Eye-to-Eye

When he was a boy, he’d accompany one parent or another to banks, convenience stores, hardware stores, places queueing people to exchange money for whatever it was worth. He’d stand by the counter waiting to be noticed. Sensible, he waited in line, not interrupting, rocking from heel to toe to heel. Sometimes grownups pushed ahead and he continued to wait. Clerks didn’t know he was waiting, a part of the sequence.

Sometimes when his mother was paying, he’d stand on his toes hoping to catch a glimpse of the person at the other side of the counter. He’d see only the underside of the counter (its gallery of cherry, grape, and wintergreen-coloured stalactites) or the edge of its platform (fractured formica edges). He’d jump to get a better look but his mother eventually nixed that. Sometimes his father would say “my son would like…” but that didn’t help because he still couldn’t see the person. Even when they spoke to him, they talked to the top of his head.

He remembered when his eye-level passed the top of the counter. He liked the ball-bearing chains, which attached pens to the countertop–metallic snakes that forgot about friction. After being told not to play with them, he pushed their beads silently against his fingertips to feel roundness. Even once he could see across the countertop, he still had to reach, awkwardly twisting his shoulder to place money onto the platform. Finally, paying required concentration (the surety of adult action takes time).

When he was older and taller, he placed his hands comfortably on the countertop and spoke. The clerk noticed him out of duty rather than curiousity. With the countertop below his hands, he made eye contact, smiling with the courtesy of a small but genuine gratitude. She returned the smile while handing him the receipt for his groceries.

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