Corner store, p.1
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       Corner Store, p.1

           Mobashar Qureshi
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Corner Store


  CORNER STORE

  A SHORT STORY

  MOBASHAR QURESHI

  Copyright 2011 Mobashar Qureshi

  Cover Image: Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

  Visit the author’s website:

  www.mobasharqureshi.com

  Visit the author’s blog:

  Mobashar’s Musings

  OTHER WORKS

  RACE

  The October Five

  The Paperboys Club

  Ten Typewriter Tales

  The City

  The Town

  The Village

  Roman Solaire and the Crystal Towers

  PRAISE FOR TEN TYPEWRITER TALES

  Review on Librarything

  [5-star] “Bright, smart, it'll make you laugh and want to punch someone in the same page.”

  Review on Amazon.com

  [4-star] “This collection is a winner in my humble opinion.”

  Review on Amazon.uk

  [4-star] “Really enjoyed this collection of short stories.”

  DEDICATED

  Munawar J. Qureshi

  SPECIAL THANKS

  Mike McElroy and Wajeeha Qureshi

  CORNER STORE

  She cut the strings that held the newspapers together and placed them on a stand outside the store.

  In a quiet town north of the city, with a population under two thousand, the corner store was the most convenient place to pick up small items. It opened at six in the morning and closed well after midnight.

  It was a little after five-thirty in the morning as she began re-stocking the shelves for the day. She placed change inside the cash register. She went out, swept the front sidewalk, came in and flipped the sign to OPEN.

  “Morning, Jessie,” a customer said, coming in.

  Jessica Campbell smiled her usual smile. She was in her early twenties, slim, with darkish blonde hair, which was always tied back with a ribbon.

  “Players light regular,” the customer said. Jessie handed him a pack with twenty cigarettes. He paid and left.

  The morning was the rush for cigarettes. Jessie hated tobacco. Maybe it was the smell. Or maybe it was because her ex-husband was a heavy smoker. There were all these brands with labels that read mild, extra mild, light, and extra light. According to Jessie, they were no different than the heavy kind. But she couldn’t complain. They brought profits to the store and it was why she was still employed.

  “I’ll have a deck of Camels,” said another customer with a long droopy moustache. Jessie handed him a pack of twenty. She couldn’t believe the price they paid for their cigarettes. Some, when they received their pay cheques, would buy a week’s supply. It didn’t matter that they didn’t have enough money for food; they always had enough for cigarettes. You could always see someone begging outside for a cigarette.

  Jessie had refused to give credit for cigarettes. But for other items, she was more lenient. If there were seniors on pension who needed groceries and were unable to pay, Jessie always extended them a credit.

  By nine, when everyone was at work and the store was not busy, Jessie relaxed and opened her books. She was taking night classes at a nearby school, studying to be an administrative assistant, something to get her out of her current position.

  A tall man strolled in. He went up to the counter.

  “Hey, girl,” he said with a drawl. “What you readin’?”

  Jessie knew without even looking up that it was Luke. Luke always wore tight jeans, leather boots, and an old cowboy hat. Luke thought he was the coolest man in town. But to her, he was just another snake who enjoyed playing with young girls’ hearts.

  Luke snatched the book from Jessie and attempted to read it.

  “It has no pictures,” Jessie said, pulling it back.

  “Come on, girl,” Luke said, leaning on the counter. “Why are you always mean to me?”

  “Because, I know your kind,” Jessie said. She placed a deck on the counter. Luke was a heavy smoker, which was another reason why she hated him.

  “Y’know,” he started, “mah dad can get you a job.” He leaned closer. “If you start bein’ nice to me.”

  Luke’s father was the town’s mayor and a bigger creep than Luke.

  “No thanks. Now leave; I’ve got better things to do,” Jessie said strongly.

  “I’ll be seein’ you around,” Luke said with a smirk and left. Jessie knew what he meant. She was going to be stuck in this town forever. But she had a plan. It was going to take time, but God willing, she was going to do it.

  She went back to her books.

  The door opened and a frail old man with a cane slowly came in. He was short and hunched over.

  “Mr. Johansen.” Jessie smiled.

  The old man carefully walked to the counter and placed himself on a stool. He took off his cap and rested his cane on the side.

  “Boy, I’m not as young as I used to be,” he said between breaths. He removed a handkerchief from his coat pocket and wiped the sweat from his forehead.

  “If you’d called,” Jessie said, “I would have dropped your groceries to your door. You know that.”

  “I know, I know.” He smiled. “You’re good to us old folks. So how’s your mom doing?”

  “She’s up and running. I can’t seem to keep her in bed. Sometimes I think I’m going to have to tie her down. Even that might not stop her.” Jessie took out a pen and pad. “So what will it be this week?”

  “The usual,” he replied.

  ‘The usual’ meant milk, bread, canned soup, sugar, and a few other items. Jessie couldn’t understand how he survived on these few products. She went around the store and placed each item in a cloth bag.

  “Got everything,” she said, coming back to the counter.

  “I’ll pay for it,” he said proudly.

  She smiled. “You got paid.”

  “Yep.” Mr. Johansen received a small pension cheque at the end of each month. Most of it went to rent and whatever was left to food.

