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Mrs. Twilling came out of the office the second her husband was out the front door. “How much did he take?” she said, springing open the till.
“Not sure ma’am. I was over here, where I am now,” Mookie said. He was dusting the pyramid of exterior latex paint that was on sale for 20% off.
“He say where he was going?”
She looked at him as if he were somehow to blame. Mookie shrivelled. Mrs. Twilling began to empty the cash from the till.
“Fishing or drinking, it’s one or the other, usually both.”
Mookie waved the duster thinking he might say something, except he had nothing to say as he was preoccupied with watching Mrs. Twilling, entranced by the curve of her long neck. A cloud of dust formed in front of his face and he sneezed.
“Bless you,” she said and hitched up her skirt.
Mookie felt a little ashamed, his eyes moving on to Mrs. Twilling's backside.
“Thank you ma’am,” he said, fixing his gaze on a poster advertising flocked wallpaper.
“My husband can be difficult.”
“Yes ma’am,” Mookie said. He couldn’t resist another quick peek at her.
“We have a lot of staff turnover. You’ve been here for how long?”
“Almost six months.”
Mrs. Twilling turned from the till and looked up from the few bills she’d collected. Mookie felt himself wilt, with Mrs. Twilling looking directly at him and maybe even into his heart.
“The customers seem to like you,” she said. “There’s been a few comments when I’ve been here. Mrs. Elgar just the other day.”
Mookie felt himself expanding. He took a deep breath and inhaled his cloud of dust. He sneezed again and wiped his nose on his arm. He felt a blush coming on.
“Thank you for saying so. It means a lot to hear something like that,” he said, sniffling.
Mrs. Twilling continued to look him over. “You all right?” she said.
Mookie sniffled and wiped his nose again. He shrank a little. “I'm good,” he said and felt the runny mucus dripping out of his nose. He shrank a little more.
“How old are you?”
“What’s your name again?”
“Everybody calls me Mookie. It means loser,” he said. The shrivelled place inside him began to ache and he began to fade.
“What’s your real name?”
“Well, Stuart, you’re at a good age: anything can happen. You’re a big, strong kid. You’ve got your whole life in front of you. You’re only a loser if you think you are.”
“Yes, ma’am, thank you, that’s good advice,” Mookie said, feeling himself expand again.