Six Twenty Three
“Damn it” her voice rang out. “We are out of milk, I thought you got some yesterday”
“I told you I was outside all day working on the car. I forgot” he replied
“You better bundle up it is cold and you are walking to the store.” She said as she shot him a little smile.
“Yeah, yeah I know.” He muttered returning the little smile.
He went to the closet and began the process of bundling up. His mom was right it is all about layers. Tee shirt, long sleeve thermal shirt, insulated flannel and a hoodie for the top. Thermal bottoms and blue jeans tucked into his socks. He pulled his heavy brown insulated boots over his tucked in jeans and laced up the boots high and tied them tight. A woolen hat crowned his head then a hood over it and a scarf wrapped around his chin. He slid his heavy work gloves over his cracked dry hands. “Alright honey I’ll be back in about 20 minutes. It is gonna take some time to walk to the store there’s ice everywhere.” He said with another little smile.
“Be careful. Love you.” She said in a soft tone. From the play room two other voices rang out “Bye dad, get treats for us”
He shrugged knowing that walk to the store would not be fun. “Lock the door behind me I’m out” he chirped as he walked out the door.
He walked down the icy stairs and began his little journey. It was cold. I mean brutally cold. The wind whipped out of the northeast and seemed to cut right through his clothes. The sun was high in the clear blue sky. Ice and snow covered the ground as far as he could see. And it was bright. So bright he had to shield his eyes as the sun reflected of the snow like it was a mirror. The ground was caked in crushed snow and ice. He had to walk slowly and deliberately to make sure he did not fall. It was normally just a ten minute walk to the store but in these conditions it would take nearly double that time.
Two cars slowly drove by avoiding him and each other. He was cold. He buried his chin in his scarf and put his head down directly into the wind in the hope that it would not rush through any weak spots in his clothes. He inhaled the cold air and it hurt his lungs a little. He sighed. He needed to get to the store. He had been stuck in the house for nearly a week and the kids were out of milk and other food was running low.
“I shoulda fixed the car last week when I had the money and the weather was better.” he thought out loud. “Now I’m stuck walking.”
He shook his head in frustration, buried his chin deeper into his scarf and looked only a few feet in front of him as he walked. Another car drove by and unable to stop at the intersection, skidded through into the main road. He held his breath, closed his eyes and waited for the crunch of metal. He opened his eyes to see the car had skidded to a halt in the middle of the intersection. Thankfully few people were on the road and the car was able to go on about its’ way without causing an accident. He walked another fifty feet to that intersection.
He took a right and began his walk in earnest. He liked to think of unpleasant journeys in phases. Phase one was complete he had walked to the end his road. Phase two was the longest phase, usually five or six minutes but today it would be fifteen. The wind kicked up from behind him pushing him uneasily forward. He did not like not being in total control of his body. It was like being a little drunk. He stopped for a second to gain his balance and continued to trudge through phase two.
“Phase three, which would be phase one on the way back, was going be tricky” he thought to himself. “That hill is gonna suck to go back up, and down.” ,he half thought and half muttered. He picked his head up and squinted through light reflecting off the snow. He could only look for a second or two before his eyes hurt. A funny thought went through his mind “I can’t believe I need sunglasses” He saw a patch of clear sidewalk and picked up the pace before he had to look back down. The cold was becoming a little uncomfortable.
The clear path went on, thankfully, to the street he had to take a left on to go get to the store. A smile crept across his face because of the good fortune of the clear sidewalk. There was not a car in sight but he instinctively quickened his pace across the street.
He saw the store down the hill a block away. A thought popped in his head. The kids asked for some treats. As he thought about what to get the kids, they both loved chocolate, a gust of wind rushed between the houses and knocked him off balance. He tried to settle himself by planting his left foot. His foot landed on a patch of ice and he lost his balance and fell over into the street. He landed on his right elbow and wrenched his left ankle. He yelped in pain. He hoped no one saw because his pride was also hurt. His elbow landed on a hard pile of ice and snow, the pain was not that great and had already begun subsiding. His ankle was another story. He knew it would blow up as soon as he took off his boots. He took a deep breath and struggled to his feet. He cursed the wind and the ice and himself. He cursed himself for not going to the store yesterday, for not fixing the car.
He hobbled through the now steady wind the rest of the block to the store. His ankle throbbed. He opened the door and a bell rang. He stepped in and stamped his feet as was his habit. He only needed to stamp his left once to be reminded that he just wrenched it. He silently cursed himself again under his breath. Everything was yellow. His eyes had to adjust to the light in the store. He blinked his eyes and tried to focus.
"Cold enough for you?" the short bundled up clerk said without looking up from his work at the counter.
"Yup and windy enough too. It just blew me over and a wrenched my ankle." he said “So bright out there I can barely see in here.”
"You slip in the parking lot?" the clerk asked looking up at him.
"No, I walked I fell on the street" he said
“Should I call a doctor”, the clerk said with a little chuckle.
“I’ll live.” He said
He gingerly walked down the aisle and grabbed a gallon of milk. He took his time looking through the candy to warm up. After a minute he grabbed two Hershey bars and placed them with the milk on the counter.
The clerk rang up the small order. "Six twenty three please." the clerk murmured to him.
The man reached into his pocket. A small horror grabbed hold of his mind. His eyes widened, his heart raced a little and actually felt a little sick to his stomach. He forgot the money. No wallet, no cash nothing. He stood at the counter dumbfounded at his own oversight. A small groan escaped his lips as he realized the full implication of this simple oversight.
"Six twenty three" the clerk repeated.
He looked up at the clerk his eyes glazed over, "I forgot my money" he said glumly. "I'll have to walk home and get my money and come back." His shoulders perceptively shrunk at the thought of having to walk all that way on a screwed up ankle. "See you soon" the man said to the clerk. He cursed a little curse under his breath. He could feel his body getting angry. “Take it easy man see you soon” He said not even know the guy’s name even after coming here for over a year
“Hey wait a minute.” The clerk told the man. “How long of a walk is it?”
“Nearly twenty minutes one way.” He numbly replied to the clerk.
“Listen you can’t walk all the way home and back and home again on that ankle in that cold and wind. Tell you what you are here almost every day. Take your things and pay me next time you come in”
The man looked at the clerk not remembering anyone doing something nice like that for him in a while. “Thanks” he stammered out to the clerk. “By the way what is your name?” he said to the clerk.
“Dave”, the clerk replied as he pulled the money out of his pocket to pay for the milk and chocolate. “Remember six twenty three” the clerk said with a wry smile. “…see you soon”. The clerk said as he looked back down at his work on the counter.
The man took the bag with his groceries, “Six twenty three. Thanks Dave.” He then hobbled out the door with his groceries wearing a smile because of the little gift he had received at the store. “Six twenty three” he said to himself. The walk home was cold and somewhat painful but the thought of the simple generosity warmed him.