In This: My Short Story Of the Week

IN THIS

Dr. Timothy Walker tried to enter the grocery store on the wrong side. After a long day at work, he’d forgotten that they had recently established a designated “entrance” and “exit.”

As he walked along the storefront, he pulled out his cell phone and cued up the list his wife sent him. Thankfully, it wasn’t very long.

Once he grabbed a basket, Dr. Walker made his way to the produce. His kids were out of Honeycrisp apples—basically the only fruit they’d eat. Next, he made his way to the carrots, which, as you probably guessed, was their vegetable of choice.

The store had plenty of both. He wondered if he’d be so lucky in the toilet paper aisle.

Dr. Walker double-checked his screen for the next item. As he did so, he noticed a man walking toward him. They briefly made eye contact. Dr. Walker realized the stranger aimed to confront him.

But why? Dr. Walker still wore his surgical mask along with his scrubs—there’s no way anyone could recognize him. Could it be the mask? Dr. Walker noticed the man did not wear one. Perhaps he was desperate and planned to steal Dr. Walker’s.

Dr. Walker turned to face the man with his phone positioned upright at the waist and recording. If he was about to be attacked, he would be sure to collect evidence. His free hand balled into a fist. Something about the man’s intensity set him on edge.

When it seemed obvious the man did not intend to honor six feet of distance, Dr. Walker ordered, “Stop there.”

“What?” the man asked.

“Just, stop there, okay?”

The man said, “I want to say something to you.”

“Okay,” Dr. Walker replied. “Go ahead. Just, don’t get any closer, all right?”

“Yeah, okay. Yeah—you’re right. Sorry about that.”

Dr. Walker stared at the man from behind his surgical mask.

“I just wanted to thank you,” the man said.

“What?”

The man continued, saying, “Yeah, you know, you guys, you’re all out there, on the front lines, protecting us all—keeping us healthy, saving our lives. So, thank you.”

Dr. Walker stammered, “Er—You’re welcome. Of course. It’s just that—”

“No, no,” the man interrupted. “Don’t be humble. I know you’ll say you’re just doing your job. But you’re not just doing your job. You could have quit. You could have walked away. But you didn’t. All of you—all the doctors and nurses—you’re all putting your lives on the line for us. Thank you. Thank you all.”

The man’s eyes got misty at the conclusion of his statement.

“I … It’s an honor,” Dr. Walker said. “I should probably tell you, though—”

The man asked, “Can I shake your hand?”

“Absolutely not,” Dr. Walker replied.

“You’re right. That was dumb. Anyway, I’ll let you get back to shopping. Doc, if you ever need anything, you just ask, okay?”

Dr. Walker replied, “I need you to wear a mask, friend.”

“Yes! Yes, as soon as I get home, I’m going to make one. I saw a thing on YouTube about turning a jock strap into a mask.”

Dr. Walker said, “Oh, well, I don’t know about that. A tee shirt would work just as—”

“God bless you, doctor! Good luck. I’ll keep you all in my prayers!”

The man walked away. Dr. Walker watched him for a few moments. The man didn’t have a cart or a basket, he just collected items in his arms as he strolled along.

Dr. Walker continued shopping and, as fate would have it, found a mega-pack of toilet paper. It wouldn’t fit in his basket, though, so he had to wedge it between his left arm and his body as he made his way to the cash register.

As she rang him up, Dr. Walker made pleasantries with the woman behind the plexiglass. The young man bagging his groceries was far too close, but what could they do? They both wore masks, so Dr. Walker deemed it an acceptable risk.

“Doc, one last time—thank you, brother! You’re saving lives!”

Dr. Walker looked over to see the man from earlier walking by on his way to the self-checkout units. He couldn’t wave to Dr. Walker because his arms were full of groceries, so he tried to lift his chin higher and higher as he smiled.

Though the man couldn’t see it, Dr. Walker beamed from ear to ear while giving him the “thumbs-up” as he said, “We’re all in this together, my friend. Thank you for the love. Much appreciated.”

The cashier asked, “Are you a doctor?”

“Yes,” Dr. Walker replied.

“So, you’re, like, treating people with the Covid?”

“No,” Dr. Walker said. “I’m a podiatrist.”

“Yeah, but,” the bagger began, “that guy acted like you were in the thick of it, you know?”

“Yeah,” Dr. Walker confirmed. “I tried to tell him, but he wouldn’t let me finish. It was so heartfelt; I just decided to go with it.”

“But …” the woman began. She was too polite to finish her thought.

“I know what you’re thinking,” Dr. Walker chuckled. “I got the whole thing on video. I may not be on the front lines, but I have plenty of friends who are. That guy is going to make their day.”


Copyright © 2020 by Scott William Foley

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews or articles.