Cashiers These Days!!

Cashiers These Days!!
The man’s breath envelopes my entire face with his essence; decay and something akin to mothballs. I try to hold mine. I think that if I breathe him in, the reek of death he carries will somehow permeate my being, and be unshakable. I do my best to treat him with the utmost kindness and courtesy. I am here to be professional, but my eyes are beginning to burn. He has no idea of the foulness he is sending out into the world, and it’s for the best. Nobody could live with this knowledge. I subtly lean back in my stance, and reach for the hand sanitizer, I will dab some on the tip of my nose as he writes his check. I do, and the relief is immediate, though short lived. “Did you say it’s twelve seventy-two, or six, miss?” “Um, actually- it’s twelve seventy- three, sir. Oh- oops! It looks like you’ve written Safeway on your check. This is-“
“Ah, dammit! I know this isn’t Safeway! What’s wrong with me”…he sighs, and rips the check viciously from the checkbook, rips it into roughly four uneven pieces, and pushes it toward me. Not one to miss a queue, I throw it into the trashcan behind me. The lady in line just behind him tries to muffle a sigh, and rolls her eyes. Noticing I’ve been watching her, she gives me an apologetic and conspiratorial smile, as if we’re suffering together. Truly, she has no idea. Yet, I feel sorry for this guy. A simple task we take for granted- writing a check, is not so simple for everyone.  A very worn gold band encircles the old man’s left ring finger, and seems to glow. His nose and ears are long, but  his eyes are a brilliant shade of blue. Somewhere in his features I see a man with pride and honor, who maybe  has weathered many storms, and who has been loved. I notice his cap now, “Semper Fi”, blue, embroidered in gold. I suddenly like him, and as he struggles to finish writing his check, I know that it would be insulting to him to offer to have the cash register print it for him. Hell, he probably needs the mental and physical challenge this is giving him, even if it is a pain in the ass to all of us.
The young guy who had come into line behind the eye rolling lady has taken his energy drink and M-n-M’s off the belt and walked off. I no longer care. Before tearing the check out of its book and handing it to me at last, Mister decides to enter this check information into his register and do a bit of balancing. His breath is not getting any better, and is made worse by his occasional need to sigh, or cough in my direction. Still, thinking about it, here’s a man worthy of my respect. He looks up at me to hand me the check he has slowly and carefully torn from the checkbook. His hands are weathered and callused, and his joints are over-sized and misshapen in places. “I’m sorry to keep you waiting. My wife always did the shopping, and now- well, I am just learning that it’s not as easy as I thought!” He beams a smile at me that warms my heart and breaks it at the same time. To have recently lost his wife, but to still manage such a warm smile is quite disarming.  His grace and dignity have almost sweetened his breath a bit. I smile back, and feel a sweet sting of water in my eyes that has nothing to do with bad breath. ‘Don’t you worry about a thing, you’re just fine!  I read his name on the check. “Mister Radcliffe, thank you for serving your country and keeping us all safe! Oh, hey- do you want a piece of gum?”