Two Sides of the Coin

Third in line, Gloria waited on the elderly shopper two carts in front of her.

“Can you fill out the check for me and then I’ll sign it?” The old man shook a piece of paper at the cashier.

Pulling her lips tight against her teeth as she inhaled, the cashier said, “Sure!” as she pushed the check through a slot in her machine. She handed it back to the man and said, “Just sign here.”

“I can’t read the amount,” he complained. “You need some more ink in your machine.”

“Thirty-five dollars and twenty-seven cents,” the cashier pointed to the amount.

“What?” hollered the man. “Speak up!”

Leaning across the counter she enunciated slowly and clearly, “Thirty-five dollars and twenty-seven cents, Sir.”

“Do you have a pen?” the man rasped.

Gloria’s carton of ice cream was beginning to sweat. Shifting her weight, she leaned forward on the handle of her cart. Waiting in line was such a waste of time. She rubbed her index finger back and forth across the bottom of her nose and sniffed. There was still plenty of time, but melted ice cream wouldn’t look good on her perfectly baked cherry pie. She rotated her neck. Maybe the woman ahead of her would turn and notice that her ice cream was beginning to thaw and let her skip ahead in line.

Fat chance. Gloria drummed her right foot on the floor and then rested it on the bottom rung of the cart. She could see fresh fruits, vegetables, milk, bread, and eggs in the other woman’s cart. The clerk would have to input the numbers for fruits and vegetables separately and they would all have to be weighed.

Then the milk, bread and eggs would have to be sacked separately, loaded into the cart, and…Gloria yawned to cover her sigh.

The woman in front of her was pulling out her checkbook. Who writes checks in this day and age? thought Gloria. That’s what debit and credit cards are for.

Gloria sighed, turned her wrist to look at her watch, switched feet again, and reached forward to squeeze the ice cream carton. Mostly solid, but the outside was dripping wet.

The old man shuffled away. “I’ll try to hurry,” the lady ahead of her murmured as she glanced at Gloria’s cart with her single carton of perspiring ice cream. Breathing deeply, Gloria lowered her head and gritted her teeth. She hated waiting in line.


Two lanes over, Carly waited on the old man two carts ahead of her.

“Can you fill out the check for me?” The man struggled to tear a check out of his checkbook.

Carly remembered her dad, how embarrassed he had been, unable to control his shaking hand as he picked up his dinner fork for his last meal at home before moving to the nursing home.

The cashier pursed her lips. “Sure!” she said as she slid the check through her machine. “Just sign here.”

“I can’t read this,” the man shook his head.

Carly remembered how her dad had stared at the last check he ever wrote, trying to see the line where he was supposed to sign his name. In the end, he’d given up and just scribbled something diagonally across the check. The store clerk had tried to reject the check, Gloria remembered, but the manager happened to be watching and intervened.

“Ten dollars and forty-two cents,” the cashier pointed to the amount.

“Huh?” the man looked confused.

Leaning across the counter she raised her voice, “Ten dollars and forty-two cents, Sir.”

Slowly, clearly, softer, thought Gloria behind closed eyes. She cried inwardly at the impatience, the rudeness toward someone who was coping the very best he could.

“Do you have a pen?” the old man had to turn his whole body as he looked around.

Carly looked at the lonely carton of ice cream sweating away in her cart. Her dad had loved a scoop of vanilla ice cream in a tall glass of Coke. Black cows, he called them. That had been a Saturday night treat when he was little, and became a family tradition as he raised his five daughters. Gloria smiled as she heard again the fizzy bubbles breaking over the soft ice cream and remembered her mom scolding her youngest sister for slurping through her straw.

“I’ll try to hurry,” Carly heard the woman in front of her say as she glanced back at Gloria’s cart. The old man was shuffling away, bent over by time and the weight of the soup cans in his thin plastic sack.

Caught up in her memories, Carly didn’t notice that the woman in front of her had finished checking out. “Ma-am,” the cashier said, “I can help you now.” Carly jerked and blinked, and lifted her soft ice cream onto the conveyer belt.

“I’m sorry you had to wait so long,” the cashier said, and then hollered over her shoulder. “Jerry, get a box of store brand vanilla ice cream. This one’s too soft.”

“It’s OK,” murmured Carly, embarrassed.

“No, it’s not,” replied the cashier. “We should have had more checkers up here. You shouldn’t have had to wait this long.”

“Thanks,” said Carly as the stock boy came back with a very frozen carton of ice cream. To the cashier she said, “I appreciate the time you took with the older man. He was really struggling.”

The cashier blushed. “Actually,” she admitted, “I was annoyed. I shouldn’t have been.”

Carly glanced at the purchase total and dug in her wallet. “It’s hard to understand those things unless you’ve experienced them first-hand.” She smiled at the cashier. “I wish you a good day,” she said handing over her money and grabbing her bag of ice cream.