Sunshine and Poppycock Chapter 2
It was 11:28 at night when I went out for the evening. Two full days had passed since meeting the blond mop man. That night I had looked over my shoulder at least a couple of times after I had left him midway up the stairs. By all accounts, specifically mine alone, he had not followed me.
I enjoy leaving the house at least a couple of times a week. The only proper store that our budget allows us to shop at consistently is five or so miles away. We- or rather, just my mom- drive there, as she is the only one with a driver’s license. In the past, I tried to come along on the shopping trips. The store closes at nine, and during the summer months, the sun is still out just up until that time. Tinting the windows of the back car windows was somewhat of a success, but then getting to store from the car was always a struggle. As a result, my mom simply does the shopping.
I jot down a list of things I want her to buy for me, but as expected, most junk food I ask for never seems to make it home, or likely in the basket in the first place. So, heading off to the convenience store satisfies two of my fixes: getting something sweet, and allowing myself out of the house.
That evening the night was warm. Summer was approaching. I left the sweatshirt at home. My journey takes me down the exterior stairs one level to the ground, then down a slight slope of the communal patch of brown grass and parking spots to the main road, down that road, across it at the intersection, then following the guard rail atop the embankment before I met with the stairs. The difficulty of the journey’s saving grace, specifically on the upwardly inclined way home, is that I am able to fuel myself with the refreshments.
I found myself once again bathed in the fluorescent glow flowing out from the row of tall, smudged windows at the front of the store. Mop-head wasn’t there beside the propane tanks like before, nor was he under the sign for chewing tobacco where there was a purposefully overturned bucket, nor was he finishing off a drink beside the overflowing trash can. I opened the door to the inside of the store and heard the predictable two-and-a-half jingle of the bell.
Talkative coworker was behind the counter, watching as a scrawny, tattooed older gentleman scratched away furiously at a lottery ticket with a penny from the ‘give-a/take-a’ tray, sending bits of the flaky coating across the counter top. I took the middlemost aisle to grab my packet of M&M’s and glanced to see the unfortunate soul rip the thick paper in half and toss it in the bin by the door before marching out.
“Haveagoodnight.” Coworker chimed just efficiently enough to offer the man a farewell into the inky urban darkness. As I rounded the rear end cap of the aisle, filled with packets of various roasted and salted seeds and legumes, I noticed the door staying open for longer than normal. I focused on the very top of the head of the other customer who had come in after me. The tall rack of tubed-potato chips hid his identity, but the neat boxes of stale-tasting mass-produced pre-packaged donuts revealed a neat, dark head of hair, carried by a tired looking business man in a dress shirt unbuttoned down to his clavicle.
I sighed a breath of… something, and continued on to the soda machine. The tall foam cup accepted the hefty deposit of uneven ice chunks, before the four second spurt of diet soda. The diet one always foamed up more, and thus had to be quelled with a quick, begrudging gulp of undiluted aspartame flavor before the miniature stone-fruit flavored one could be introduced. I finished it with a cap and straw, which was wiggled delicately through the maze of frozen water blobs before it could reach the bottom and not pierce all the way through the bottom. It has happened before, but it will not happen again.
I arrived to the counter before businessman. I gave the drink a singular sip, still cached away in my grasp, because I had learned that all they have to do was enter it into their computer touch screen register, rather than scanning anything. The candy, of course, was always presented bar-code up. I think what drew me to M&M’s in particular was the impeccable shape of the package which made it always scan without having to worry about the black and white lines being cached away under an annoying flap that the cashier would always take more time arranging.
“Good evening, m’lady.” Coworker greeted me. Businessman marched up behind with an air of tired impatience. The scanner gave a bleep, coworker mashed on the screen of his register, and glanced back to me with bright eyes unfitting of the hour and his status as store attendant. “That will be $2.24. How is your evening by the way?”
I realized that in my distraction stemming from Businessman, I had forgotten to pull out my wallet. I shoved the drink to the counter and through the lottery-ticket filings in order to have enough hands for my wallet. I yanked out the three dollar bills and pushed them over the counter at him.
