A Girl Named Lisa
Length: 1797 words (5.1 double-spaced pages)
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I was working in the seafood department one day when I saw them...well, her actually. I wondered what her name was. She was about 13 or 14 years old, maybe a bit more, but certainly not old enough to drive yet, or maybe she was. She was with her family, I think...no, I assume. Her father (I assume) was the big guy with a red sash on his waist and a jacket with a yin-yang patch on the front right side of it and it was black. The jacket, I mean. Her mother (I assume) was there too, and...I don't remember anything at all about her. There was another kid there, younger than her, and I assumed it was her brother. She was beautiful.
Not in the gorgeous model way or the cute puppy way but in the sort of beauty that just is, Plato's beauty, you know? And I don't know why or how but when I saw her I got a feeling like when you know something's going to happen but you don't know what but you can just tell but it wasn't love. Sorta like butterflies but higher and stronger. Maybe butterflies on steroids. And the feeling stayed, sort of an anticipation. And she went away and I went to work, but I happened to look across the store towards the milk, and she was there.
And she looked at me. No, not at me. It was like. . .like when you're driving over a familiar stretch of road and you know it so well that you just stare straight ahead and almost forget you're driving. It was like she knew me. It was like she was me. And then she turned down the cookie aisle and was gone.
It had been over a year, and I still hadn't seen her in the store. I honestly didn't know what I'd say if I saw her, but I tried to imagine it. I saw her father (I assume) every week in the store, the same red sash, the same yin-yang jacket, as he bought fruit and eggs and bread and beer and toilet paper. But he never bought fish. And I never said anything to him, and he never noticed me or said Hi. But she noticed me. She knew me. And one day, I knew she would be in the store again, and I would see her standing by the milk, and she would see me standing by the frozen fish.
And I would smile. Maybe I'd wave a trout or something endearing like that.
The girl by the milk came back one year, nine months, and three days later with her father (I assume), and her brother (I assume). She looked older...like a year and nine months older than when I'd last seen her in the store. She still had that innocence about her, that something, I don't know what to call it, an aura maybe. A pink and yellow aura, pink and yellow like her dress, and her eyes...I was trapped by those eyes, had been for a year, nine months, and three days and hadn't realized it, but when she looked at me like she did, it took me back in time to the first time she'd seen me. She knew me, somehow. I wondered if she knew my name. Never mind, of course she knew my name...I was wearing a name tag. But her eyes were wonderful, like black holes except they weren't black and they didn't suck light into them but rather seemed to suck me into them while leaving all the light behind, leaving just me and her eyes. That sounds kinda gross, doesn't it? Never mind.
They were blue. Her eyes, I mean. They were beautiful. And her hair was, too. Beautiful, I mean. Not blue. Blonde, rather. And long, almost to her waist, and braided in an intricate knot that I wanted to untangle like the secrets around her heart, almost as if unbinding her hair would reveal her soul to me, let me know her as well as she knew me. I realized that I hadn't really seen her all that time ago; I never really knew her. She was just a presence, a scar on my memory, but really more of a...well, not really a scar, but more of a mark, more of a tattoo. Well, OK, not a tattoo either. But something like that. She was a fragile little thing, maybe only...I don't know...how much does "wispy" weigh? How tall is "ethereal"? Who's to say?
She was wearing those black and white shoes baby-sitters used to wear back in the 50's with their poodle skirts and bobby socks and sweaters. They seemed to constrict her somehow, tie her down. Yes, they made her more real, but somehow I didn't want her to seem real. She'd been a spirit, an angel for so long that for me to find out she was a real person who wore real shoes was like discovering that your arm is gone, not that I speak from personal experience, of course. It was like the difference between riding a horse bareback and riding one with a saddle. That's what they're called. The shoes, I mean. Saddle shoes. I always forget that, probably because I never owned a pair. I mean, I've never ridden a horse, either, but you may think I have based on what I've just told you, so I thought I'd clear up about the shoes. And the horse.
