She scanned a can of peas, eying the red bell peppers next on the black conveyor belt, thinking 4088 until her hand was free of the can of peas. When it was, she punched the gunky, filmed keys of 4, 0, 8, and 8 again. Then the enter key, which looked more like cnlc because it had been hit too many times.
She looked up. A man with dark-rimmed glasses that did a poor job of masking oddly sunken eyes was not blinking, waiting for her to respond. Insomniac, she decided he was. But still a customer. "Can I help you?" she said, smiling an apology to the customer she was actually ringing up.
"Yes," he said. "I was looking for raw honey, but even though my friend bought some here last week, I can't find it."
"Oh." She punched the total key, which had somehow been treated better than its neighbor. "Thirty-six fifty-six." As the customer swiped her card through, Molly pushed the button that brought her register to light up, flashing an S.O.S. to her manager. Neil pointed Insomniac-guy in the right direction, giving a 'You didn't need to S.O.S. that' look at Molly.
"I appreciate it, both of you," Insomniac-guy said, not missing the look.
Molly smiled. "Let me know if there's anything else I can help you with."
Insomniac-guy stopped walking, back half-turned already in his power-walk towards raw honey. Maybe he wasn't an Insomniac, she realized. Insomniacs are a few steps away from dead, walking their life like one might drunkenly stumble out of a bar. Molly had sleeping problems herself after the divorce, and remembered it well. But the look that came from those sunken eyes behind dark-rimmed glasses was too many steps away from dead. It was a living oldness that rivaled her own middle-age that came out of his eyes, speaking of sadness she couldn't imagine bearing. And then, his smile. All this took place within seconds, and that smile, showing crooked but not cruel teeth, seemed to bite her very flesh and rip away skin.
Molly stopped staring after him when the customer for whom she'd been ringing up canned peas and red bell peppers cleared her jiggly throat. "Ma'am, is everything okay? Can I have my receipt?"
"Oh. Oh, yeah. Sorry," Molly said, and handed the woman her receipt, facing the next customer, a hipster college kid buying Purple Dew ale. After a few more transactions, the guy with glasses was almost out of her head. Instead, she scanned cans of vegetables and bags of chips and other groceries, thinking about how Allysa was probably finishing off her own tortilla chips and salsa sitting in front of the T.V. now that school was out. Only one more hour.
"One-seventy-two," Molly told the thirty-ish customer with his mango-flavored beverage. He's handsome, she thought to herself. Kind of like Mel Gibson, but with prettier eyes and a softer jawline. The gold band on his left finger flashed menacingly at her as she accepted his exact change, though, and she almost winced at its power.
"Have a nice day."
"Thanks, you too."
The register's computer screen told her it was four-thirty-seven. Before leaving, she'd go through the line herself with some tortilla chips, salsa, and chocolate-chip cookie dough, too. Allysa always raged for the stuff on her periods, and last week had wiped out the fridge's supply.
Molly looked at the next customer. She smiled by default, but not after a shallow breath and a clench in her abdomen like someone she didn't know was tickling her. Insomniac-guy.
"You said to let you know if there was anything else you could help me with."
How odd it was that her hand lost all it's strength as she reached for the glass jar of raw honey on the black conveyor belt. "Yes, sir?" She dropped the jar, barely caught it, smiled apologetically at Insomniac guy – whose clothes reminded her of a lumberjack, all in flannel and jeans – and managed to swipe it over the red cross of the scanner.
"Are you married?"
Oh, she thought. So that's why he seems like an insomniac. He's a pervert. One of those creepy ones who doesn't go for the young girls and blazes his own trail with the sad widows and divorcées. At this point, her arm may as well have been a wooden log she was roundhousing his other items across the scanner with. "No, I'm divorced."
"Do you have any children?" he asked. His hands went in his pockets. Such a boyish mannerism.
"Oh, yes, two daughters. Is it that obvious? And your total is sixteen-fifty."
