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A vanishing life

A short story | By David Hansen | April 11, 2010 

They hovered in the lotion aisle of Target, the woman replenishing her anti-wrinkle cream, the man getting sunscreen. Both were aware of each other’s presence but didn’t want to acknowledge it because, well, it would validate their concerns, their liabilities, their fight against nature. 

Each believed they didn’t care. She looked good for her age, she knew it, her friends confirmed it. But deep down she also knew she was on the downward slope. Meanwhile, he worked out more aggressively than before but felt for the first time that it wasn’t working. 

Finally, they touched. He had temporarily lost sight of her and reached high for his bottle; she had bent down to grab her potion. They met awkwardly in the middle. 

“I’m sorry,” he said quickly, angry at himself for bumping into a woman. 

“That’s OK,” she said, composing herself and finding her cart. They rode off in different directions. 

By the time they brought themselves back from their embarrassment, they were facing each other again on the next aisle. They hesitated to maneuver their carts. 

“We meet again,” he said, laughing a fake laugh to ease the moment. 

“Yes,” she said, putting up her armor while passing but letting herself glance up at the right time. 

He turned without looking to give her a better view and noticed she wasn’t wearing a ring. 

They made sure to disperse after that. He slowed, however, about four aisles down to see if he could find her, but she was gone. Disappointed, he got back to his shopping list and became absorbed in the memory of her. She was blonde in a natural way, maybe 54, with some gray weaving itself into the fabric of her life like it had been earned – not from stress, but from happiness. Perhaps once athletic, she was as toned as she could be, but it wasn’t forced. 

He was healthy but could be better. His hair was thinning. He noticed his arms were starting to sag, with the white spots growing – too much sun, too much early ignorance. He wished he could have some years back. He wouldn’t have wasted so much time. 

When he was feeling good and sorry for himself, he looked up in the checkout line to see her, one line over. He wanted to call out, tell her to wait, but he knew it would be ridiculous. He threw his items on the counter and tried to rush while she grabbed her bags. 

His checkout took forever. The printer failed and the paper had to be replaced. He cursed silently while the woman disappeared. 

Why, why, why did nothing work out in his life the way he wanted? The good moments always passed him. He never acted. He waited because no one ever told him he could say yes. 

He dropped his bags in the cart and slowly walked toward the exit. Passing the in-store Starbucks, he stopped to put his wallet away and dropped it. When he stood back up, she was looking at him from a table in the distance, drinking a coffee and smiling. 

For the first time in his life, he stepped forward without thinking. 

©Copyright 2010. David Hansen