This is a short story I actually wrote for a project a couple years ago. I’ve since went over it and edited it a little, especially since it’s been so long. :’)
This was written with the idea in mind that children are innocent, but that doesn’t mean they can’t understand what’s happening around them. Particularly in the case of divorces. While the child in my story is a bit of an extreme case in how she acts, I have heard children speak with wisdom beyond their years. It always blows me away, but it’s not unheard of.
Ashley leaned against the counter, waving her hand lazily as the large woman in her bushy fur coat walked out of the store, ushering her teenage daughter and her young friend out with her. Once they were out of sight Ashley rolled her eyes in an irritated manner. Damn rich women. She ran a hand through her shortly cropped hair in such a way that it made you think she had life extremely rough.
The woman had come in looking for an e-reader, which was perfectly fine. The two teenage girls had run off to the phones, looking at the latest and greatest models the store had to offer. Making sure to be acutely aware of both parties, for training and past experience had conditioned her to do just that in the case of a theft, she dealt with the abrasive woman and listened to the girls talking.
“Wow, that case is, like, really cute!”
“Yeah, but Tiff, it’s sixty bucks. Way too expensive.”
“I’ll just come in with my dad later or something. I need another case anyway. This one is so boring…”
Ashley had inwardly snorted, and would have rolled her eyes if she hadn’t been conversing with the girl’s mother. Spoiled brat. Ashley sincerely hoped that once she was out from under her father’s roof, the girl would get a rude awakening.
“So what you’re saying is, you won’t sell it to me?”
Ashley snapped back to herself then, and blinked rapidly at the fur-covered woman in front of her. She wanted to sigh.
“No ma’am. I’d love to sell it to you. We just don’t have any in stock at the moment,” Ashley had explained. This was the second time she’d told the woman, and she really didn’t like repeating herself. Not a good quality for someone working in retail.
“Are you sure?” she had insisted, drumming her manicured nails on the counter. The noise was irritating beyond belief. “You have a back room, right? Go and look for me.”
At this point Ashley had been on the brink. She knew for a fact that they didn’t have the brand the woman was looking for, for the main and simple reason that she’d just sold the last one herself the day before. The system had even backed her up in confirming no other e-reader of the kind was sitting anywhere in the store. Plus, she wouldn’t have dared to leave the woman alone with the girls while she went and checked. The only camera they had stationed in the small store interior was by the door, but it was also a dummy. The only thing it was good for was making people act stupidly as if they were on ‘TV’ and for the employee’s to snicker at.
“I’m positive,” she said instead.
The incessant questioning went on for five more minutes before the woman became fed up and left. Ashley was not at all sorry for it. Twirling her name tag around her finger on its lanyard, it announcing the latest deal the store was doing and also her nickname ‘Ash’ in a plain font, she went to double check that none of the phone cases were missing, just in case.
Satisfied that everything seemed to still be where it was required, she moved back behind the counter, setting herself down on the spinning chair that, since she’d started working there, had been broken, and she couldn’t adjust the height to accommodate her shorter size. All of her coworkers were taller by a few inches, so it must not have bothered them. But it was the perfect height for her to rest her arms on the counter, her head on top of her arms, and watch the TV stationed at the back of the store. She really had it quite easy.
But the easy-going atmosphere did a number on her, for it left her with much time to think. She had recently broken up with Kyle, her boyfriend for the entirety of her college years, and she was still sore about it. Kyle had been a sweetheart, a gentleman, just what she liked in a guy. But he was also a compulsive liar and ‘slitherer-outer,’ as she thought of him, and that had been their undoing. Even when unnecessary he would come up with a lie to explain his comings and goings, and when she heard the truth from someone else it hurt her. She longed and asked for him to just be a little more honest with her, but he retorted that she was trying to change him for the worse. Needless to say she couldn’t put up with it anymore.
No sooner had she sat and made herself comfy and troubled with thoughts of Kyle, though, did she hear the clicking noise of the door alarm, signaling someone had walked into the store. Suppressing a sigh, Ashley turned toward the door with the customary greeting smile and a “Hello and welcome,” on the tip of her tongue.
A little girl had walked in, standing by the door as if unsure she wanted to be there. She was staring at Ashley intently, and it made her feel a little self-conscious, the greeting dying on her lips. She’d always been a little timid, and while Ashley had hoped her four years of college would help to cure the affliction, she was unfortunately still saddled with it. Which was probably why this job at a store with very few customers in a day was so good for her.
Clearing her throat louder than she’d intended, Ashley raised her hand in a small wave. “Hi dear,” she said, regaining her confidence in spite of the stare. “Anything you’re looking for today?”
“Oh no, I’m just browsing around today, thank you,” she said matter-of-factly, holding her hands behind her back and rocking on the heels of her feet. Without another word the girl turned away, finally breaking eye contact (much to Ashley’s relief), and wandered around the store.
Ashley was surprised at her words; she was more used to children screaming, crying, begging, or all combined when they entered the store. In fact, that was how Ashley saw them in general. She had never been good with kids. But this little girl seemed very well mannered and polite, and was also alone. That made Ashley think she was neglected, independent, or a shoplifter. She was always paranoid about children coming in on their own.
