For Whom the P.A. System Tolls



The spinach passed through the checkout scanner and the checkout scanner beeped.

This woman scans good, Jack thought. Especially the produce. She lets the machine weigh the produce and she trusts the machine to tell her the truth. It knows how much things weigh and it tells her true. It is a good machine, and she is a good woman.

He rubbed his forearm, the spot still sore from the basket he'd carried. It had been heavy, too heavy, weighted down by the milk, but he had carried it. He carried it because he was expected to, because a man his age could not use a cart for a small load. Not for milk and spinach, and not for "woman things." He could have carried the milk and spinach without the basket, but the woman things, the things hidden beneath the rest, he needed to not carry.

With milk, a cart would have been better. Less heavy. But he was not old, and he could not use a cart. There would be a day for carts, but this was not the day.

"Paper or plastic?"
"Plastic."

A decision had been needed, and he had made one. Let the bagboy keep his paper. It is raining, and he will have his food in plastic. And his wife, his good and loving wife who he doesn't understand anymore, will have her things. For now, things are good.

"We might need a price check." The woman's eyes said she was sorry, and Jack loved her as a cashier. "I'm only telling you because I've scanned it once, and it didn't scan. We might have to do a price check."

The milk and spinach had scanned well, he knew. They were tagged and priced as they should be. It was the other things, the things that brought him here tonight to this place at this time. Those things would not scan.

"Of course you'll need a price check," he said.

"It happens sometimes. We scan things, and nothing happens. The price doesn't work."

"It doesn't work well."

"Máquina estúpida. Sometimes it takes a while. Like an apparition of the Holy Mother."

"Have you been to Pamplona?" He suddenly felt ill. He was angry that she had made him talk of Spain. "They have bulls there, and they run in the streets." "It's no use. It won't scan."

"You'll have to do a price check."

"It's true. I've scanned it a lot now. Three times, and it won't scan." She cried for a while, and he loved her for it. "Maybe I should try again?"

Other customers gathered. Some despised a man who could not pick things that would scan. Others saw themselves in his tennis shoes and pajama bottoms. They, too, had items that might not scan.

"Make the announcement."

It was no use. It was cold, and he was damp, and it needed to be over. A bell rang, and the storewide speakers crackled to life.

*** .

1987 readers have concluded that ***
Do you not know who Ernest Hemmingway is?

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