My manager is waist-deep in God, which is where I want to be. She barely blinks, smiles as if drugged or half-asleep—who wouldn’t want such lassitude, especially among these aisles of plastic “goods” made in China for our little girls. The store is the kind of shrill over-lit ugly that makes you depressed if you do not believe in God or if you don’t know if you believe in God. To employ me to stock shelves and run a cash register took a leap of faith on Sandra’s part, as my mouth falls most naturally into the unwelcoming neutral position. No matter how hard I try to curve them, my lips end up sinking, as if weighted. In this economy, it would be presumptive to say that I am overqualified for selling hair decorations in various shades of pink, lavender, and whatever is the new black. Many of the girls who come here with allowances used to sit at desks facing me and my trying-to smile. “Mrs. Hertz,” they say, not just surprised but impressed with my new position, surrounded as I am by ribbons and sparkle. Their moms know better, try to look away. When jobs get scarce, eye contact suffers. Merciful Sandra intervenes, tells me to take lunch by asking me if I want to take it. A pair of hot dogs is enough to satisfy my slim hunger, and I come back early because the best thing in my life right now is watching Sandra be loved by God. “How did you two first meet,” I ask her, as I re-pin my chest with my name, my first name only, store policy. She shows me lizard eyes that cry only for good reasons. “I was walking across Broad Street and I just felt him by my side,” she says. That night, after selling my last barrette, I go down to Broad, look both ways. I’m wary, but the goal is to buck my own trends, to pool the resources I lack, to find a really good reason to carry on. I will cross this street all night if I have to.
Frances Lefkowitz is the author of To Have Not, as well as hundreds of articles, essays and stories in national literary and consumer magazines, from GlimmerTrain, Fiction, Blip, and The Sun, to Good Housekeeping, Whole Living, and National Geographic’s Green Guide. Her essays have received special mention twice for the Pushcart Prize and once for Best American Essays.