Jack's been coming into this grocery store for the past five years, ever since he moved to Clifton. While he doesn't necessarily know all the employee names, he does know their faces and will often joke around with the people who ring up his groceries -- all except for the girl on the "12 items or less" cash register, register 1.
The girl seems annoyed when Jack tries to make small talk with her. She doesn't say hello; doesn't say, "Thank you"; and doesn't say, "Have a nice day." After scanning his groceries, she'll tell him how much he owes, then says, "Paper or plastic?"
For Jack, it's usually plastic, after which she promptly fills up the bag with his groceries, hands it to him, takes his money and then she's off to be unfriendly with the next customer. Jack avoids register 1 whenever possible.
He couldn't this afternoon. There she was, her usual unfriendly self. But when Jack got back to his apartment and started unloading his bag full of Banquet TV dinners, vodka, cigarettes and toilet paper, he found a note written on the back of an old grocery store receipt.
"Sitwell's: Eight o'clock tonight -- Polly."
Feeling confused, Jack begins to wonder if the note is for him. Maybe it somehow ended up in the bag by accident. He can't recall her slipping it in, but maybe he wasn't paying attention. Jack doesn't know what to do.
After putting his groceries away, Jack goes into his living room, sits down on the sofa, lights a cigarettes and starts thinking of Polly.
She's fairly short maybe 5/2". She has green eyes and freckles on her face. Her hair is short and black and she's thin. Even on hot summer days, she dresses like it's winter. Her breasts are small.
As he takes another puff on his cigarette, Jack guesses the girl is probably in her early 20s, about 10 years younger than he is. She's not a bad looking girl, and he's thinking he'll show up at Sitwell's tonight to see what happens. The worst case is she won't be there and he'll end up drinking by himself.
When he gets to Sitwell's, Polly's already there, sitting at a table in the back, staring at him as he approaches.
She doesn't respond but keeps staring at him with a blank look on her face.
"I found your note in my grocery bag. Was it meant for me?"
"Yes," she says flatly.
"Can I sit down?" Jack says.
Polly nods her head yes and Jack sits down opposite her. He notices she's wearing an old white T-shirt that's been worn pretty thin. He can see her breasts through it, and Jack wonders why she's not in her normal heavy clothing. It looks like she's drinking whiskey and Coke, and that's what he tells the waitress to bring him.
They sit in silence and Jack's feeling uncomfortable, trying to understand why the girl wants to meet. She takes sips of her drink, mostly looking down at the table. Eventually, she looks up at him and smiles a little.
"How come you always pay with paper?" she asks.
"Most customers pay with plastic -- credit cards. You always pay with paper money. Why?"
"I don't know," Jack says. "I have some credit cards but don't use them very much. I usually pay as I go."
"Can you buy me another drink?"
"Sure," Jack says, "I'll buy you as many drinks as you want."
And he does. They sit at Sitwell's and have a couple more rounds and Polly starts to open up to him.
She's a fiction writer from San Diego and has intentions of moving back there soon. She's written a novel she's shopping around to various publishers and she's working at the grocery store because she doesn't have much money. She says it was a mistake to move to Cincinnati, says the people here are unfriendly -- a remark that doesn't register with Jack.
"To be honest with you," he says, "You're not very friendly yourself. I mean, you never say hello, never say thank you, you just sort of ..."
"I try to stay detached from you," Polly interrupts.
"Because I find you sexually attractive."
"I see how you look at me when you're at my register," Polly says. "I wanted you to get a good look tonight. Do you like what you see?
"Yes," Jack replies.
"So do I."
With that said, Jack and Polly have even more drinks and Polly talks more about her novel, which she says is a murder-mystery, and more about her love for California. Jack's taking it all in but feeling pretty drunk. After the seventh round, Polly asks a pointed question.
"Do you live around here?"
"Just around the corner over on Telford," Jack replies.
"Want to go back to your place and fuck?"
"You know I do," Jack says, slurring his words. "You don't have to ask twice."
Jack stands up, but has trouble walking. He's had way too much to drink. Polly helps him go up to the cash register to pay the bill.
"Man, I'm feeling pretty," Jack says. "Are you feeling it, too?"
"It's a little hard to get wasted on diet Coke." Polly replies.
Feeling too drunk for her remark to register, Jack takes Polly's hand and she helps him walk the half block back to his apartment.
He remembers her taking off her clothes and having sex, or so he thinks. What he remembers most is wanting to sleep it off. It's now the next morning and Jack wakes up with a terrible hangover.
He looks all over his apartment, but Polly's not there. He puts on his clothes from the night before and walks over to the grocery store to find her.
She's not at her register 1. The manager at the customer service desk says she quit yesterday afternoon, was heading back to California.
Confused and not knowing what to do, Jack starts to feel hungry. He goes up to "her" register, grabs a Snickers Bar from the candy rack next to the register and goes for his wallet in his left back pocket.
When he opens it, he finds all his money is gone. Jack had at least $400 that he was going to take to the bank this afternoon.
He pays for the Snickers Bar with a credit card. At least Polly left him the plastic.
Larry Gross' book, "Signed, Sealed and Delivered: Stories" is available at Amazon.com as well as a new Amazon Short "Charlie Gets Ready for Work."