“You hear about what happened yesterday?”
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“What do you mean?”
“While we were playing golf. Actually, right when we were getting off the TPC. God, it was like 180 degrees outside!”
“This little Mexican kid was real thirsty, and thought he could get a drink from one of those arroyos.”
“Climbed over the fence?”
“Yep, right over. And he fell into it—and you know those things have concrete bottoms—and he drowned. Body floated down the thing for a mile until anyone even noticed he was there.”
“That’s a shame.”
It was 110 degrees--dry Arizona heat. The kind of heat that made the little dark-haired boy wander over to the nearby gas station, darting in between cars on the six lane street running parallel to the giant arroyo; and the kind of heat that made the golfers arrange for the earliest possible tee times.
The boy made his way to the back of the small, new station, wiping the sweat away; he pressed his hands against the cool glass of the refrigerators. He turned around, hand still on the glass, eying the candy, the soft drinks, the beef jerky. In turn, the store clerk, blond and sunburned and overweight, sweating through his red and black uniform in the 68-degree cool, eyed the boy. He had to stand on his tiptoes--still all he could see was the boy’s dark hair. He watched the boy for two minutes: the boy barely moved after he reached the refrigerator--he would, though, look like he was about to step away from the glass; however, then he would turn his head in resignation, and there he would be: still clutching the refrigerator. To the clerk, it looked like the boy had been outside for almost six weeks--weeks of sweating, toiling, and frustration.
Four customers came in and out of the store: a short woman with her hair tight above her head and her face tucked; a father and son dressed exactly alike; and a older woman who paid for her seven dollars (exactly) of gas with five ones, and a two-dollar bill. The clerk didn’t know what to do with the two-dollar bill: all of the slots in the register tray contained other, more common bills.
After he had solved the two-dollar bill problem--by stuffing the bill under the tray--the clerk looked back for the boy. The boy still stood in the same spot: he still had the same blank expression, still had sweat stains on the back of his black shirt, and still pressed his hands on the refrigerator window. The image made the clerk think of when he was nine (the age he guessed the boy to be): a black and white reverie it was: his hands pressed against the family refrigerator, the berating tone of his father’s voice, a complaint, a blame, a question about his swing, about his putting, about his driving. He snapped back into the store, but it was still black and white. The boy was a dark shadow in the corner--and the clerk: a shadow too. The floor was a brilliant white, and the refrigerator was a brilliant white. He snapped back to the color of reality again, but instead of everything completely going back to normal, everything seemed different. It only appeared normal; it only appeared to be a dream where he could control everything, except he felt fatalistic.
“Can I help you?” he finally asked the boy. His voice cracked, and he coughed right after he finished speaking. Immediately after he said it, he wondered if he had raised his voice enough for the boy to hear at the back of the store.
The little boy froze, one hand stuck to the glass. His stillness from before, a mild rock of his body while still keeping his feet glued, mollified into an erect, hushed, stiff-as-a-corpse posture.
“You gonna b-buy something?”
No reply. He remained deadly silent.
“You speak English?”
The boy still didn’t reply. He kept his head still, and his hand firmly planted on the glass refrigerator door at the rear of the store. He knew where the sound was coming from, but could only see the clerk’s blond hair past the rows of food and toiletries.
“You haveta buy something.” The clerk spoke slower this time; he annunciated each word. When the boy was still frozen to the spot (right next to the equally frozen, frozen pizzas), the clerk dropped off the stool he had been sitting on, and approached the boy. “Listen, I am really sorry, but...you...have to...leave.” He made a shooing motion with his right hand.
It was when he looked into the boy’s eyes that the clerk stopped his hand motion. He resigned to putting his hands on his hips.
“I’m really, really sorry, but...”
The boy kept staring at him, and the clerk started to become self-conscious: he put his hands back to his sides, worrying about the sweat bleeding through his shirt under his arms; and he started to concern himself with his persistent stutter. He started to wonder why he was bothering with this boy--even why he had to bother with this boy. He debated about using his three years of Spanish skills. He churned over “Hola” “Como estas” and “¿Necessitas ayudar?” As he thought about which one to use first, he began mulling over using them at all; and then he would get into that circle, repeat it, then repeat, then turn it over and he would be back where he started. He saw his fourth year Spanish teacher, and those red scarves she would wear. He saw his fifth and current year teacher, with his hand gestures begging for conversation. Comfortable as the clerk was with speaking up in class, using any of the language with native speakers nerved him--it made him second-guess his pronunciation, his stutter, or his inflection.
“W-what’s your name?” he asked. (¿Cual es tu nombre? he thought. He wondered how would sound, if he would stutter with the Spanish, too.)