  “How’s Crissy doing?” he asked. He gently removed some bills and placed them on the counter.

  “She’ll be going to the first grade, and she’s all excited. Bought her new school supplies. Cost a fortune, though.”

  “It’s worth it.”

  “Yeah, she’s everything to me.” Jessie handed him his change. “So after work I’ll drop these off.”

  “I know you will,” he said with a smile. He pulled out a dollar and placed it on the counter.

  “Is it Wednesday?” Jessie said. “This week’s jackpot is fifteen million dollars.”

  “Yes, and I hope to win it, and if I do, I’m going to give five million to the breast cancer foundation in Trudy’s name, five million to my two kids, and I’ll split the remainder with you.”

  “With me?” she laughed.

  “Yes, Jessie. The last two years you’ve been too good to me and I’ll never forget that. Even my own kids don’t call me, but you… you’re like a daughter to me. And I know how difficult it is for you to take care of Crissy and your mom by yourself.” Mr. Johansen raised his head high. “William Johansen is a man of his word. If I win, I’ll split my share with you.”

  He began filling in numbers on a sheet of paper. He handed it to Jessie.

  Jessie slid it inside a machine to be scanned.

  “Can I say something, Mr. Johansen?” she said.

  “Anything, dear.”

  “You play the same numbers each week.”

  “Yes, for the last seven years, since Trudy died.”

  “These numbers mean something?”

  “Yes. On the 21st of November, I was born. Trudy was born on the 11th of August. We w
ere married on the 24th of February. Married for 42 years. Our son, Will Jr., was born on the 19th of November, and Janice was born on the 8th of March.” He put his hat back on. “21, 11, 24, 42, 19, and 8. My lucky numbers.”

  He stood up. “I figure if I select numbers at random, my chances are going to be slim. If I choose the same numbers each week, maybe one day they’ll come up.”

  “Mr. Johansen, why don’t you call your son?”

  “Since our big fight I’ve never spoken to him,” he said. “Also, he’s too busy.”

  “Maybe if you call, he might answer.”

  Mr. Johansen leaned on his cane, thinking it over. “It has been a long time,” he said to himself.

  He waved goodbye and left.

  ***

  Jessie went back to her books. Customers came in and out infrequently. Jessie would attend to them and then immediately go to her books. Two boys entered the store. They looked nervous. They reluctantly approached the counter. One nudged the other to talk.

  “A… um… a p-pack of cigarettes, please,” he said.

  “How old are you?” Jessie asked. She knew how old they were.

  “Uh… nineteen,” he said nervously.

  “You don’t look nineteen. Show me some ID,” she said.

  They looked at each other. “Come on, lady. We got money.”

  Jessie pointed to a sign at the back. “You have to be nineteen and over.”

  “Just one pack,” the other boy said.

  “No deal,” she said. “You know cigarettes are not good for you.”

  “My dad smokes them.”

  “Then ask your dad to buy you some. Now go on.”

  Unhappy, they both turned away. “Maybe,” the one boy said to the other, “your older brother can get us some.”

  “Naw, if he found out he’d kill me.”

  ***

  Just before 3pm, the owner strolled in. “Afternoon, Jessie,” he said.

  Carl O’Malley was in his late fifties, mild-mannered, and a good family man. Before Jessie was hired, he and his wife, Sue, took care of the store. After Sue’s heart attack, she was forced to stay home. To make ends meet, O’Malley drove a delivery truck during the day.

  “Tired?” Jessie asked.

  “Gotta work to pay the bills,” he said. He went to the back of the store to have something to eat before his shift. Meanwhile, Jessie began tidying up. She quickly counted the money in the cash register and made a note of it in a book underneath the counter.

  “Busy today?” O’Malley asked, coming back.

  “Not bad, but could’ve been better,” she said, smiling. “I wrote everything down. You can have a look at it.”

  “I trust you, Jessie. When I’m not around, you’re my eyes and ears.”

  She said goodnight and left.

 

  ***

  She drove the old pickup truck to Mr. Johansen’s place. She dropped off his week’s groceries and went home. She went up the old steps to her two-bedroom flat. As she opened the door, a woman’s voice said, “Crissy, Mommy’s home.”

  A six-year-old girl leaped out of nowhere and hugged Jessie. “Hey, baby. I missed you so much,” Jessie said.

  “I missed you too, Mommy,” Crissy said.

  Crissy was short for Christina. She wanted a short name just like her mom. If everyone called her mom Jessie for Jessica, then they should do the same and call her Crissy for Christina.

  Crissy disappeared into the other room.

  “Her favourite show is coming up,” an older woman said, washing dishes.

  Jessie went behind her and kissed her on the cheek. “Mama, you shouldn’t be on your feet, y’know?” Jessie called her mom ‘Mama’ because that’s what Crissy called her.

  “I feel just fine,” Mama said.

  “Doctors said…”

  “Forget what the doctors said,” Mama shot back. “I feel fine.” She began coughing violently and Jessie had to help her to the chair.

  “Mama,” Jessie said.

  “Don’t start with me, child,” Mama said. “If I don’t do something then I feel useless. I don’t want to be useless.”