They walked past my department, where I was busily breading fish up for the next day's fish frys (or is it fries?). Not her shoes, of course. I mean, her shoes didn't walk past the department. She and her father (I assume) and her brother (I assume) walked by. Her shoes didn't. Well, actually I guess they did, but not by themselves. And they walked right in front of my department, and she, in as beautiful and graceful a way as possible, turned her wonderful face around, tossing her hair, and totally failed to look at me. I dropped a knife and nearly impaled my foot, distraught. They walked right by and turned down the cereal aisle, where chocolate wishes and sugar dreams danced with yellow moons and broken pink hearts. I felt a wrenching in my gut, somehow knowing that she would never look my way again, that I'd have to go on through life and eventually die with the knowledge that she'd only ever looked at me once. I sighed, and slouched, and resigned myself to a life of despair and mourning, and she turned and looked at me.
It was the same look I'd gotten one year, nine months and three days earlier from her, like she knew what I was thinking and she was sharing my thoughts, and the butterflies came back, stronger then they had been, like a higher idle on your car, except not like an idle and not like a car, and really not like butterflies when you come right down to it.
I must have forgotten to pour a libation to the gods, because the phone on the wall rang and she turned to walk away. Damn. I picked it up (the phone, not the wall) and rattled off something about this being the fish department and could I help you, and it was my manager telling me to close up and go home, or at least I assumed it was my manager -- I always wondered if maybe it was an employee pretending to sound like my manager just to get me in trouble. I walked in the back to get the big rack where I put the fish overnight (don't let them kid you -- fish doesn't come in fresh everyday) and pulled it out, and it squealed loudly because the wheels were rusty. I made no attempt to quiet the noise. It was how I felt -- rusty. I picked up a heavy container of clams and almost tipped it on the floor, barely managing to lean it against my chest in time. My cheap plastic nametag popped off and landed on the ground, so I set the clams down and turned to get it.
She was standing behind me. She bent down and picked it up. She looked at it. She smiled and turned it over. She looked at me. She said something.
"Hello," I answered, guessing at a response. I hoped she'd said hello -- I was in shock.
"I noticed that you were looking at me, and I guess I figured we were...you know...friends, I guess." She smiled. "Or something." She shuffled her feet and I felt like I was upsetting her in some way.
"I'm sorry, " I said. "I must be keeping you... I've always wanted to..."
"Come on hon, let's go." Her father (I assume) walked by, looking at frozen turkeys. I wanted nothing more than to wrap him in plastic and set him on the scale, priced at 27 cents a pound. He gave me a glance that betrayed nothing. Maybe he was thinking the same thing about me.
"I have to go. I'm sorry." She looked like she wanted to cry. She turned to leave. "It's OK." I wanted to bawl. "Good bye..." She noticed my hesitation and turned back for a minute. She smiled.
"Good bye, Mike." She walked away, just like that, and left me to put the fish away. How anticlimactic. Only after she had walked away did I remember that I never asked her what her phone number was, if she even had a phone, where she lived, if that was her mother and father and brother, if she was a vegetarian, what her name was... I sighed and finished working, and drove home in one of my ever-more-typical bad moods.
I had even forgotten to smile.
I walked upstairs and threw my keys on the table, and my mother gave me a dirty look and said something about scratching it but I ignored her and went to the fridge for something to eat. Of course, there was nothing good. I dug behind the pickles and purple stuff and ketchup (not catsup) and butter and lettuce and some kind of meat...at least I hoped it was meat...
"Why don't you buy something yourself?," my mother said. "You only work in a supermarket." I ignored her for the hundred and seventeenth time and reached for the milk. Cereal again. I was turning into a crunchy honey-dipped O, or maybe just another sugar-frosted flake.
"Someone called and said they found your nametag," she said, heading for the living room. "She left her number..."
After I cleaned up the milk I spilled, I called her back.
Her name is Lisa.