I have taken a job as a part-time salesperson in a mall for Christmas money, which means that one of my jobs has me out on the retail floor for the first time since 2004. Enough time has passed that I had nearly forgotten the strange intimacy that occurs between salesperson and customer.
Yesterday, I met a man who had just had his colon removed due to his fight with colitis. He walked with the careful tension of a person whose body could not yet be trusted. He allowed me to bend down to the floor and help him slip his shoes on and off. His socks were clean and soft, and I wondered who had helped him with such great care that morning.
A woman was hoping that she would be able to buy her husband another pair of his favourite slippers before Christmas, but he was suffering from The Gout and couldn't fit a shoe on his left foot. He was at the doctor's about The Gout right at that moment. She hoped that the doctor could do something about The Gout, but The Gout kept returning. Good men like him shouldn't have The Gout, she said, especially when they have such a mean neighbour who is in good health. I'm thinking that she would like to give her neighbour a good case of The Gout for Christmas.
"What's with these mittens?" another woman asked, wriggling her hand into a mitten with separate finger compartments inside.
"It's sort of a hybrid between a mitten and a glove," I said.
"Well, I don't like it. Things should be what they are."
"Think of them as glittens," I said.
"No," she said. "Things should be one thing or the other. They should be what they are." She appeared to be offended by them and frowned while she put them down gingerly.
Poor glittens, I thought, as I hung them back on the rack. Who will speak for them?
Customers drift in for minutes, sometimes for only seconds, and while they are explaining what they are looking for, they are also explaining themselves. They tell story after story about their families, their desires, the things they believe in, and they follow me home to people my dreams, their tales knocking around together in my brain like a makeshift village of strangers looking for love.