Tolstoy & the Checkout Girl
By Lis Anna
Tonya was the only thing that made him smile. The purple and blue streaks in her hair reflected morning sun perfectly. She was the checkout girl at the Sav A Lot. He shuffled through her line in his heavy woolen pants. Tonya snapped and popped her gum. Watermelon. Sour apple. Sweet wild cherry. An intoxicating fragrance to be sure.
Tonya blew a bubble, then asked, “Will that be all?”
Tolstoy dropped his eyes to the cracked floor. “Da.”
He glanced up fast enough to see her cock her head to one side, her ponytail slapping her shoulder. She was watermelon today.
“You’re going to die of heat exhaustion if you don’t ditch that get up.”
Tolstoy looked down at his trousers. He’d learn to adjust. To what he wasn’t sure. Or for how long.
“$22.36,” Tonya popped, pulling her head back in place. Pink and blue glitter sparkled on her eyelids. He wanted to dust his body with those pink and blue flecks. He pulled money from his pocket, handing it to Tonya to count. American currency made no sense. He counted in Rubles.
Her fingernails were bright orange, tips painted white. She counted his money, handed back change and whispered, “Be careful out there. The world is mean to freaks.” Then she turned to the person behind him in line and asked, “Did you find everything you need today?”
I found you, Tolstoy thought. He stepped through the strange sliding doors into a wall of heat that consumed the rest of his thoughts.
Until he flopped down on the cool, tile floor under the humming contraption that blew cold air day and night. He peeled off layers of clothes one by one, like an onion, it made him cry.
In the evening he awoke to the whoosh of America, this strange land. Horns, people bustling about on the sidewalk below his room. Down the hall a man sang horribly off key.
Tolstoy rose from the cool floor and picked up the map the police had given him when they found him in the bus station. He smoothed the map across the empty table. A star marked the city of Delray Beach, Florida. From there his finger trailed over the world, across the Atlantic, through Europe, up to Russia where it stopped and tapped Moscow, before sliding south to his hometown. Such a long way to travel with no recollection. He was so young, yet remembered being an old man, like time fleeting backwards.
Tolstoy stared at the blank, plaster walls. He stood up and found a pen in a drawer. With precision he wrote a single word on the white wall. Astapovo. He stepped back and read the word over and over until he began to repeat it aloud. When a creamy orange sunset glowed in his windows he pulled a can of sardines out of his grocery bag and arranged the little fishes on crackers. They stared up at him. Rays of sunlight stretched low across the horizon in pink golds. He looked at the surface of the lake. Blades of grass jutted from the shore. Wind. Sky. Grass. All so different from where he’d come from. He was so displaced he couldn’t remember why he’d left. How he’d gotten here.
He pulled a thick bag of kopeks from his pocket, wondering what they could buy. They were so old and big. He turned one over in his hand, deciding to give it to Tonya as a gift. Tonya of the green eyes, blue smock, bare arms, rings on every finger, even her thumb, especially her thumb where a silver genie wrapped around her finger staring down into a crystal ball. He wanted to touch her hand, lay his finger on the tiny crystal ball and gaze at their future together. He sat down on the small sofa and conjured images of fields rolling past, across Russian summers.
to read the complete story please go to Barely South Review Fall 2012 Edition by clicking here:
Copyright 2012 Lis Anna All rights reserved. No portion of this story may be reprinted.