So out of the corner of her eye, pretending to return her attention back to the television, she watched the girl closely. As far as she knew no filching had ever occurred on her watch, and she wanted to keep it that way.
The little girl seemed average enough, minus her peculiar way of speaking. She looked to be about eight years old, and it was obvious she dressed herself. Her knee high socks were mismatched—purple stars on black versus black and white stripes—and her skirt was reminiscent of a ballerina tutu and aqua blue. She had a zippered jacket on over the top of a dark blue t-shirt with “I’m a Big Sister!” emblazoned on the front in white. It reminded Ashley of a shirt a grandmother would make. Overall the girl’s appearance reminded Ashley of her at that age, before she’d let the tomboy side of her take over entirely. The kid was cute.
The little girl was looking at the R.C. cars in the limited toy section, but she didn’t seem very interested in them. She kept glancing at Ashley every so often, further instilling the idea that she was a thief in the sales girl’s mind.
So when the girl finally walked over to the counter and Ashley gave full attention to her, she was thoroughly surprised by the child’s question.
“I was curious,” she began, placing her hands on the counter and hoisting herself up slightly so as to see better. She blinked baby blues up at the sales girl and continued, “Are you in a relationship at this time?”
Blinking her own eyes dumbly in response, Ashley opened her mouth, then, thinking better of it, closed it again. What? “Uh…”
“Oh,” the girl said, “I’m sorry. You probably don’t talk to strangers, do you? I’m Wendy.” She stuck out her tiny hand as if to shake.
“H-hardly,” Ashley choked out, taking the girl’s hand none-the-less. Of course that wasn’t it at all! Ashley dealt with strangers all day; the idea was silly. “Honey, usually you don’t just ask…” Failing to think of better wording, Ashley shrugged and said, “well, you don’t ask strangers about their relationships.”
“Oh,” she said again. The girl, now known to be Wendy, looked thoughtful for a moment then asked, “So, are you?”
Perhaps mature in words, but not entirely in the mind. Ashley sighed. “No, kiddo. I’m very much single.”
“That’s perfect, then,” she said happily, smiling brightly and showing a missing tooth. “Then since you’re free, and I’m free… will you marry me?”
“W-what?” Ashley sputtered, almost stumbling back into the wheeled chair behind her.
“Don’t worry!” she assured, smile still in place, “I have a ring and everything! I know it’s normally the boy that gives the ring, but…” She shrugged and pulled from her jacket pocket a cheap, plastic ring, one you could easily get for a quarter in any toy machine in the mall. Looking at Ashley’s hands, she made a ‘tut-tut’ noise, “Oh, it might be too small for you, though…”
“Honey,” Ashley interjected, waving her hands to stall any more words that Wendy might spew. She thought she knew what the problem was. Leaning over the counter and fingering her hair pointedly, she asked, “You know I’m a girl, right? I know my hair is short and my name is ‘Ash’ but…”
“No, no, no,” Wendy interrupted her, waving her own hands to stop her this time. “I know you’re a girl. That’s the point.”
“Don’t tell me you’re a boy,” Ashley said, starting to wonder if maybe…
“Ew!” she squealed, almost making Ashley snicker. Wendy scrunched up her nose and shook her head violently, her bouncy pigtails flying about her head. Maybe she was still in the cootie stage. “No! Men are all stupid pigs. I don’t need or want a man in my life. Ever.”
Ashley was shocked. Never had she heard a child speak like this, and she’d hardly ever heard adults speak that way either. But her words also sounded rehearsed, parroted by the little girl from the original speaker.
“Why would you say something like that?” Ashley asked softly, trying to find some reason as to why this adorable little girl would say such things.
“Because, my daddy’s a…” she paused, trying to find the right words. “… A ‘shove-in insect pig that can rot in hell.’”
“I think you mean ‘chauvinistic,’” Ashley supplied lamely, slowly, stunned at the choice of words.
“That too.” Wendy sighed, folding her arms over her chest like a long-suffering adult. Her expression was that of one who has seen much, but also the childish glint in her eye that portrayed the hurt she was feeling. Poor thing. Ashley really had no clue about what to say.
She needn’t think long on it, though. Wendy supplied more information on her own without prompting. “My daddy and mommy would go out with friends all the time, and he liked Sasha a lot. Sasha is my mommy’s friend,” she explained, seeing an even more confused look come across Ashley’s face. Confusion quickly changed to a look that clearly said she knew where this was going. “So daddy hung out with Sasha when mommy wasn’t aware of it, and he…” She paused again with that searching-for-words look, then finished, “’had his way with her.’ So now they’re getting a da-vorce.”
“I’m sorry, Wendy,” Ashley said quietly, still without words. What do you say to a child hurting from conflict between parents? Ashley personally had not had to deal with it herself, though she knew many people who had.
But Wendy simply shrugged and replied, “That’s why men are stupid. I’d rather marry a woman; they’re more mature and don’t cheat on their husbands. Er,” she added hastily, “or wives.”