And, well, he didn't look that old – maybe twenty-four. But those eyes. Those simple brown eyes behind thick-rimmed glasses didn't tell her they'd seen heartbreak and pain and death. No, those eyes were older than a single lifetime. Those insomniac eyes told of someone, or something (was she crazy for thinking this?) who had not slept through millions of years of the earth gently and abruptly shifting. Of trees being born, growing, germinating, falling, and rising again. Of human civilizations rising, from those trees, and falling, too. What did health care reform and tax bonuses and oil spills mean to those eyes? Nothing, their muddy depths seemed to say.
Insomniac-guy rocked on his heels and spoke as she lifted the glass jar of raw honey to eco-friendly bag.
"Let me marry one of them."
The jar dropped and smashed onto the recycled tile floor in between Molly and the bagging counter. She looked down. Honey had exploded against its viscous nature. Glass shards tried to escape, but gooey, golden arms kept them close to the nucleus of the fall. Some honey had splattered her pant legs and sneakers. Molly knew she should have brought the rubber floor mat out from the back when her shift started. Then the jar would probably have just thumped and been fine.
"I'm sorry, I can't even remember if you handed me any money. It's ..." she started, looked up at the computer screen, not looking at his eyes, and finished, "sixteen-fifty." Not looking at his eyes.
"I heard you the first time, and don't pretend you didn't hear me."
His voice was rough, sandy, but not gravelly like a smoker. No longer did the rough stubble on his face and the young-lumberjack clothes seem so comical and cute.
Insomniac-man repeated himself. Molly wished she knew his name. She wished she weren't wearing a name-tag so that he could identify her. "Let me marry one of your daughters."
"I'm sorry sir, but that's kind of strange, especially since one of them is only fifteen. And there are two more people in line behind you, so if you'll just pay the sixteen-fifty, I'll get my manager to fetch another glass..."
His hands came out of his pockets, fingers perching up onto the little mini-counter for customers to write checks and swipe credit cards. There was dirt underneath his nails, but he smelled clean and fresh like mist at the top of a mountain. Strange. The closest thing to a mountain Molly had ever climbed were the stairs in her apartment complex, all the way to the fifth floor.
"You said to let you know if there was anything else I needed. I need to marry one of your daughters."
What kind of strange Rumplestillskinian logic did this man have? Molly pushed the S.O.S. button, and the giant number four light bulb lit up. Molly didn't look up at the Insomniac. Neil came back over with a 'What now?' look on his face.
"I'm sick. I'll be in the back. Take care of this guy, won't you?"
Molly saw Neil look down at the broken honey jar, and when he spoke, he was a fish gaping bubbles at her. Just like her hands had no strength earlier, when she stared up at the Insomniac, no sound entered her ears.
He looked angry.
She put a hand on her stomach, turned around, and shuffled to the staff room. Molly stayed in the stall for an hour, puking her guts out.
The Insomniac hadn't even cared that she dropped his raw honey.
It was shamefully delightful to have her fingernails clogged with dirt. Today, Molly was pulling up the weeds around her azalea and young Iris bulbs. Cleaning out this bed was a bit easier than with the herbs, where certain weeds blended in with the thyme, rosemary, and spearmint.
When she finished with the flowers, neither of which had started blooming (though the azalea were getting close), Molly picked absently at the dirt under her nails as she walked back to the garden shed and got the spray bottle. It was empty, so she filled it up with water, a molecule of soap, and some crushed up spearmint leaves. She headed around behind the house, where the vegetables were growing, and found her prize work. Cucumbers. Cucumbers are a challenging vegetable to produce to delicious, mature quantities. She'd learned it the hard way, that even if they survive the bugs as young sprouts, the fruit could be too bitter to eat.
Molly sprayed the lightly soapy, minty mist through the protective netting. The screen covered the young stems, stapled onto a wooden frame beside some sticky fly tape. She'd been using the contraption for two years, successfully now. The baby vegetables had another month until the yellow flowers would appear, she guessed. Then, she'd take the netted frame down.
For now, the net and one spray helped keep the pests away. Last year she'd been overzealous and nearly killed the cucumbers in her efforts to protect them.
