Written and Copyrighted by Tim Miller


My hand covers the product before I have a chance to scan the bar code. The training manager taught us never to make a big deal when we run these things over the scanner, so I glance anywhere, except at the woman or her purchase. My gaze moves to the empty conveyor belt to my right as the items name and price come up on my cash register.

They all look alike: these boxes. Their misty pink and baby blue over white coloring eases the customer's mind. Anyway. That's what I learned in college before my pregnancy forced me to put my advertising degree on hold.

Other products come in flashy or notable packaging designed to catch the consumer's eye. Not these. They're subtle because customers will always need them. Manufacturers of these items only advertise to compete with other alike products.

The customer coughs as I swipe the product across the scanner two or three times before the machine finally beeps in acceptance. With a magician's sleight of hand, I make the item disappear in a plastic bag. I finally look at her and ask, “Will that be all for you today?”

Deep circles surround the woman's watery eyes. Many errant orange curls have escaped her pony tail. Her skin is pale. He jogging suit is gray. She bites her lower lip and grimaces. “Uh...” She mumbles something with a shaky voice.

“I'm sorry,” I say, putting my hand to my ear. “I didn't hear that.”

“Yes,” she says, “That's it.” She crosses her arms over her stomach.

The first few days of my pregnancy move through my mind.

$$$


A couple weeks before mid-terms, I went clubbing on College Boulevard. My sorority sisters and I wore our shortest, shiniest skirts with eyeshadow to match. I had on a strapless silver dress that barely covered my panties. Our hair flared out like ancient headdresses. Mine was brown and totally 80s. I'd spent half an hour with a can of hairspray and a pick trying to make it look right.

We of Phi Beta Gama looked like Techno-greek goddesses trolling for unsuspecting heroes. Like us, the guys traveled in packs from club to club. Students avoiding stress and studies crowded the streets.

The father of my baby looked so young. We met, drank, snorted something, and had sex that I still can't remember. Visions of his tan skin, un-tucked white shirt, tailored five-o-clock shadow, shaggy hair, and brown eyes come back to me when I try to recall his name for the baby's sake.

I can't. His name is gone.

He left my apartment that morning without even taking a shower. I woke up alone to an afternoon sun glaring at me through blinds I'd never bothered to close. Naked, I stood up and looked around. I only thought about him when I saw the used condom in our trash can. Sighing in relief, I kicked my way through the mess of clothes and papers littering my floor. One of my sisters had brewed some coffee. Smelling it, I went downstairs to drink away my hangover.

My period was late for three days before I got a home pregnancy test from this place. I'd been working here since the beginning of the semester. Two days after that, I went to a doctor, who confirmed the pregnancy and referred me to a specialist...


$$$

“Will you press the credit key?” The woman asks.

“What...Oh....Yeah sure. Sorry.” I hit the “Credit” key on my register. The woman signs the electronic pad on a pedestal in front of me. Her name comes up on the cash register screen: Elena Petrovich.

“You have a pretty name,” I tell her.

She shrugs and glares at me with teary eyes. I feel my own eyebrows droop in unplanned sympathy. The trainer told us to act neutral in situations like this, so the customer doesn't feel alienated, but I can't help it.

“Can I please see your photo ID to verify your signature?” I ask.

She sighs. “Fine,” she says, reaching into the pocket of her sweat pants. She brings out her ID and hands it to me. I look at her picture. Her blue eyes sparkle in her driver's license picture. Now, in Wal Mart's florescent light, they seem dull.

“You're beautiful,” I say. “I'm sure your baby will be too.”

“What?” She asks, looking confused.

“Uh...uh...nevermind,” I say.

Her eyebrows furrow as she reaches inside the plastic bag, pulls out the product, and looks at the title. I see that the package doesn't look like any of the pregnancy tests I've seen on the shelf. Only the the coloring seems the same.

“Just what I thought,” she says.

I bite my lip.

She glares and bares her teeth. “I'm not pregnant,” she says, turning the package around. The words FIRST AIDS H.I.V TEST KIT pop out at me amid the box's pink and blue swirls over a white background.

My hand moves over my mouth. “Oh my God,” I say. “I'm...”

“What?” She asks. “Sorry? Me too.” She looks down at my big belly. “I bet you were using a condom too.” Not waiting for an answer, she turns and walks away. She shouts, “Next time mind your own damn business.”

My vision turns to water as she leaves.