I strode purposefully toward the display of greeting cards, contemplating the importance of my mission, carefully weighing the risks against the rewards. Under the pretense of making a selection, I began my reconnaissance. The signs suspended from the store’s ceiling were of little help. Women’s Needs; well, maybe. Men’s Needs; more likely. Then I spotted Family Planning!
My wife had recently given birth to our second and final child and we were anxious to resume conjugal relations. The stress level rose when it was decided I should now assume responsibility for birth control. However, pending a surgical solution to my potency, some mechanical means of preventing pregnancy must be employed.
Now purchasing condoms should not have been a problem for a sophisticated man of the times! But when you’re an elementary school Principal, in a small town, desire must often be tempered with discretion.
I was no neophyte. As a teenager I had obtained the requisite “safe” for my wallet from one of the guys, old and bold enough to face the neighbourhood druggist. As a young husband, I had acquired such items surreptitiously, directly from the pharmacist. But with the advent of birth control pills, followed by our desire to actually have children; it had been years since my last purchase of recreational latex. Nowadays such items were advertised on television and actually sold in vending machines at secondary schools! Times may have changed; but my inhibitions hadn’t. I was approaching this delicate mission with all the stealth of an infiltrator.
Tugging my hat lower on my forehead, I sauntered nonchalantly toward my goal. The aisle was empty of people, but the in-store Muzak grated on my frayed nerves. Alone and unobserved, I came to a halt under the sign and let my eyes fall casually on to the display.
My God; there were thousands of them! I was stunned by this vast array and the unexpected complexity of my task. Multi-coloured boxes of prophylactics were stacked and racked for my perusal. They were divided by brand name and subdivided by thickness, lubrication and other special features; even colour and size! Which should I choose? What size do I take and should I base my choice on ego or reality? For all I knew they had a fitting room!
Mesmerized, I began to study the packaging; not yet daring to actually touch a box. I was reaching tentatively for one emblazoned with the head of some ancient warrior when I detected a presence at my side.
“May I help you?” piped the pharmacist’s assistant.
I snatched my hand back. “Thank you, no.” I replied. “Just looking!”
“Oh, hello, Mr. Forrest! I didn’t recognize you at first, but I would never forget that voice. It’s been ten years since I graduated. Do you remember me?”
“Why yes, Shelley, I do.” I replied, more heartily than necessary. Caught in the act, there was nothing to do but brazen it out. As we stood there exchanging pleasantries, I shifted my weight nervously from foot to foot, much like a child needing to go to the bathroom. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, my former student reached up, selected a package from the shelf and placed it in my hand.
“Here,” she said, “try these. My husband and I use them and they’re on special today. It was nice seeing you again!”
I glanced furtively at the box in my hand, palmed it out of sight and set off toward the checkout. I approached the front of the store cautiously. There were two cashiers. Thankfully neither of them looked familiar to me. I took up a position near the battery display and waited for an opening. It came!
I made my move and slipped into line, just as a clerk was bagging the preceding customer’s items. For camouflage, I grabbed a newspaper from the rack, held it over my purchase, and set them both on the counter. While the cashier scanned my merchandise, I carefully scrutinized the checkout Tabloids. “Will that be all, sir?”
“Yes, thank you.”
She punched in the total, I extended payment and an alarm went off.
A red light mounted above the cash register began to flash and a crowd gathered.
“Congratulations, sir!” smiled the woman holding my money.
A young man clutching a microphone appeared at my side and repeated the congratulations for the benefit of my fellow shoppers. His voice boomed back at me from the loudspeakers throughout the store.
“Well, shoppers, if you’ve been following our promotion today, you know that the 1000th customer has just stepped through the checkout. And his name is…” He broke off and shoved the microphone under my nose. I froze. Dead air followed. The announcer quickly went on. “He’s speechless, ladies and gentlemen. Overwhelmed perhaps, by his good fortune in winning a year’s supply of his purchase today. Now let’s see what he’s won!”
He reached for the small package sitting atop my paper.
I snapped! A man can only take so much! Snatching up both items, I bolted for the exit.
The stunned crowd parted like the Red Sea as I shouldered my way through.
“Your change, sir!” cried the cashier.
“Your prize, sir!” called the disk jockey.
“Keep it!” I bellowed in my wake, as I charged out the door.
Stumbling onto the sunlit sidewalk; I thrust my precious package deep into my pocket, straightened my hat, tucked the paper under my arm and walked briskly to my car.
As I drove off the tension drained from my neck and shoulders, replaced by an aura of relief and accomplishment. Someone else could have a year’s supply of diapers, deodorant or dental floss; I had gotten what I’d come for!
And after all; I only needed enough to last until my vasectomy. But that is another story.
John Forrest retired, after 35 years as an educator and began writing embellished and fictionalized short stories about the exceptional events and wonderful people that have enriched his life. His stories have appeared in 7 Chicken Soup volumes, numerous magazines in Canada and the U.S. and on CBC Radio One “First Person Singular”. His Christmas anthologies, “Angels Stars and Trees” (2007) and “Home For Christmas” (2012) by Scrivener Press are available through Chapters and as an E-Book on Kobo. John lives near Orillia, Ontario, with his wife Carol, where they enjoy golf and travel.
This story is sponsored by
Clarion West — Apply now through March 1 to attend our 2014 six-week workshop for writers preparing for professional careers in science fiction and fantasy.