One of the beautiful and disturbing elements of small-town life is the inevitability of encountering people you know in one context – work, or school, or that time you were called to jury duty – in a completely different context, and having to be polite.
Allison experienced this daily in her new job at the office supply store. She’d have to check out the purchases made by a professor from her old department, uneasily realizing that this august person loved coloring books that featured My Little Pony. Or, she’d be required to special order a book for the professor who’d nearly derailed her thesis defense with his predatory ways, smiling all the while.
Most days, though, Allison adored her new job. She felt slightly guilty about this, the voice in her head reminding her it had nothing to do with the master’s degree she’d worked so hard to earn. But her boss was great, the customers were usually happy, and her co-workers were sweet. Lydia, the girl who’d helped her apply for the job, turned out to be hilarious, full of happy energy and naive enthusiasm for life. The “close encounters,” as Allison named them to herself, with eccentrics or creeps or those whose private hobbies surprised her, were outweighed by the steady if small income and the community she found herself in.
This wintry day, Allison’s first close encounter was with David. Douglas was a doll, but his son had triggered a sense of disquiet in her since they met. She continued smiling, as she’d been trained, as she responded to his veiled insult about her status as “staff.”
“I’m happy to have a job, of course,” she said. “So many people don’t.”
If he takes that as an insult, given I’ve never seen him go to work, then so be it, she thought.
“True,” he responded mildly. “We are always better off when we are grateful for what we have, aren’t we?”
The little bell that indicated a new customer had pushed open the front door sounded. Allison looked behind David to see who it might be. “Excuse me,” she began. “I need to -”
David ignored her. “I mean, you must be grateful to have the income, given that you are likely to lose a roommate soon.”
“What?” Allison asked.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” David said. “You’re busy. I’ll leave you to it.” He gave her a sort of salute, turned, and walked out past her new customer.
He loves to stir up trouble, Allison reminded herself. Don’t fall for it.