cat food
1 can of mixed vegetables
1 six-pack of ramen noodles
1 bottle of store brand infant’s Tylenol
An embarrassed sweat breaks out on the back of his neck.
1 box of tampons
The baby coughs and continues to scream.
An old couple in line behind the girl shake their heads in unison. The old man crosses his arms impatiently.
“Ssh … it’s okay … how much did you say?”
“38.54,” the boy says again, a little louder. His voice cracks and his cheeks go hot.
The girl’s face drops. She rests one hand over her baby’s head and digs into her oversized bag with the other. She brings out a credit card, hands it to the boy, and waits.
“Declined,” the boy says, handing the card back.
“Oh. Um….” The girl searches her bag again, but it’s just for show. “I forgot my other cards. Um … ssh … can you just try it one more time for me? Please?”
She hands it back. The old woman scoffs, and the boy looks at her. She smiles condescendingly. He doesn’t smile back.
“Declined again. Sorry. Do you have any cash?”
He hands the card back and the girl tries to take it, but her fingers are trembling. It falls onto the conveyor belt and shuttles toward her groceries. They both reach for it at the same time and their fingers collide.
The boy’s pulse kicks up.
“Sorry,” they say in unison.
He jerks his hand away and lets the girl retrieve the card. She drops it into her bag and looks at the boy. Her eyes are dark brown. And tired.
He runs a hand through his hair and wishes he’d washed it.
She blinks at him twice. “Um … what?”
“Do you have any cash?” the boy repeats, deliberately lowering his voice to avoid it cracking again.
The girl’s brow furrows, and she bites her lip. “Cash? Yeah, I have cash. Just ... um ... hang on….”
She digs back into her bag, more frantically this time. The baby screams in her ear but she doesn’t flinch.
The old woman whispers something to her husband. He looks at his watch and frowns.
The girl pulls out a small wad of bills and hands it to the boy. Then she digs back in and retrieves a few coins. She eyes him expectantly as he counts it out on the counter.
The boy enters an amount into the register. “Short—” He clears his throat. “Sorry. You’re still short $27.16.”
The old woman grunts and re-shoulders her handbag dramatically. The boy resists rewarding her with his attention.
The baby’s crying devolves into a hacking cough. The girl presses her lips to the baby’s forehead as tears start to well up in her eyes.
The sweat on the back of the boy’s neck returns and his stomach twists uncomfortably.
He looks at the selection of items and asks an impossible question. “Is there anything you can put back?”
The girl takes a shuddering breath. She nods and reaches for the tampons. She hands them to the boy, and he flusters as he sets them under the counter to be returned. The girl wipes a tear from her face and returns one can of cat food and the ramen noodles.
The boy retallies her order, then turns the monitor slightly so the girl can see the remaining balance without alerting the old couple.
The girl’s lip trembles, and she reaches into her bag one last time. She pulls out a folded piece of worn paper. “Will you take a check?” she asks softly.
“Oh, honestly,” the old woman huffs.
“Young man, do not accept that check. It won’t clear,” the old man lectures.
The boy ignores them and hands the girl a pen.
She fills out the check, hands it to the boy, and says, “thank you…” she glances at his nametag… “Miles.”
Her brown eyes find his and his pale skin prickles behind his ears. He nods.
He offers her paper or plastic, but the girl waves him off and stuffs her small collection of items into her own bag, leaves the store with her screaming baby, and walks four miles to her apartment.
The boy remains silent as the old couple waits for him to ring up their items, berating him for being a poor judge of character, and berating the girl for not having her life in order.
As he bags the last of their groceries, he silently brings up a wad of phlegm and spits it into their bag of organic produce. They’re too involved in themselves to notice.
“Have a great day,” the boy says.
He asks his manager if he can take his break. Then he rides his bike six miles to his house. He goes to his bedroom and takes exactly $17.12 out of the shoebox under his bed. Then he takes another $40. He rides back to work and resumes his shift.
Before he closes out his register, he rings up a few items for himself.
1 bag of Oreos
1 quart of milk
6 rolls of toilet paper
4 cans of cat food
3 cans of mixed vegetables
2 six-packs of ramen noodles
1 box of tampons
His co-workers see the tampons and give him shit about it.
He opens the register, deposits his cash, makes change, and pockets the girl’s check. His manager confirms that his drawer is balanced, checks his purchased items against his receipt, and sends him home.
He loads the bagged groceries onto the handlebars of his bike and rides four miles to the address on the check. The lights are on in one half of the small duplex. He walks up to the door and leaves the bags on the front step. He reaches for the doorbell and stops.
He retrieves his bike from the sidewalk and props it against the house. He yanks a few dandelions from the front yard and weaves them through the brake cables.
He rings the doorbell and hurries away.
Then he walks ten miles to his house.
Welcome back to, a (mostly) short fiction newsletter inspired by stock photography.
I was very excited to share today’s story because I was very excited to have a story to share.
I’ve come up with a theory about why I got stuck. I wrote a little something about it and will share it with you soon. Until then, be kind to each other. Take stock of what you have that’s good. And share the wealth in whatever way you can.
P.S. If you’re new today, welcome. If you’re a return customer, thank you. If you’re a true fan, I love you. But don’t let that go to your head. 💜