Page 11

  “Hi, hello,” I say. “Anyone home?”
   The small space is crowded with crowded shelves. Plucking bottled water from one puts my back against another. No one squeezes in behind the counter to take my money.
   I gasp to a halt drinking off half the bottle of tangy neon water to wipe my lips and call out hello again.
   Then I drink again.
  “Yo ren ma?”
   Biologically speaking, a large drink of water doesn’t spread out from your stomach that fast, but that’s exactly what it feels like. I blink more easily, my shoulders loosen. It was goddamned cold and made me cough, but I do feel better. I recap the empty bottle and consider my options.
   The large front windows are obscured by posters on the glass outside and shelving against the walls inside. This leaves most of the store in darkness.
  “I’d like to pay now.”
   How to choose with this wide a range of nearly nothing – oily snacks, spongy potato chips, desiccated noodles, ranks of sauces in jars, bags of salt, varieties of snacks little different from cubes of sticky sugar. There has to be something. Maybe I can find a light switch.
  “Holy crap!”
  “Hello,” says the boy. “Where are you come from?”
  “Me?” I square up to this silhouette in the door. “Back that way.” I points.
  “Oh,” he says.
   A young man, taller than me. Like a reed. Wide across the shoulders but not deep. Plenty of sports at college.
  “We can go now,” he says.
  “How’s that?” I say.
  “Don’t worry about it,” he says.
  “Okay. I just need a few things.”
   And this is entirely weird because people don’t touch me around here, but that’s when he steps forward and takes my arm.