BRETT: A male.
This is a monologue.
The cashier looks hard, but she’s soft in the eyes so instead of going to another Walgreens, I stay here and wait until the guy in the back picks a toothpaste and pays for it. Once he’s out the door, I walk up to her, the cashier, and I put the boxes of gauze strips on the counter. As far as I can see, the only other person in the store is the pharmacist, but he’s hidden behind shelves of decongestant and he doesn’t look all that interested in paying attention to his surroundings. The cashier has a hard jaw line and nails bitten down to the cuticles. She keeps her eyes steady on my face.
I don’t have any money, I say, but I need these. I’ll have money tomorrow. I’ll pay for these tomorrow.
You’re asking me permission to steal two boxes of gauze strips? She asks.
And I wish she wouldn’t put it like that—it’s not stealing. It’s not.
I’m not a thief, I tell her. I’m a bleeder. This cut on my finger? Looks tiny now, but in an hour it’ll be running like a stream and in two hours it’ll be gushing. It’s not gonna stop unless I do something about it now.
Go to the ER she says and she puts her hands on the counter. She looks like she’s ready for a fight.
The only ER that’ll take me is County, I say, and they know me, they know how long I can wait before they have to do something, so I just sit there, in the waiting room, and everyone can see it. They watch me bleed. Like I’m some freak at a carnival. And they never say anything. They just stare…Is your name really Jane?
I nod at her nametag. She looks for a second like I just woke her out of a deep concentration. She pulls her eyes away from my face and glances at her chest then at the boxes of gauze strips.
No, she says. Shrugs her shoulders. Looks back at my face. It’s Elizabeth.
Elizabeth…I whisper it. It rolls around in my mouth like butterscotch. Why Jane? I ask her.
Because they stare at me like I’m some freak at a carnival, she says. She waves her hands around at the store. I look at the back, where the pharmacist is.
Especially him, she says.
So Jane makes you invisible? I say.
More than Elizabeth.
Elizabeth is pretty, I tell her.
Elizabeth is a felon, she says.
I look at the gauze strips.
You don’t look like a felon, I tell her.
Don’t patronize me, you fuck, she says.
Well, you sound like a felon, I tell her. And this makes her laugh. Her laugh is like a symphony.
She nods to the store. They all know it too, she says. They put their hands on their wallets when I walk by. They just stare at me when we have breaks together.
Drops of blood jump from my finger onto the counter. It’s gonna start streaming pretty soon. Pretty soon she’s gonna be watching my insides gush outta me. She looks at the drops—three red polka dots on a silver background.
The manager’s a Bible thumper, she says. He believes in second chances and charity.
Do you? I ask.
She says, if I let you walk out of here with those, they’ll think I stole it. They’ll tell the manager to fire me. But he won’t. He’ll say I can be saved. Then I’ll be stuck between the pity of hopeful reform and the anger of silent accusations.
My Dad was a thief, I tell her.
She’s staring at the polka dots on the counter.
I’m not my Dad, I say.
I’m not a felon, she says.
Her eyelashes are long.
It was a misunderstanding, but I’ll never be able to clear it up, she tells me.
Yes you will, I tell her.
Dubious. That’s the way she looks. I mouth the word: du-bee-us. She looks at me like I have five heads.
I believe you, I say. The polka dots have run together. This is the part where my cut will drip like a leaky faucet. She opens one of the boxes, unwraps the package, and wraps it around my finger. From somewhere underneath the counter she pulls out a piece of tape and wraps that around the gauze. Now no one can see my insides gushing out. I’m suddenly at ease.
I’ll be back tomorrow, I tell her.
I’ll believe it when I see it, she says.
The next day I go in and pay for it. I give her the money. She smiles this smile that sets the world on fire. And like that, I am reborn.