The lines at Kohls went from the center front registers to the far aisles on either side of the store and all the way to the back. I groaned. It would be an hour-plus wait that most likely included forced polite conversation with strangers. Was it worth the sale prices plus 15% off and Kohls’ “cash”? What the hell… I had my phone with me, and could easily blow an hour reading news and updates. It would kill me if I returned days later only to find higher prices or the items I wanted gone.
Wouldn’t you know it, the building seemed to be a dead zone, so no phone useage. I chatted with the couple behind me, who were expecting their first grandchild in a few months. A few minutes later, I turned my attention to the woman in front of me. She looked unsteady as she reached out to hold onto a nearby rack, missed, and then caught herself.
“Are you all right?” I asked her.
“Not really,” she said, and rattled off a list of ailments that included bone fragility and dizziness. I envisioned trying to catch her if she fell (and failing), a cracked skull, a bloody mess in the aisle. I looked around for a nearby place to sit her down. I cursed the long lines.
“If only we could get you a chair, something sturdy to sit on.” I was thinking of a boxed playhouse or large kitchen appliance, anything.
“I think there are chairs by the dressing rooms,” the woman behind me said. She held my bag as I hurried off to search. I grabbed a wooden bench, not too heavy, probably a little too low but better than nothing, from the closest men’s changing room.
So she sat, clutching her items, which amounted to undergarments, jeans and fuzzy blue socks. She faced me and we chatted. Every five or ten minutes, she’d slowly stand and I’d shove the bench forward a couple of feet.
A conversation with a total stranger
She was well-educated and articulate — a retired high school counselor, musician, avid reader, mother and grandmother. She loved to sing but couldn’t draw more than a stick figure if pressed. A grammar nerd, she hated hearing and seeing “should of” in place of “should have,” which made me laugh out loud. We both enjoyed diagramming sentences when we were in grade school — the sign of true grammar geeks. She wanted to know all about my novel.
I could tell it wasn’t easy for her to stand and sit on the low stool, yet several times she tried to help push it along. I was surprised that the able-bodied man behind us or the younger women in front never once offered to assist us. Yet, this woman didn’t complain about her physical woes, or anything else, during our Black Friday ordeal. Actually, her mood seemed to lift. We talked about schools, parenting, our grandchildren, you name it. When we finally reached the registers, she insisted I go ahead of her.
I pointed out the wooden bench that now stood at the front of the registers to the cashier and explained why it was there… I was not about to put it back where it belonged; I figured store personnel should take care of it. Typically, I’d curse the store for such intolerable long lines, but then again, I would have otherwise missed a lively and intelligent conversation with a stranger (who, as it turned out, lives in the same Rochester Hills development we settled in when we first moved to Michigan.)
We hugged before I left, and wished each other a Merry Christmas.
’tis the season.
2016 Eric Hoffer Book Award Finalist in Commercial Fiction
2016 Readers’ Favorite Finalist in Women’s Fiction
2016 USA Book News Best Book Finalist in Women’s Lit
“Linda K. Sienkiewicz’s powerful and richly detailed debut novel is at once a love story, a cautionary tale, and an inspirational journey.” ~ Bonnie Jo Campbell, author of National Book Award Finalist, American Salvage, and critically acclaimed Once Upon a River, and Mothers, Tell Your Daughters