Hardware by Jeff Burd

A lot of joes when they show up in the morning tie on their aprons, grab coffee, and disappear in the stockroom or down their aisles. I don’t know half their names, so I call them by their aisle, like Nails, or Chains, or Tools. They are super focused on hardware. It’s not normal. It’s good if you need a certain type of pipe clamp or tenpenny nails. Maybe a few feet of chain. But if you’re wandering around and you come down their aisle, forget it. They get super busy rearranging shelves, or they make like they’re talking on their radios. It’s like it’s painful for them to talk to customers. They don’t even say good morning.

That’s not me. I say good morning and hello because I like showing up here. It beats the hell out of being home. All that happens there is Walter and the kids play on their phones until their minutes run out, and my parents lay in their room all day and stare at the TV.

I patrol this place for people who need help. They’re usually cranking their necks to read the signs hanging in the rafters to see what section of the store they need. I’m scoping a guy just now and that’s exactly what he’s doing. I’m ready when he looks down. I’ve screwed a big smile on my face. My name is in huge black letters on my apron. DAWN. Right across my chest. I drew a sun rising behind the letters. Super cute. And yes, my sleeves are rolled down since Kevin told me my tattoos are unbecoming. Unbecoming. But okay. I might not look like much, and this guy will probably look right over me because I’m so short, but I know I look friendly and welcoming.

The guy’s eyes fall on me and he adjusts his glasses. He might be a professor or something. He scopes me. I ask him what’s he looking for. He looks surprised, and this is what pisses me off about a lot of joes that work here. If they cared like I do, nobody would be surprised when they get help. Anyhow, the guy says he needs a bucket.

Easy-peasy. Gotcha, I tell him. I reach my hand out to him and I really want to take his arm, but Kevin said that’s too friendly. It makes people uncomfortable. But okay. It’s like you can’t touch anybody anymore. Walter and the kids even pull away when I put my arm around them or hug them.

The guy comes with me to Cleaning, and I chat him up some. How are you this morning? How’s the weather outside? You got a big project going at home? He nods his head and says he does and smiles at me. I like this guy. He’s kinda handsome. Tall like Walter, but he looks like he goes to the gym.

We get to the buckets and I ask him what kind. Does he need a mop bucket with wheels? I point to a few. Does he need a garbage pail? He’s scanning the buckets. He tells me he just needs a regular bucket. I tell him we have those and take him to the end of the aisle. We have twelve quart. Eighteen quart. And they have spouts in case you’re pouring stuff.

He says he needs the smaller one and reaches for the one at the top of the stack. Let me get it, I say. The stack might fall over. They stick together sometimes, I say, even though they don’t. I pull the bucket out and tell him the price. A buck ninety-seven.

He says that’s fine. He holds out his hand to take it, but I tell him I’ll carry it for him. I have to go up front to the registers anyhow. He smiles, and I know he appreciates my help. Plus, this is killing time. Like a lot of time when I’d be doing other shit like sweeping. Or mopping. Or getting carts.

We’re halfway up to the registers when I tell him we should go over to Plumbing because I think they have other buckets over there. There aren’t any buckets over there, but he doesn’t know that. I know because I moved them to Cleaning last week. Single location is best, Kevin said.

The guy is walking pretty fast ahead of me, but okay. I ask would you like to go over to Plumbing? He says no, but okay because I have to go up front to the registers anyhow. And I have his bucket. I look around and Nails and Chains are down their aisles looking super busy. I don’t see Tools anywhere. Or Kevin. More customers are coming in. I’m hoping a lot of them might need Dawn help.