Today I was standing in line at a Hallmark, waiting to buy 72 little star-shaped stickers. I was trying to figure out what to do with 18 little red stars, 18 little blue stars, and 18 little silver stars, as I really only wanted the gold ones, when Captain Collar-pop behind the counter started putting on a little show.
From the back (and backs can be deceiving), the customer in front of me appeared to be a very attractive woman; each piece set just-so to make each feature look a little better than nature had intended. I suppose it was only natural, then, that Captain Collar-pop gesticulate wildly – so goes the age-old attempt by man to convince woman that he is the ideal mate. In his case, this took the form of the classic ‘no-look-cash-drawer-close,’ a move he executed with an air of faux-uninterested flourish that would have driven an adolescent female peacock into a fit of hysterics.
Alas, foolhardy in his youth, our fair Captain failed to account for one crucial detail. With so many pieces of his flailing body to keep in check, so many intricate steps of flailation to carry out in precise sequence, he can hardly be blamed for not noticing something so mundane.
You see, held eternally in wait on top of that cash register is a single pencil. It is an old pencil, surviving through many hours of idle tapping by minimum-wage clerks staring out at an empty store. So much comfort it has brought, and so many solutions, always there at hand’s reach in a pinch. What irony that such a stalwart support should betray our charming hero at this most delicate of moments.
You see, engaged as he was in his pre-drawer-close-wind-up, he didn’t realize that a subtle vibration had set the pencil to roll, and rolling it was now, down into the path of the closing drawer. I wanted to warn him. I tried, but the words caught in my throat. The image is burned, now, into my mind.
There was Captain Collar-pop, gazing intently into the distance, an aura of mystery and danger dripping from his every feature. He didn’t see it coming. He couldn’t see it coming. “What’s that in the distance?” his countenance asked. “Is it a bird maybe? Such beautiful plumage?” Thu-dunk.
The unwatched drawer slid silently towards a conclusion that was now all but inevitable. The pencil, rolling and tumbling, bounced like a roulette ball. Oh if only it would bounce astray, then, just maybe, our hero might carry the day. Captain Collar-pop will have his day, I am sure of it. Such flourish can only come to good in time. Today, though, the pencil didn’t bounce free. No, with the trademark stubbornness of a pencil, it buried its half-chewed eraser deep among the accumulated nickles. Sliding now, with the closing drawer, its dull point wrote a single final line upon the air itself, a farewell note to foolish hope. Impact, now, as errant pencil prevents the closing of the drawer. Impact, now, as rocking cash-register bumps ‘point-of-sale-kinck-knack-display-boxes’ filled with assorted humorous magnets, inspirational bookmarks and books made for people with very small hands. Impact, now, as boxes fall to the floor.
I never saw the face of the woman ahead of me in line. I saw only his as he tried to play it cool. Tried to laugh it off. “What’s that in the distance?,” his body asked. I watched his face as he watched her walk away. Oh the things that could have been. So many shattered dreams. So many little red, blue and silver star-stickers with nothing to stick them on.