THAT MAN • by Richard Sensenbrenner

He wore an expensive suit and expensive-smelling cologne. Black or dark brown eyes took her in, took in her shopping cart. He didn’t have a cart. A bouquet of white daisies was cradled in his left arm near a handful of Bicycle playing card packages. Johnnie Walker Scotch hung off his right hand. He stood still and comfortable in his own skin, even though he was so out of place in a Walmart checkout line.

“When did I last get flowers?” Sarah thought.

Late forties or early fifties, not handsome but groomed to best advantage, he looked at her longer than comfortable. Was he thinking of coming on to her, ponytail, no makeup, jeans she’d been wearing all weekend? He was probably as old as her father.

“Sir, would you like to go ahead?” she asked, motioning at the items he was holding. That was probably what he was signaling.

“A teacher,” he said. Those eyes inventoried the contents of her cart: coloring books, packages of crayons, a digital alarm clock, ladybug rain boots, single serve boxes of cereal.

“Yes,” she said and felt silly for feeling silly. His eyes moved over her, unreadable camera lenses, a good card player.

“Alarm clock?”

“One of my students has a problem getting to school on time.” She wasn’t going to explain herself anymore.

“This all coming out of your pocket?”

Sarah nodded, greeted the cashier and put her items on the conveyer belt. He put the cards, scotch and flowers right next to her items, nothing dividing it.

“Would you mind if I got this one for the kids?”

She — well — she really needed new nylons and tights for work. If she said yes, she could buy them and wear them with her brown and red skirts, have money left over and not have to worry about paying ransom to the drycleaners until next Saturday. It would help a lot.

“Thank you,” she said.

He nodded to the cashier to continue scanning, beep, beep.

“For the kids?” she wondered. This was not a man familiar with children. “Does he think he bought me?” The thought shot her left eyebrow up.

“$142.50,” said the cashier.

He slid two hundred-dollar bills off the top of a wad of even more and gave them to the cashier. There was a deep scar on the back of his hand, disappearing under his shirt cuff. He collected his flowers and things and turned to her.

“Thank you,” she said nervously. “I wish there was something I could do in return.” Her face blushed.

“There is,” he said. “You know that kid, that kid who comes along every few years? All the teachers fear him a little, fold their arms and slowly shake their heads at him.”

The question took her by surprise. She nodded.

“Please, don’t give up on that kid,” he said, eyes still betraying nothing. Then, he gave her a slight smile and nod. He casually walked toward the exit, her agreement assumed, or left for her consideration.

“For as long as I can hold out,” Sarah quietly promised.

Richard Sensenbrenner formally studied to be a writer a long time ago at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. He was then forced to get “a real job,” which turned out not to be the end of the world. Sometimes, at a meeting, his pen will drift to the margins of his legal pad and the outline of a story idea will begin. He has recently been published at Ancient Paths, The Corner Club Press, Down in the Dirt and No Extra Words.

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Every Day Fiction