  “You’re not. Without you I wouldn’t be able to take care of Crissy. I need you. Crissy needs you.”

  “I know, baby,” Mama said.

  “After I pass my exams and get my certificate, everything will be alright,” Jessie said. “We’ll move down to the big city. I’ll get a job in a big company and we’ll buy us a nice house, a good car…”

  “I know, baby,” Mama said, stopping Jessie from saying more. “I know everything will be all right.” In her heart she knew the reality: they were not going anywhere, and this was where she was going to spend her last days.

  ***

  Jessica Campbell had not even finished high school when she met Ben Caddell. He was five years her senior and he was trouble. Ben never finished high school. He opted to work at the local gas station. On the side, he robbed houses. Jessica, at that time, didn’t know that. She fell in love with a man who seemed to have everything. A nice car, nice clothes, and even a good job, he told her, as an assistant in a bank. Also, he had plan. A plan to move down to the city and work at one of those big banks, and if she wanted to be part of his big plan she would have to be his wife. They married some time later.

  After the wedding, Jessica realized Ben was not what he said he was. He drank heavily and smoked almost non-stop. He also no longer spoke about his big plan.

  The night Crissy was born, he wasn’t even at the hospital. She met him after three days. He had wasted all his money on booze. That’s when Jessica decided to leave him. It wasn’t easy but she told the police about his crimes. He was sentenced to ten years in a prison outside town.

  Jessica knew one day he would be back and he would want revenge. Her plan was to get to the big city, change her name, and disappear.

  ***

  A few days later, during the night, Jessie heard a noise. She woke up immediately. Crissy was fast asleep beside her. The noise was coming from her mother’s room. Jessie quickly put on her night robe and found her mother coughing uncontrollably.

  “Mama, what’s wrong?” she cried.

  Her mother was on the ground and she was holding her stomach. Jessie turned the lights on and she almost screamed. The bed was covered with blood. Her mother was coughing blood.

  Jessie ran back to her room. “Wake up, baby. We have to go.” Jessie quickly dressed.

  “Where we going?” Crissy said, rubbing her eyes.

  “Mama is very sick and we have to go to the hospital.”

  At the hospital, she watched as they took her mother into the emergency ward.

  Jessie called O’Malley and told her the situation. He told her not to worry and not to come to work.

  The next morning, while her mother was still in the hospital, Jessie drove Crissy to school.

  “What’s wrong with Mama?” Crissy asked.

  “Nothing, baby. She’s fine.”

  “No she’s not,” Crissy said, shaking her head. “Is she going to die?”

  “No! She is not going to die. Who told you that?”

  “Kids at school say when there’s lots of blood, that means people are going to die.”

  “That’s nonsense. Remember when you fell from the swing and your knee was cut, and you were bleeding? You didn’t die.”

  Crissy just turned away.

  “Come on, honey. Mama is going to be fine. The doctors said so.”

  “Did the doctors give her a different medicine?”

  Jessie was confused. “No… not yet. Why honey?”

  “Those tablets don’t work.”

  “Why do you say that?”

  “Just… cuz… I see her every morning cutting the tablets into smaller pieces and then drinking them with water.”

  Jessie was speechless. Her mother was reducing her d
osage in order to save money.

  ***

  The next day, her mother felt much better, and she and Crissy played a game. Jessie continued with her books. The exams were in a few days and she was determined to be ready for them.

  A man entered the room. It was Carl O’Malley.

  “I didn’t think you’d miss Jessie this fast,” Mama said.

  O’Malley smiled and handed her flowers. “Without her, I don’t know what I’d do.”

  “Thank you,” Mama replied.

  “How you feeling, ma’am?” he asked politely.

  “Better than yesterday.” She smiled.

  O’Malley turned to Jessie. “Can I talk to you?”

  Jessie nodded.

  O’Malley took her away from the room. He looked distressed.

  “What’s wrong?” Jessie asked, worried.

  “Um…” He cleared his throat. “Jessie …”

  “Say it, what’s wrong?”

  “Ben is out of jail.”

  Jessie stopped breathing. Her mouth fell open and she felt as if her knees would buckle.

  O’Malley helped her to a chair.

  “When?” she finally said.

  “I don’t know. A customer told me this morning.”

  “How?” She couldn’t believe it.

  “He’s on parole for good behaviour.”

  “He’s out?” she said, not believing it. “He’s not supposed to be out for another couple of years,” she said, questioning O’Malley.

  “I know, but that’s how the system is.”

  “He’s…” She started to lose breath again.

  O’Malley grabbed her. “Listen to me. We’re going to work it out. You can stay with us.”

  “I have some money saved up,” she said.

  “Then you pack up and leave.”

  “Not now. My exams.”

  He understood. He knew how hard she had been studying.

  “Don’t tell Mama,” she said. “This would be too much for her.”

  ***

  Later, when the doctor finished checking Mama, he asked Jessie to follow him.

  “Has your mother stopped taking her medication regularly?” he asked.

  “Not that I know of,” Jessie lied.

  “If she doesn’t take her medication on time, her health is only going to get worse. I’m giving her something stronger.”

 
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