Today, while in line at the pharmacy to pick up my prescription for twenty Percocets needed for yet another kidney stone, I stood behind a shopping cart with a little tow-headed boy in the basket. He could not have been more than five. He said “hi” and I said “hello.”
The rest of the conversation:
Boy (plucking at his sweatshirt, which was grey and emblazoned with a large, orange letter B): “This is my shirt”
Me: “I know it. The letter B.”
Boy: “Yeah, B.”
Me: “Stand for anything?”
Boy: (looks down at his chest, looks back at me, says nothing).
Me: “I know. It’s because you like the Beatles so much, right? Because of that song ‘Letter B.’”
I could be misremembering, but I swear an audible groan escaped the lips of the woman in line behind me.
I felt I was a condescending and patronizing ass, making jokes at the expense of a little kid’s ignorance of sixties pop music just to amuse myself. And I thought I had probably scared him off altogether, ruining what promised to be a fun little vignette.
The mom has made one or two glances at me and they weren’t of the ‘oh how cute’ variety. I frantically began to read earnestly from the ingredient list of whatever balm or salve I could grab from the shelf to my immediate left.
Instead, after a lengthy pause:
Boy: “You know, we only have two of the Beatles left.”
Me (stunned): “Yes, I know. Two.”
Boy: “One died of cancer.”
Me: “George Harrison.”
Boy: “George Harrison. Brain cancer, maybe.”
Me: “Yeah, that’s right. And the other one?” (I make a gun with my hand and affect a face that says ‘s.o.l., huh?’)
Boy: “He was shot.”
Me: “Pretty sad.”
Me: “Who do you think will be next?”
Me: “Yeah, just our luck. We’ll end up with Ringo.”
Boy: “Ringo. Just our luck. My mom is getting medicine for my throat.”
Me: “Sore throat? They’re terrible.”
Boy (withdrawing his arm into his shirt, leaving the sleeve limp): “I lost my hand.”
Me: “I don’t think they make medicine for that.”
Boy: “No. They don’t. But I lost my hand.”
And then the mom turned around, her business with the pharmacist complete, and gave me a peculiar look. I told the kid good luck with his sore throat and stepped up to the counter to get my opiates.
The woman behind the counter suggested that the young boy ought to run for president, that at least he might have cancelled his vacation a bit earlier than three days after the hurricane.
I paid for my pills and went to sit in my car where I read from my book by James M. Cain. I would have loved to discuss the story with that kid.