Until she saw a brave honeybee, zooming close to see if any of the flowers had bloomed yet, she had almost forgotten that just yesterday a strange young man had asked to steal away one of her daughters for marriage.
Molly carefully set the spray bottle down onto the not-recently-mowed-but-still-manageable grass, thankful that the fire ant colonies were on the other side of the lawn. She went inside, dirt smearing onto the porch door-handle and onto her wide-brimmed hat as she took it off and hung it on a wall hook. The house smelled like grilled cheese and something fresh, maybe cilantro or pine. Odd, that colder smell amongst the grilled cheese.
"Alyssa, what were you making?"
"Grilled cheese," her daughter called from the living room. When Molly peeked past the gold doorframe that led into the living room, she saw Alyssa half-ignoring her food in favor of a thick sci-fi novel.
Maybe playing with the plants had simply messed with her sense of smell, and the neighbors' mowing was to blame for the fresh, green scent.
After washing her hands, Molly went upstairs to change her clothes. Leaning against the windowsill was Insomniac-guy. The stubble was still there, though this time he was wearing some fingerless gloves, using a wooden spoon to lick honey out of a glass jar. How he managed to keep his fingers and the fingers of the glove from sticking together was beyond her, since he seemed to be making such a mess.
"Aren't you afraid?" he asked. He was looking at her intently, no smile on his face, hunched over his honey. The brown of his eyes was unlike the almond brown of the wooden spoon he held. The brown in his eyes was flatter, like stone, or perhaps like the plastic of his lens frames.
Molly hadn't moved from where she'd stopped to watch him. Of course, as soon as she had stepped into the room, she noticed him. The door frame was on the same side of the room as the foot of the bed, and the window perpendicular to them. Thus, his shadow against the window's light and the white lace curtains struck her peripheral vision upon entering. Plus, when she walked in, the same smell of cool greenery and mist hit her.
"What do you want?" she asked him.
Then he smiled. "It isn't what I want that's important. It's what I need."
Molly could feel another bead of sweat dragging down between her bra straps. The house was air-conditioned against the Texas heat, but perhaps she'd been gardening with so much vigor that she still hadn't stopped sweating. She wanted to change her clothes.
"You need to leave," Molly said.
"No. You said that if I needed anything aside from the honey to let you know. And I need to marry one of your daughters." He said the last bit matter-of-factly, but his voice had the edge of a resonating violin.
Molly didn't like classical music. "That doesn't make any sense, and if you don't leave now, I will call the police."
"You don't even know what police are, so don't threaten me," he said, losing a bit of his matter-of-fact tone to impatience. He still made no sense.
She stared into those hard brown eyes. "Get out."
He seemed to quake away from the window, dropping the wooden spoon into the honey jar and walking towards her. There still wasn't any honey on his gloves or hands, though some dotted around the edge of his lips.
Molly hadn't moved from her spot right inside the room by the doorframe. She also hadn't realized she'd been holding her breath until he was right in front of her.
"You will give me one of your daughters. This is the help I require. Four days. I'll find you, and you will have one of your daughters ready for me. I'll bring the priest, so don't worry. Just have her ready."
"You're crazy," Molly said.
Insomniac smiled at her, the same smile that he had given her at the super market. But he didn't say anything.
She realized that a crazy man was inside her house with her and her daughter. Her daughter who was downstairs. Who he wanted so much to marry. Molly stopped breathing again and ran away from him, downstairs to Alyssa, who was still reading her Sci-Fi book. Molly looked over her shoulder and stood still, listening for sounds on the stairs. He had to still be up there.
"Mom!" Alyssa shouted, and Molly saw that she had dropped the book on the floor and was shaking her mother. Alyssa stopped shaking, little green-brown eyes worried. "I just said your name like five times. What's wrong?"
A crazy man twice your age and who looks like he hasn't slept in years and seems to be just a little bit supernatural or really good at breaking into upstairs bedrooms quietly wants to marry you, she thought. But Molly would never say that.