Two Steps Ahead
by Carrie Kosicki
The old couple squabbled back and forth at the counter for longer than was appropriate given the number of people in line behind them, but since when did that sort of thing matter to old people? As a generation, they seemed to resent anyone under 30, accusing “these young people these days” of walking around with over-inflated senses of entitlement, but apparently it was perfectly acceptable to keep a dozen people in line indefinitely while sifting through a stack of books, all but one of which they had no intention of purchasing. As the generation that invented the bomb, built the interstate highway system, and sent the first man into space, they seemed to think their own sense of entitlement was inflated just the right amount.
“But Miriam, what’s wrong with this one? I think she’d like this one,” the husband said to his wife, picking up a giant book with Audrey Hepburn on the cover. It was full of glossy pages and looked like it weighed twenty pounds. “We can’t get her this one,” he said picking up a small paperback copy of Mrs. Dalloway, “This costs 4 dollars,” he continued, “She’ll think we don’t love her.”
“We love her, but how much is that one right there, 70 bucks?” she said, slapping the back of her hand onto the coffee table book so hard the old man almost dropped it.
“For God’s sake, how many 14-year-olds in the year 2012 do you know who’ve seen Breakfast at Tiffany’s 37 times? It’s her birthday. She’s our granddaughter. Let’s just get her the book. “
“She’s not our favorite granddaughter.”
“She’s our only granddaughter.”
The only thing keeping the man standing at the cash register from laughing was the knowledge that he’d eventually be the one responsible for reshelving the 23 other books that he knew the couple would inevitably leave behind.
“Well how about we get these three? Three books would be good.” Miriam said pushing a box set toward the cashier assuming the conversation was finished.
“Nancy Drew? Jesus Christ, woman, my sister read those books 60 years ago. Kids don’t want to read that stuff now,” he yelled pulling the books out of the cashier’s hands.
“Yeah, but kids want to sit around looking at old black and white pictures of Audrey Hepburn?” Miriam said, mentally tallying the point she’d just won.
“Nancy’s wearing nylons and penny-loafers on this cover. That does not speak to today’s teenagers. Who are they even marketing these to?” the husband asked.
“Oh, look who thinks he knows something. You think just because you’ve watched a season of the Mad Men, you know something about marketing.”
“Hey, you two up there ever going to get out of line? Some of us have to get to work,” called out a young man a the back of the line.
The couple turned in unison to look at the 20-something in the baggy sweatshirt, cargo shorts, and flip flops.
“Oh, do you hear this guy?” asked the wife.
“Yeah,” said the husband. “And just where do you work dressed like that, son?” he called down to the young man who’d just wanted to buy this week’s Sports Illustrated during his lunch break from the remote controlled helicopter kiosk in the middle of the mall.
“I sell model helicopters,” the man said sheepishly, not having expected this confrontation.
“Well, I flew real helicopters in Korea, so why don’t you keep quiet and wait your turn.”
When the old man turned around, his wife was accepting change back from the cashier, having bought the Nancy Drew books while her husband had been distracted. “Well, you showed him,” she said to her husband.
“Yeah,” he replied, shaking his head in disbelief, “I won the battle, but it looks like I lost the war.”
“Here,” she said, handing him the bag of books as they walked away from the counter. He took them without saying anything, walking in front of her holding the door open as she passed through two steps ahead of him.