In spite of herself, Ashley chuckled. “Well,” she said slowly, thinking of how best to word this, “Wendy… not all men are ‘chauvinistic’ pigs, y’know?”
“Prove it,” she challenged. “Im-press me.” She put extra emphasis on the first part of impress, and this made Ashley think it was another phrase stolen from someone else. Most likely the girl’s mother.
“Well…” Ashley was at a loss. The only man that came to mind was Kyle, and that certainly was not a good example for this situation. While Kyle hadn’t cheated on her (as far as she knew, and the mere thought hurt her deeply), he was still a liar. “Haven’t you ever heard the phrase, ‘You are a unique snowflake’?” She threw it out, but Ashley knew it was a bit of a last-ditch attempt to sway the child.
“Of course,” she scoffed, “but only sarcastically.”
“But it’s true,” the sales girl insisted. “You’re not the same as…” she scrambled for something to think of. Spying the girl’s shirt, she said, “You’re not the same as your sibling, right?”
“Duh,” she said, reverting back to how a normal child would probably act. “My baby brother is still a feet-us.”
Suppressing another snicker at Wendy’s emphasis in her words, Ashley sobered up and thought. Wendy seemed patient enough to wait for a sufficient example, but Ashley was sure she wouldn’t stand around forever.
Almost as if a light bulb went off in her mind, Ashley snagged her ‘quickie’ wallet from her back pocket and flipped through the pictures in it. One of them was a picture of her and Kyle. She paused at it, then yanked it out and tossed it on the counter, continuing to flip through photos. As she did, Wendy reached up tentatively and picked up the picture, looking at the occupants smiling faces. She sighed again, so softly that Ashley didn’t hear it.
“Here!” Ashley finally announced triumphantly, startling the little girl so much she jumped and dropped the photo on the counter again. Pulling out another wallet-sized photo, she placed it over the top of the one with Kyle in it.
An older man and woman were lightly embracing each other, smiling at each other rather than the camera but still slightly facing it. In the background there was a banner that read “Happy 50th Anniversary!” in decorative golden letters. And in their eyes was what was easily distinguishable as love for each other.
“This,” Ashley said, “is my grandma and grandpa. And this was taken almost ten years ago. They are still like this even now: happy and in love with each other.”
“So what’s your point…?”
“My point is that if my grandpa were anything like your… ‘chauvinist pig’ father,” she said grudgingly, “they wouldn’t be together. My grandpa is the sweetest man in the world. And the perfect example that not all men are scum.”
While Wendy still had doubts, she couldn’t deny that they did look very happy. And if this picture was ten years old, that meant sixty years… That was a very, very long time.
“But what he did was still wrong…” she said quietly, and despite her best efforts Wendy felt tears brimming in her eyes. She sniffed.
“I won’t deny that,” Ashley said, equally as quiet. She reached out her hand and laid it over the little girl’s, squeezing just a bit to offer her some comfort. “But see, if he is the type of person to do that to you… that’s not something you should have to be around, right?”
“I s’pose,” she mumbled. She flipped her hand over and squeezed back, a silent thank you, and looked up with a watery smile. Ashley personally felt as if she had done nothing, but if it helped at all, she was happy.
Just then the clicking of the door went off again, and Ashley jerked up, immediately plastering her fake smile on her face. But not before she let a genuine one slip on for Wendy. Wendy sniffed and wiped her eyes on her sleeve.
An obviously pregnant woman walked in, one hand placed on her stomach while the other rested on the door, large wallet in hand. “Ready to go, sweetheart?” she asked, eyeing Ashley with respect but also curiosity. Ashley smiled and nodded to her.
“One more moment, mommy? I want to ask Ash something,” she pleaded, and her mother smiled and nodded before stepping out the door to wait for her daughter.
“Anything I can do for you, kiddo?” Ashley asked, leaning slightly over the counter. She sincerely wanted to offer Wendy any help she could; her heart went out to the little girl.
“Uhm…” Uncertainty marred her eyes, and she looked down at the pictures before asking hesitantly, “Can I have two favors?” she asked, holding up as many fingers to show.
“First, can I have the pictures, if it’s okay with you?”
Bemused, Ashley simply nodded. She could easily get another from her grandparents, but why Wendy wanted the one of her and Kyle was a mystery. She figured it better not to ask.
“And… can I have your phone number? My mommy is looking for a new babysitter now that Sasha is ‘a bust,’ and I’m a really good reference…” At this Ashley laughed. “Or we can just talk or something,” Wendy offered, smiling at her reaction.
Without another word Ashley grabbed a pen and drug one of the photos over to her—the one with her and Kyle. Staring at it long and hard, she finally flipped it over and scrawled ‘Ash, ###-###-####’ on the back with a little smiley face next to it. She handed it and the other photo of her grandparents to Wendy, and with a huge smile and a thank you, she literally bounced out the door like a rabbit.
Through the window Ashley saw them embrace, and when Wendy turned to look at her with a wave and a toothy grin (minus the one she was missing), Ashley waved back, with much more sincerity than she had to the fur-coated woman earlier that day. It was the first time Ashley longed for a phone call, let alone one from a child that, when she thought about it, she hardly knew.