earlier this evening i drove to a nearby convenience store to get some ice cream. yes, it’s friday night, and my plans consist of eating ice cream at my apartment. i’m not wasting the last of my twenties AT ALL. anyway i went inside and picked out my pint while the grey-haired woman behind the counter rang up some guy’s beers. after he left i walked up to the counter with my pint of chocolate-covered cherry and took out my wallet to pay, but the woman behind the counter was busy looking out the window.
“oh, i hope he doesn’t run over that pigeon!” she said. i glanced outside but didn’t see any pigeons or people. “i’ll be right back,” she said. she grabbed an empty wine box from behind the counter and ran out into the parking lot. why does she care if some guy runs over a dead pigeon? i thought. all it would do is make the parking lot gross. why does she care about that?
and then i saw the pigeon. it wasn’t dead; it was hopping around fitfully next to one of the gas pumps. it must have been injured. i watched as the woman put the box down on the ground, picked up the pigeon with both hands, and stuffed it into the box. i fully expected the pigeon to jump back out as soon as she put it in, but all it did was make the box jerk around a little as she closed it firmly.
she put the box under her arm and walked back towards the door. she’s going to leave that pigeon outside next to the door, isn’t she? isn’t she? oh my god she’s bringing it inside. she came back inside with the box and set it down next to the counter.
“oh, i’m so glad he didn’t run over it,” she said as she went back behind the counter.
“i guess it was injured?” i said, looking at her hands. she’s going to touch my ice cream now, isn’t she?
“yeah, something was wrong with it.” she reached for a big bottle of hand sanitizer next to the cash register. “i’ll just take it home.”
i guess i must have looked surprised. “oh, i was a surgical tech for twenty years. i’ll fix it right up.”
“oh. well, good luck,” i said.
“i’m just afraid of what my husband’s going to say. ‘why you have to bring home so many strays?’ he always asks me. hey, are you parked over there?” she said, gesturing back towards the side of the store.
“no, i’m over here,” i said, pointing out the window.
“good,” she said. “someone over there was laughing at me.” what?
i paid for my ice cream, took my change, and left. when i got home, i thought about how the woman had left me alone in the store while she went outside to pick up the pigeon. that particular convenience store is close to my house, so i’m there pretty often; i guess she must have recognized me. but did that mean i wasn’t going to steal anything? i didn’t steal anything, of course, but when she went outside it was the first thing that occurred to me, just before OH NO SHE IS NOT GOING TO TOUCH THAT BIRD. when she walked outside with the box i was thinking, i could take all this gum here by the checkout and stuff it into my pockets right now. or i could just grab my pint and make a run for it to the car. that second thing would mean i couldn’t ever come back here, but if i took all this gum right now, she’d never know it.
it didn’t occur to me until later that maybe she’d asked me where my car was because she didn’t want me to be alone with some loiterer in the darkest part of the parking lot.