Lighters, Key Chains, Lottery Tickets, Death, Epiphanies, and Other Impulse Items

By Paul LeDuc Pretzer


He knew it was his turn. he was next, and he was going to have to step around the guy and around his feet and the two paramedics working on him, trying to get his shirt off, and taking some vital signs. What else was he going to do? What were his other options? He couldn’t hold up the line, and if he didn’t step around and go next, you could bet your ass the lady standing behind him with a picture of her toy dog on her sweatshirt would step around him and the guy sprawled on the floor, step around both of them and right up to that open register, throw down her hard earned American dollars on pump three, or pump four, or whichever pump, and she might even get one of those last minute impulse items like beef jerky, two for one candy bars dangerously close to their expiration dates, a pack of Wrigley’s or Black Jack gum, or maybe just a lighter. Maybe she was one of those people that was going to make the clerk name off all thirty-eight different scratch off lottery tickets they kept up in the big Plexiglas case hanging behind the counter, endlessly pondering over which ticket would bring her the most luck.

It’s not his fault that some poor bastard who pulled into the store, probably the same way as just about every other day of his life, on his way to or from wherever it was the guy went to and from, same as he himself had just done only about five minutes ago, then the poor bastard probably walked up to the counter with some intention, whatever the hell it was-to buy some lottery tickets, or a pack of smokes, or just a lighter,  or maybe just some damn stamps, but no one would ever know because the guy never made it that far and was still next in line when the poor bastard dropped to the floor, right there in front of one of the two cash registers at the Gas n’ Go.

The air was pungent with the smell of burnt popcorn and unfettered capitalism.

He couldn’t help but think of what was going through that poor bastard’s head. There he was, possibly thinking his last thoughts, and taking in his last sights, the water stained drop ceiling above his head, and hearing his last sounds, the undying song of commerce, and truly realizing for the first time that his poor bastard life wasn’t worth enough trouble to shut down the second cash register line at the Gas n Go on a Tuesday afternoon in August.

He took one last look down at the poor bastard on the ground and got a shiver as he had a brief vision of himself on that very same floor, looking up while some asshole stepped around him. He shook it off, did his duty as good citizen and stepped up to that register like a man at the DMV-not sure if he has all of the proper paperwork but ready to get it over with, either way. The cashier and he exchanged glances that spoke only of the giant pink elephant crumpled on the floor dying of a heart attack, or aneurysm, or some other ism. He couldn’t remember how much he owed on pump seven, nor did he remember that he needed a pack of cigarettes, which he would realize as he was pulling out and driving away. All he knew, all he was sure of, was how insignificant he was. He knew there was going to come a time-tomorrow, next week, next year-when he would be prone on the ground of some gas station, or convenience store, or grocery store, or hardware store, or someplace thoroughly meaningless, staring up at the ceiling, and wondering if those ugly, water stained drop ceiling tiles were the last thing that he was ever going to see because holy shit he was dying. And all the while, people would be stepping around him to buy beer, milk, hedge shears, a hammer, lottery tickets, gas, or maybe just a lighter. It wouldn’t even matter what.