Encounters (Across Counters)

She’s standing on the other side of a glass counter, surrounded by more things than you can focus on – fishnet stockings, silver and gold, pearls and beads, sequined bikini tops, long velvet dresses – curly hair flying in all directions, eyes fiery, in exactly what you’d expect for a vintage thrift shop tucked on the first floor of a wooden house in the middle of a snow-plowed, pitch black gravel parking lot.

‘What day is it? December 9th? December 8th was a weird day.’

Alex and I look at each other and laugh. We both had really weird days the day before, that culminated in us sat on opposite couches clutching our respective canine companions over midnight red wine and fudge (because the glorious part of having a roommate again is that when you stumble through the door, tear-streaked, after six hours of miserable driving and ten hours post-last meal, they’re 10 steps ahead of you with what you need). ‘Heartbreak, Viviane. We’re both suffering from heartbreak.’

‘That’s silly, two beautiful girls like you. I know heartbreak – I was married to a man, for 13 years, and I spent all of those 13 years wishing I could get away, and then he ran off with this 21-year-old coke whore, and I was crying to my friend, and she looked at me and said “Vivi – you’ve been trying to get away for 13 years. Why are you crying? This is the best thing that ever happened to you.” And it was.

Here, take a Happy Card.’

She pulls out a box with colored squares in it, and hands it to Alex, who pulls out a card.

‘And take three of these. Put your hand in and mix them with your ‘energy’, and give them to me.’

Alex hands her three cards, and she raises her eyebrows, and her fiery eyes get even more fiery.

‘Here. You picked: Strength. Birth. And Healing. I read that as sometimes you need to have the strength to make a choice to take a leap into something new, but with that leap is going to come healing. I’ll tell you the rest of that story. I had this shop, and there was a man next door who also owned a shop, and we spent three years dating and living in the apartment above. We were like chalk and cheese. I’d go over there, and he’d have the stapler in an exact position, and I’d pick it up and move it, and he’d pick it up and move it back. And then one day he told me he didn’t want to do it anymore, which was complicated because we lived in this apartment above these two shops in the isolated building. I had a friend tell me I should just go and visit my family in Malta for six months, and I couldn’t do that, I was too scared to leave my life and everything, even though I had nothing to lose. She finally convinced me to go for three, and I left my shop with a lady with this baby, and I went to Malta. And then I came back.

And then a friend from Alaska came to visit.’

She reaches behind her and pulls down a photo of a young woman with crazy brown hair in the classiest of all white dresses.

‘…and we’ve been married for the past 15 years.

See, girls? Strength. I didn’t think I had the strength to do that – to go away and break my life – but it led to something new that healed me. You never know what life it going to throw at you, you have to take those chances.’

She flits around a bit more. ‘I love these things, let me take a picture. I told you yesterday was a weird day, but you ended my day on a good note. You come back soon.’

My aunt had posted about the new Amazon Go feature that lets you grab things in convenience stores without waiting in checkout lines, and I’d responded that I actually really enjoy the act of going to a physical store and interacting with the owners/cashiers/others there. For every rushed or rude interaction, I’ve had just as many spontaneous conversations that put me in front of people from all walks of life. Sometimes it’s fascinating. Sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it’s insightful, and sometimes it’s completely mundane. But usually – despite how weird, or non-normal, or ‘non-me’ as others may be – they usually bring a smile to my face, even on dark days.


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