Saturday mornings were the worst shift at Home Depot. So many people with so many projects, feeling fresh at the start of their weekend, a little bit crazed in the eye from months of planning, and now here. Here was the day when finally, all their home improvement dreams came true. There should have been a box of tissues in the tile aisle or a therapist. But no, no therapist. Instead, they had the customer service rep saying,
“We have that in beige, sandstone, tan, and faded umber. And what cut would you like? That will limit the color options.” Dave had a gift for guiding lost housewives and wannabe handyman-husbands to the right choices, helping them keep their sanity. And then there were the children; running around like this was their personal playground.
Daniel tried to stay away from Dave’s aisle. It always made him feel inadequate. Sure, Daniel knew where everything was, but he didn’t like dealing with people. He did his best to avoid eye contact and look shifty, just another lazy high school kid so that people wouldn’t ask him for help. Daniel walked past another aisle with children running circles around each other and sighed. Hide-and-go-seek. Classic.
Thankfully, it was not a Saturday morning, it was a Monday afternoon, and so Daniel trusted he was in the clear. No more desperate housewives asking him where the lightbulbs were, or where the bolts section was. He could mind his own business and just put things away.
The hairs on the back of his neck stood up and, before Daniel could stop himself, he looked up. He was in a customer’s crosshairs. She pushed the shopping cart towards him hesitantly, and then when he made the mistake of eye contact, more confidently.
“Excuse me, I’m looking for LED light bulbs.”
Daniel gestured vaguely, “It’s over there.”
The customer looked around at the distant aisles he’d included in his gesture.
Daniel sighed internally. “This way.” He led her to the appropriate aisle, just two bays over from Dave’s. He could hear the tile therapist going at it.
“Green? What a good choice, let’s talk about shades and cuts.”
“Here it is.” He stopped in front of the LED house bulbs. He was already half turned to escape when she said,
“Oh, I’m sorry, I need the long kind. For offices.”
Off in the distance, “Is this for your kitchen? Bathroom? Pantry? I find tiles of different cuts say different things in different rooms.”
Daniel gritted his teeth; he could do this. He turned and led her further down the aisle.
“Do you know what voltage?” he asked. See? He could be helpful.
She told him, he selected the right tube, and handed it to her, just like they were always telling the sales reps to do. Put it in the customer’s hand. They are more likely to buy it if you do.
The customer promptly took it out of the box and started examining it. That took Daniel back. He wanted to say something, but… he had done what he was supposed to. He walked away. He had handed it to her, she was in the right spot, leave her to it.
Daniel was halfway down the aisle when the tubes clanged as they fell to the floor and shattered. He spun. The customer stood surrounded by broken glass like chipped ice. How had she gotten that many out of the box that fast? Daniel’s mind sprinted. He had handed her the box as they asked. He felt the milliseconds ticking down, leading to the moment when she would turn, gasp out her apology, plead for help and he would have to…
Daniel looked around franticly and darted into a gap in the boxes along the shelves. He wedged himself in tight and prayed, hoped, he’d gotten there in time.
A long silence… then,
“Where did he go?” the customer muttered.
Daniel watched her pass by, looking for help. He let out a sigh.
“It’s a good spot, right?” a young voice asked. Daniel flinched and looked up.
Perched on cardboard boxes was a boy. One of the children Daniel had seen running around playing hide-and-seek. He looked about seven. Shoot. Daniel heard people coming back down the aisle.
“I’m so sorry, I’ve made a complete mess of things.” The woman from earlier.
“Oh, wow. Yeah, we’ll get that cleaned right up.” Dave.
“There was someone with me, I don’t know where—”
Dave clicked the button for his store walkie. Daniel fumbled quickly and turned his own walkie off. The boy watched him.
“Excuse me, Mary, can I get a clean-up in the lighting aisle?” Dave asked.
“Shouldn’t you be out there, helping?” the boy whispered.
“No,” Daniel whispered back.
“Because if I go out there now, then they’ll know I was hiding.”
“Oh, right. Why are you hiding?”
“Because sometimes, I just can’t deal.”
Another associate came with a dustpan and a broom. Daniel and the boy both ducked. The boy was still watching him, quizzical.
“Things are different when you’re a kid. Nobody’s asking you to do things all the time.”
“My mom is always asks me to do things: clean my room, make my bed, do my homework, stop throwing dog poop at my sister.”
“Those sound like pretty reasonable requests to me,” Daniel said.
“Well, what about you then? Do you get paid to work here?”
The kid watched him with wide innocent eyes. Too innocent.
“Yeah, yeah, alright. Being a kid is still better though. No responsibility.”
“You got a car?” the kid asked.
Daniel drove a run-down Chevy. It wasn’t pretty to look at, but it got him places.
“What about money, you make money?”
“What's your point?” Daniel asked. The associate, Gina, cleaned up the shattered glass while Dave helped the customer find the right LED bulb. The kid set his hand on Daniel’s shoulder.
“With great power, comes great responsibility.”
“Great, thanks, now I just have to find my kids,” the woman said.
“I’m here, mom!” the boy called out. Daniel gapped at him. The boy grinned.
“Tommy?” she called. Daniel thought fast, but Dave, Gina, and the mom all walked over. Daniel gave it up, crawled out, and held out his hands to help Tommy follow.
“Daniel?” Dave began, reproach written across his showman’s face. “What were you—”
“I got stuck. He helped me out,” Tommy said. He threw his skinny arms around Daniel’s waist. “Thank you!”
Daniel patted his head awkwardly. “You’re welcome. Be careful where you play, little guy.”
The customer squeezed his shoulder in thanks as she walked away. Tommy gave him a thumbs up.
S. C. Durbois Newsletter
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