The register tray clanged open and he deposited the bills before digging through the puddles of change. I grabbed at the candy packet which was more than half of the distance away from my edge of the counter, coming dangerously close to his side and the big piles of money. Having no proper pockets for an item of such size or shape or delicacy, I shoved the candy under my armpit while Coworker held out his hand with the change. “Seventy-six cents is your change. Three quarters and… one… penny.” The coins dropped from his hand and landed haphazardly in my palm. “I wish you a very good night.”
Businessman pushed past me in a rush, forcing me, luckily, to have to retrieve my soda with a precise haste. He clanked down a short, stout can of energy drink. “This, and the rest of twenty on pump five.”
I shoved my wallet and change uncomfortably into my front pocket and prepared my hands to push out the door. “Uh, what pump?” Coworker’s voice trailed off.
“Come on, it’s the only car out there.” The last words I heard were of Businessman’s complaints.
As I rounded the sidewalk, I heard a familiar voice call out to me. “Spare a… Oh, well if it ain’t Sunshine!”
Mop-man was scuffling his feet around the pavement beside the ash totem looking for a cigarette that might have had the chance to have been not entirely smoked through.
“Poppycock!” Was the first word out of my mouth.
“Hey, yeah, that’s me!” He jumped up on the curb excitedly, causing his hair to follow through on the motion. “Same as always, W&W’s, huh?”
I squinted at him. “Huh?”
“Double-u and double-u’s.”
I looked to my hands. The soda was in one, and in the other… the bag of candies crumpled nicely in my fist, the simple text facing my way. “I see.”
“It’s a joke.”
“I realize that.”
“I didn’t make it up, me, myself, on my own.” Moppy shifted around, his fists dug deep in his pockets. The pants were the same ones he had worn when we had met before. In fact, his shirt was too. I shouldn’t have to mention that the hair was as well.
“Of course not.” I replied to him, rolling the package around in my fist.
“I ain’t that smart.”
“I don’t think anyone would suspect you of being so.”
Mop took the chance to extract his hand from his pocket and waive a singular finger at me, his pointer. “I like you Sunshine, you’re spunky.” He offered up his dopey grin.
Businessman pushed out the door, causing the bell to chime again as it swung back to its resting position. He cracked open his energy drink loudly without giving either of us the slightest of glances. He then proceeded to the dimly lit set of pumps at the far end of the lot.
I shook my head and took a sip from the fresh, perfectly spherical straw opening, before leaning against the cage of propane tanks. “Don’t call me Sunshine.”
“I don’t know your real name.” He crossed his free arm under his other, the one hand still balled up in his pants pocket.
“I think it’s better if we left it at that.”
“Well, then, Sunshine it is!”
“Ugh.” I juggled the drink and candy in my hands and worked my wallet and change back into my butt pocket.
“Howboutit-” He finally extracted his second hand and used it to clap against the other. “You can gimme a nickname too.”
“Just your real name would be fine.”
“Boring!” He shouted, his head tilting up slightly. His voiced echoed about through the night, and I swear I saw Businessman jump and frown at us before jamming the pump back in its holder and slamming the gas cover of his out-of-state plated rental car. “Like I said, howboutit?”
He frowned, turning down his lips with extra force. “I mean…”
“You don’t like it? It’s your word after all.” Businessman’s headlights flickered on and cast a bright, dusty light towards us before he revved off, his brakes squeaking as he rounded the curb and off down the street. “I think I should head home.” I spoke up.
“I said that last time! You shouldn’t be out that late.” He wagged his finger again.
“That suited guy probably thought something weird, a young girl and some old man together late at night.”
“Well, uh, yeah, but, uh, I’m not like… gonna.” He flapped his lips some more. “Not gonna’ do nothing.”
“Of course not.” I began to wander off. He stayed behind, his hand to his chin, head wobbling back and forth.
As I reached the other side of the street and the first few steps of the staircase, I heard a lout tapping of feet. He had ran across the convenience store’s lot and began to waive at me. “Hey! How about just… Poppy!”
I nodded silently and waived back to him. “Sure!” I called out, heading up the stairs once again.