December Bloom: “Modest Backup”

My observations of people paying the coffee or grocery tab for a customer directly in front of them inspired this month’s Blooming Good flash fiction story, titled “Modest Backup.” I’ve picked up the habit of doing this sometimes, especially when someone seems short on funds.

"Modest Backup"

leafy street with parked cars

“Still short,” the cashier said again. “I need $2.33 cents more.” 

“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I don’t have it, I just don’t.” Obeying the cashier’s unspoken command, the man perused what to purge- the quart of milk, the canned beans, the eggs, or the frozen fish sticks. 

“Excuse me, sir.” Behind him, Marianne had been watching his repeated attempts to resurrect change from the frayed pockets of his tattered jacket. This was her regular grocery store, but she’d never seen him here before.

    “Sir?” she spoke a little louder, leaning closer in with a smile. “Would you allow me to put your tab on mine? It would be an honor.”

The man hesitated, but then gave her a quick nod. The cashier glanced at Marianne to confirm the transaction, then shoved his items into a paper bag. Before leaving, the man turned back and mouthed a thank you to Marianne. 

 “Honestly, you didn’t have to do that,” the cashier said. “He comes up short every week.” 

“Any coupons?” she asked while scanning Marianne’s sliced loaf of sourdough bread, 16-ounce jar of gourmet almond butter, 8 ounces of medjool dates, banana bunch, and four six-packs of a beverage that required no refrigeration. 

“No coupons.” Marianne paid in cash, as she always did now, and headed out.  

She strolled for several blocks, taking in the new houses under construction and old ones getting facelifts. She headed toward the park; last year, she’d discovered the adjacent streets still had free parking. Marianne approached her car, unlocked the doors, and grabbed a wool blanket stuffed between the boxes of clothes and family photos in the trunk. After placing her groceries on the back seat next to the bin of plates, cups, and utensils, she made herself a nut butter sandwich. Taking it and a banana, she squeezed into the passenger seat and picked up a library book from the stack on the floor. Marianne settled into her backup home, thankful for a roof overhead.