Story

Inside of Outside

By February 25, 2020 No Comments

Inside, the teenage girl straightened the boxes, her long hair falling to one side. She’d re-stocked the shelves yesterday—fifteen heated rollers, fifteen curling irons, but only seven hairdryers. The store would run out quickly. There was always a rush before the holidays, but more were coming with the next shipment.

Outside, the older woman shut off the car and peered through the familiar windows, seeing a cashier in a light green smock, standing by the checkout counter. Short sandy hair, glasses, middle-aged—it was Eloise. Math always stumped Eloise.

Should she try to go inside? No, of course not. The door was probably locked, and her lunch was hot. The woman removed her hamburger, but one bite sent her grappling for the soda in the cup holder. The ice-cold fizziness soothed the fire as she slurped freely. Why on earth had she ordered the green chile hamburger? She raked an un-sanitized finger over the patty to remove the roasted New Mexico delicacy. Shame followed over her now cowardly taste buds.

Inside, the teenage girl stood and moved to the front of the Green Stamp store. Eloise was going to lunch. The girl put on the plastic thumb and started counting the pages of the Navajo couple’s seven books. They were buying an electric skillet. When the couple left, the girl had a few moments to straighten the nearby linens. For college, she had been eyeing a beige floral towel set and a light blue set that had pink and white flowers on a strip across the top. One set was artistic and serious, the other playful and happy. Both appealed to the girl.

Outside, the older woman wiped her mouth with a napkin. She had studied the windows of the store and the rust-colored trim of the strip mall as she ate. The trim had once been a chalky green. Her smartphone beeped suddenly with a text: Where are you? She stared at the phone a moment, not quite knowing how to respond.

Inside, the teenage girl resumed her post at the checkout counter, waiting for a customer to decide between the brown or the black wallet. The girl’s eyes traveled to the large picture windows and the white car in the parking lot. Was the lady coming in? She’d been there for a long time, staring. In a strange way, the woman seemed kind of familiar. The girl looked at her watch. Four hours and twenty minutes until closing. Her feet were starting to ache.

Outside, the older woman put her phone away. She wouldn’t respond, at least not yet, but hopefully soon. As a puffy white cloud passed over, a sudden movement inside the store caught her eye. The woman squinted. It was her. The young girl removed a ponytail holder from her pocket, wove her long locks into one braid and secured it at the end. When she angled sideways, the older woman could see the blue eyes, the small silver studs in her ears, and the jagged scar by her left elbow. She had cut it on a saw when she was only four.

The older woman inhaled slowly. If she could go inside, what would she say to the girl? Eat Pray Love? Of course not. Seize the day? Maybe. Pursue your dreams? Yes, but…A time-lapse video of memories played through the woman’s mind. We’re young, and then we’re old.

Inside, the manager of the store changed the radio station. A new song came on, Good Times by Chic. The girl tapped her foot in time to the beat. Music always helped pass the time. Sometimes, it seemed like five o’clock would never come, much like May 1980. Graduation was still six months away and then, finally the future. The girl was both excited and nervous.

Outside, the woman knew what the girl inside was thinking. She felt the girl’s impatience, shared her excitement, and wished to calm her anxiety. If only she could walk through the door and… but it didn’t work that way. Day-by-day, life’s pendulum swings from side-to-side: joy and sorrow and everything in between. But in the end, the girl would be exactly where she was meant to be. The women knew that now.

The puffy cloud shifted suddenly, exposing glorious naked sunshine. Smiling at the effusion of light, the woman scratched the jagged scar by her left elbow, and then picked up her phone to text: I’m exactly where I’m meant to be.

joycleveland

joycleveland

Joy Cleveland is an author, histotechnologist, wife, mother, and shameless grandmother. She has published short stories, children's plays, and her debut novel, "To Call My Own." Best known for heartwarming and hope-filled stories, she calls Iowa home.

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