“Simon,” the boy squeaked.
“Well, Simon, I’m sorry.” (Pues, Simon, lo siento...)
The boy, looking nervously at the clerk, averted his eyes, returning them back to the refrigerators.
The clerk wanted to ask him if he needed something to drink--and, deep down, he wanted to give him a drink. Just give it to him. Turn away, let him walk, let him drink a bottled water or soft drink (even though, he thought, the soft drink would dehydrate him). He wanted to, but he wasn’t sure. The action compelled him; it rolled up with each passing second, forcing him into waiting even more. He waited for the action to then compel him more; it repeated, repeated, and repeated. It turned over and there he would be: he still hadn’t offered the boy something to drink. He hadn’t offered to pay for a drink; he hadn’t offered to turn his head; and he hadn’t offered to, at least, get him a glass of water. He felt his stomach churning.
“D-D-D-o you want something to drink?” he asked. It rushed out of him like a sneeze--yet he coughed right after saying it.
The boy turned away from the refrigerator. He looked at the ground, running his foot over it. He nodded, sullenly.
“Well, what do you want?”
While the boy scanned the refrigerator, the clerk scanned back at the front of store and saw a balding man in a polo shirt and khaki shorts walk in. His face was red with fatigue. The clerk hurried back to the front desk. The man paid for his gas with a crisp fifty-dollar bill. The clerk handed him his exact change: a ten-dollar bill. He watched the man walk back to his car, a large white SUV. The clerk wondered what the man’s handicap was. He guessed: thirteen, at best. Probably more like twenty-two, he thought.
When he returned back to Simon, he found the boy clutching a large bottle of water. Beads of sweat from the bottle dripped over the boy’s hands.
“You want that?”
He nodded. He held the bottle firmly with both hands, clutching it to his heart.
“Okay, don’t worry about it. Just come up to the front with me.” The clerk started walking up to the front. When he was about halfway, he glanced back, realizing the boy still stood right in front of the refrigerator. He made a motion with his hand--similar to the first motions he had made. The only difference: the direction of his hand: one to the sky, one to the ground. The first motions had strangely made his hand hurt; the second motions relieved the tension in his wrist built up from the first motions. The boy started walking, inching his feet forward at first, then taking full steps, then accelerating to a jog. He arrived at the counter, and the clerk took the bottle and punched up the total. The clerk took the money out of his wallet and changed it. He handed the bottle to Simon, but the boy didn’t stick out his hand to take it back.
“Here, h-h-here you go,” the clerk said. “T-t-take it.”
Simon reluctantly stuck out his hand. He took the bottle, cradling it again. Just as reluctantly, he started pacing out the store. The sound of his steps assuaged as he neared the door--another man, another bald and polo/khaki man, walked through the door just as Simon tried to leave. The man dodged the boy and flashed his credit card at the clerk. The clerk rang up the gas, glancing several times at Simon, who still stood in front of the door. The man signed his receipt, and started walking out the door. He stopped, and turned around.
“Excuse me,” he said, “where’s the TPC?”
The clerk sighed. “Just get on 101, and exit a couple miles down the road, at Frank Lloyd Wright. Cross Frank Lloyd Wright, and take a left on Bell. Bell ends at the TPC, so...”
“Great,” the man said. “Thanks.” He dodged the boy on his way out, not giving him or the clerk a second glance. The clerk watched the man step into his large, black SUV. The clerk guessed his handicap was probably sixteen, maybe seventeen. Blurring out the background, he again focused on the boy standing in the doorway.
Simon had felt a rush of the hot air as the man had opened the door: the oppressive nature of it, the relentless of the heat, the ubiquitous nature--all inched his heels back, made him press the bottle to his chest, and force the regurgitation of memories of sweating and desert.
“Simon, it’s all right,” the clerk said, “you c-c-can go.”
The boy didn’t move.
The clerk started thinking, wondering if his stuttering was making the boy stutter: wondering if his stuttering and the boy’s stuttering circled round and round, repeating, repeating, and then repeating. He saw their stuttering turn over--and there they would be, still in the same spots.
“It’s all right,” the clerk said. “Go ahead. Enjoy it. Vamos.” The clerk surprised himself with the clarity of his voice.
Simon turned back, looked at the clerk, and walked out. The clerk coughed. His throat felt clear.
“You hear what happened yesterday?”
“The junior tournament?”
“Nah. How’d it go?”
“It was pretty exciting. Two kids, a local one and some kid from Tucson, were tied. The local kid goes bogey-double bogey on seventeen and eighteen, and loses.”
“Yeah, before that he had been near-perfect. Just got jittery, I guess.”