Hayley S.

I Smile, She Smiles, We Smile.

People always ask me if I bake the bread. The answer is no, I do not bake the bread. This will be my seventh month under the employment of a bread store, and never have I baked the bread. I have washed bread pans, bleached cutting boards upon which bread is cut, and applied oil and vinegar to the counter on which bread is made. I have bagged, sold, and eaten bread. Never have I baked it. There are the bakers, and then there are the teenagers. I fall into the “teenager” category.

When the teenage employee enters the store at three o’clock, for the three to six shift, a checklist awaits. Each task has a blank next to it where you are encouraged to initial after completing it. I usually find myself scribbling some variation of “HS” next to a task that reads something like this, “Clean coffee machine. Empty and replace the filter. Make sure to Windex UNDER the coffee machine.” Every time I work I do this. Every time I work I also empty a full coffee pot, rinse it, and place it back into the coffee machine only to be filled the next day, emptied, and refilled. As stated before, we sell bread. We have cookies, scones, muffins, some granola, and cookie mix, but we are primarily a bread store. As a direct result of how often the button is pushed, it takes me over a minute to find the “small coffee” button on the register. We are not a coffee shop.

There is another lovely task that must be done every so often, cookie scooping. Cookie scooping involves two rubber gloves, an ice cream scoop, and a cookie pan with a heap about a foot high and two feet wide of cookie dough. Yes, one must scoop the heaping mass, filling bags with multiple rows of cookie scoops. Every time someone walks in, the gloves must be removed, and disposed of seeing as they cannot be used again. Your hands are then uncomfortable, and by the time you walk over the customer gives you a polite smile, waves, then mouths “sorry,” and walks out the door. I have learned to wait until the customer looks ready, and then I remove the gloves and proceed to help him/her.

Under this circumstance, she entered. She seemed spacey; she glanced quickly over anything with words, skimming labels and flyers. She approached the register. I waited, removed the gloves, approached the register and asked, “Hi, can I help you with anything today?” I smile, she smiles, we smile. “Hi!” She smiles bigger. My smile fades. She’s a talker.

While my conclusion may seem harsh and abrupt, it is important to realize that we only get three hours to do a lot of work, and if talkers come in too many times, then we stay late. The reason I jumped to this conclusion, is because the people who come in to purchase something either know what they want, and they respond quickly, or they follow a standard chain of actions. I say “hi” and they say “hi,” they sigh, look at our selections, bring their hand to their chin/mouth area with a pensive stroke and ask, “How is your _______?” She had merely replied, “Hi!” She was here for conversation.

We spoke for roughly seven minutes. She shared things about her life, I shared things about mine. She told me to follow my dreams, I told her I would. She asked me how I felt about Bach, I told her my feelings were neutral, and that I liked visual arts more. Her husband was an artist, so we discussed that in further depth. The door opened; she glanced back and made a joke about how she should probably order. I smile. “I’ll take a small coffee.” At this moment I realized I did not know where the button was located. I hesitated, strategically scanned the register, found it, rung her up, handed her a cup, and pointed her in the direction of the coffee corner. The next customer was easy, she wanted a loaf of honey wheat, and we were done. I went back to scooping. Natasha, the girl I was working with, was still washing dishes in the back.

I look back, Natasha smiles, I smile, we smile. I pull on a new pair of rubber gloves, grab the ice cream scoop, and begin to make my neat cookie rows inside a plastic bag. I can see the Talker still lurks in the bread store. I have a convenient location, I am half hidden by the bread rack, but still in the open, I am approachable. I feel helpful, yet I can still get my work done.  It feels comfortable, but wrong. Something must disrupt my peace.

“Moooooooooo.” I feel myself get nervous, my stomach is suddenly uneasy. It happens again. “Moooooooooo.” I look around. Natasha is smiling, she can hear it too. Then my eyes focus on something unexpected. There she was in all her glory, her smile stretched from ear to ear like a proud child. I remove my gloves. I smile, she smiles, we smile. “Hi.” “Hi,” the Talker laughs. Her laugh has an airy quality to it, like she doesn’t find it funny, but knows that it is socially correct to laugh at such an unbelievable occurrence. “You’re out of milk,” she shrugs.

I politely laugh. “Oh, I’m sorry; let me get you some more.” As I walk away she keeps talking. Louder this time, she knows I am walking away, and while it is only a few steps, she increases her voice as if I were across the room. “I can do other animal calls as well. Would you like to hear them?” I bring her the carton of milk. She pours some into her coffee, she hands me the carton. Releasing a bellowing howl, her lips in a small “o,” she leaves. I guess that was her wolf call.


Copyright 2002-2006 Student Publishing Program (SPP). Poetry and prose 2002-2006 by individual authors. Reprinted with permission. SPP developed and designed by Strong Bat Productions.