A bone-chilling gust of wind swept over my cheeks as the door to the store jingled. I looked up from the cash register as a short, thin, and rather ashen-looking woman stepped onto the threshold of the Wawa. She wore a long, dark, down winter jacket, with a purple little scarf fastened up to her nose. Her dirty blonde hair fell in waves over her shoulders. I placed a handful of change into the hands of a customer, closed the register with my hip and chimed, as was customary:
“Hello! Welcome to Wawa!” The lady looked up and noticed me. She smiled, or, more accurately, grimaced, a little distractedly. Outside, a Chevrolet Camaro hummed in the parking lot – smoke furling out of its exhaust pipes and emitting loud, earsplitting music whose bass made the floor tremor and the windows rattle. She walked over to the coffee and began pouring herself a regular. She cast an anxious look out the window, standing on her toes in an effort to see over the shelves. The coffee flowed over the brim of her cup, splashing onto the counter. She let out a bit of a yelp as the hot, brown liquid stained her fingers. She glanced over at me, but I pretended not to have noticed. She mopped it up with a handful of napkins. Then she added sugar – and lots of it. She tried on every lid until she found the right size. She then approached the cashier counter, teetering unstably on her heels. The unmistakable smell of smoke wafted from off her jacket
“Will this be all?” I asked as she placed her coffee on the counter and pulled out her credit card.
“Yes…yes this will be all, Miss,” She cast an anxious glance out the window again. The car window was now open, with a trail of smoke curling out of it. A hand appeared as the source was dropped, smoking, onto the pavement. The lady snapped her attention back to me and stammered:
“On second thought, some nicotine patches please,” she directed my attention to brand. I rung her up and handed her the bag.
“Have a nice day.”
“Th-thanks,” she stammered. As she shuffled to the door, the driver-side door of the Camaro popped open. A tall, stocky, and rather scruffy middle-aged man stepped out impatiently. As she walked out the door, the man approached her angrily. As the hydraulic door began to shut, only the first few of the man’s words managed to reach my ears;
“What the hell took you so long, woman? I have things to do and places to be!” The doors clicked shut, muting his lips – yet they continued to talk vehemently. Through the one-way glass of the windowpanes, I saw the woman cower, shaking like a leaf in a storm, anticipating the gust of wind that would separate her from her branch. It was the woman, now, who was talking. Based on her lips, I could tell she was talking, or, more likely stammering, very quickly. I stood still at the register – the store completely unoccupied. The manager had gone to the back room to take account of the stock, and the lanky deli boy had stepped out to take a quick, five-minute break.
I turned back toward the window, aware that they could not see me watching their quarrel. The lady reached into the little plastic bag, still trembling. She pulled out the nicotine patches, thrusted them at the man, and looked anxiously up into his eyes. In a flash of fury, the man knocked the box out of the woman’s hands. They landed in a puddle next to his car that still vibrated with loud music. She recoiled, anticipating an aftershock. It came fast and relentlessly to her cheek. I dug my nails into the counter, looking frantically around the store for anybody who could help. What could I do? I recalled Benjamin Franklin’s famous advice: “Those who in quarrels interpose, often must wipe a bloody nose.” I looked again at the people outside. The man’s face had turned beet-red, and the woman had begun to whimper and cry, her cheek stained pink. She turned and looked straight at me through the window. While she could not see me, she managed to find my eyes. My nails dug deeper into the counter. I knew what I should do, but I was also aware of what I could do. The man was still yelling mercilessly as I disappeared into the back room to get the manager.
When I returned with him, the Camaro was gone, along with the man and the woman. The manager looked at me and shrugged. He returned back to the storage room. Yet I remained standing, motionless in the middle of a vacant Wawa, wondering why I hadn’t tried to do something sooner, why I had not stepped in, and how things might have been different, were it not for the thin sheet of glass that had separated me from the couple.
Madeline Bowne has won two C-Span awards for her documentary videos. In 2011, she won 3rd place for her Math Education in the Crossroads. In 2012, she won 2nd place for her documentary on the 19th Amendment. She also won 3rd place in the WHYY Youth Media Awards for her video Perfect Child. Her first poem, “Waiting for Autumn,” was published in the Philadelphia Inquirer when she was in 4th grade. She created her school newspaper for Clearview Middle School in Mullica Hill, and then moved to Cherry Hill and joined the newspaper staff. A pianist and clarinetist, she made All South Jersey band for 2012. An Honors student, she plans to attend Cherry Hill East in the fall.