People Math by Sally K. Lehman

People Math

The People magazines are old ones. Last week’s edition which didn’t sell and have to be trashed or recycled or sent to places where George Clooney’s most recent breakup hasn’t been heard about yet. Maybe Utah.

I step forward.

1 person + full bags = 1 step closer to the cash register

Grocery store mathematics.

A woman in jeans and sweatshirt lifts the pile of old People and I smile. Bob always tells me not to smile at strangers. It’s not that he’s wrong; it’s just what I do.

“I have to restock today,” the woman says to me.

“Quite a few left,” I say.

I take a step forward. Long lines at Safeway this afternoon.

“I’m not supposed to be here,” she says.

“Oh?” It must be the raised eyebrows. I can’t trust my eyebrows not to give me away.

Conversation + 2 eyebrows up = Interest

Human reaction math.

“My father is dying up in Bremerton and he’s asking for me.” She hugs George Clooney’s face to her chest. “But no one would fill in for me.”

“I’m so sorry,” I say.

If he was here, Bob would look away now.

I think about those moments when my sisters and I first knew Mom would die, how we stood, how we followed her with our eyes as she moved. I remember the grimace on her face each time, the grind of her teeth.

5 adult daughters + 1 terminal diagnosis = frustration

Mom is dying math.

The woman collecting the magazines says, “All I can hope for is enough time to drive up before Dad’s gone.”

I step forward again. She moves with me. Lines do not wait for human tragedy. I shift the red basket from my right hand to my left.”Do you have many more stores to do today?”

“No,” she says, “this is the last. But I’m worried about getting there before dark.”

I nod. We all know the fairy tales. Dark is when bad things happen. I look to the glass doors and the afternoon light.

19 months + 10 days = barely past the first year

Mom died math.

“It’s still pretty early,” I say. I step forward.

“I’m just scared,” she says. She takes more People from the next checkout stand. More George Clooney to her chest.

We look, two-eyes-to-two-eyes, and I see that soul-deep fear. I’ve known that fear. I’ve lived what she’s living. My hand comes up, lands on her forearm.

5 fingers + 1 forearm = Comfort

People math.

This is where Bob would understand.

“Don’t worry,” I say. “I’m sure you’ll make it.”

We smile the meek half smiles of people who lose parents but have to continue on with life.

“Thank you,” she says. And her eyes slightly shine when she turns away.

And I step forward.


About the author: Sally K Lehman is the author of the novel In The Fat, which was published through Black Bomb Books in 2015. She currently attends Wilkes University in the Maslow Family Graduate Creative Writing Program. Her work can be found in The Coachella Review, Lunch Ticket, and several other literary magazines. She lives in the Portland, Oregon area of the USA.

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Sally Lehman

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