"There's a woman at the counter who'd like to talk to you," Buck said quietly.
I walked over to see if I could help her. Even as I approached her, I could tell that she carried a burden; it showed on her face and in her eyes. Her expression was set, but it didn't hide the little hints of anxiety and apprehension that crept through.
She began telling me her story; it was a terse tale of hardship and determination to overcome. The personal details are hers, and I won't share them.... that's up to her. It ended with her explaining that her electricity had been turned off for non-payment, and while she had saved some money, she was $35 short of what she needed to pay the bill and get the power restored. "They won't let you make partial payments," she said as she showed me the bill and the cash she had accrued thus far. "Gotta have it all in cash. I asked about overtime where I work, but they just don't understand..."
What followed wasn't what I expected. "I was wondering if you had any work I could do here, today, to earn $35 to pay my electric bill and get my power turned back on." She didn't say anything further, but her eyes all but implored me for help.
I didn't have to think more than a second before I answered. "I think we can find something," I said. I then excused myself to ask Buck what we might be able to have her do to earn the money she needed. Buck suggested we let her help us break down a few boxes and toss them in the dumpster, then have her alphabetize the dollar comics, which had gotten disorganized since Julie prepared them for sale a few weeks ago.
She worked diligently. She didn't know comic books, but she asked Buck how to organize the books and she paid attention and she did just what he said. "Ignore adjectives like Amazing in Amazing Spider-Man," he told her, and she did just that. A few minutes later, we realized that sometimes adjectives weren't supposed to be ignored, as is the case with The New Gods. We didn't tell her, though; she was working hard, working fast, and doing just what she had been asked to do.
At one point, she got a phone call. After a couple of minutes, she said, "Excuse me, sir," trying to get my attention.
"Yes, ma'am," I said in reply. She stopped for a second, a little surprised. I get the feeling that she didn't expect to be called "ma'am."
"What's the name of this store?" she asked?
"Dr. No's Comics & Games," I told her. She repeated it into the phone; obviously whomever had called wanted to know where she was. She told them what she was doing; there was a little back and forth on the phone, and it seemed like whomever was on the other end of the call was upsetting her. Buck walked over, just to see how she was doing and to offer her a reason to end the conversation, since it was obviously not a pleasant call. Buck said he could hear the yelling coming through the phone from several feet away.
"I've never heard so much hate coming through a phone," he told me.
She ended the call in a moment or two more, then returned to work. "You've got really good air conditioning in here," she said to me after a moment. "It feels good. It was really hot at home." Considering our mid-90s weather (which followed a few days in the mid-100s), I imagine a home without power was not a comfortable place at any point of the day or night.
As she was wrapping up, I took $50 from my wallet and handed it to her. "It's a little more than you asked for," I told her. "Grab something for dinner on the way home," I told her. "And I hope things work out better for you."
"You don't have to...." she said, then cut herself off. She reached out and shook my hand, and said earnestly, "thank you."