Can I Help You? This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

Her thin lips spread to reveal white teeth, too white. Or maybe it’s not that her teeth are too white, maybe it’s the contrast created by the pink, diseased, old lady gums that makes her smile seem unnatural. Her eyes don’t help – they are far too squinty and sparkling, and day-old mascara clings to the inside corners. She wears a crisp white pantsuit. Expensive and appropriate. She smells of perfume and old money. A printed silk shirt hangs loosely off her frail shoulders. The baubles on her spider-fingers tap against the glass bakery counter, a call to attention for my coworkers and me.

I stop stocking the bread shelf and turn to the counter where she stands, impatient. We make eye contact. Realizing my mistake, I shift my eyes and look pleadingly at Cassandra, my coworker. She returns my gaze with a look that seems to say, You saw her first. You deal with her. James, the other cashier, is elbow-deep in dishes at the sink. Sighing, I brush the breadcrumbs from my hands and step up to the counter.

“Can I help you?” I return her saccharin stare with one of my own. She begins to speak so rapidly and without pause that I can’t help wondering if she practices strategic breathing exercises.

“Hello dear how are you oh wonderful I will take three of your plain croissants and oh no dear not that one it looks overdone yes yes those ones to the left and also two of these delicious looking scones oh they are just to die for dear me you’re so thin if I worked here well I would never be able to these wonderful treats would all be too hard to resist I need some bread what would you recommend never mind I will take a baguette – are the ones over here on this rack fresher than the ones you just gave me?”

It takes me a couple of seconds to realize she has stopped talking. I blink. “Actually, ma’am, they’re all from the same batch, we just haven’t had a chance to put those loaves on display.”

“Oh well those look better than the ones you’ve got there so would you be a dear and put those back and give me the new ones oh thank you dear.”

I do as she asks. I’ve worked at this bakery for four years, and in that time have learned that for our affluent customers, the concepts of logic and sincerity are as foreign as the cleaning ladies they employ. It seems that reason and compassion are qualities reserved for the working class.

I ring up her order at the register, and she walks out, high heels clicking. The stench of her perfume lingers. I turn to face Cassandra. We both smile.

“Can you believe some of the people who come in here?”

“I know, seriously.”

We roll our eyes and giggle; it’s a routine we go through often, all of us here at the bakery. It’s our way of not letting them get to us: their condescending stares, their fakeness, the man on the cell phone who doesn’t think we’re worthy of his full attention. The penny-pinching ladies who spend $70 on pies and don’t tip. The snobbish trophy wives who define us by our minimum-wage paychecks. We laugh them away over free coffee, sarcasm, and discounted muffins. It’s a bond we share. It’s how we convince ourselves that they’re wrong about us; it’s how we know we’re not alone.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

Join the Discussion

This article has 18 comments. Post your own now!

slightlymad said...
Feb. 6, 2010 at 9:36 pm
In my previous comment I was replying to Melinda L. The story is pretty good.
slightlymad said...
Feb. 6, 2010 at 9:34 pm
That's a pretty common word, for an artificial sweetener.
Shipwreck said...
Nov. 29, 2009 at 5:41 pm
I liked it. That something most people go through. We all have to not let those kind of people get to us. Nice story.
Haley G. said...
Jun. 17, 2009 at 9:44 pm
i dont get the ending. could you clear it up for me. sorry im so dense.
Imaginedangerous This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Jun. 5, 2010 at 9:39 am
The ending is talking about how the characters feel about the upper class customers- how they're treated badly but try not to let it get to them.
Claudia H. said...
May 1, 2009 at 1:31 am
Wow you are a great writer I really like the end especially because its something I can relate to.
I loved this part the best *the concepts of logic and sincerity are as foreign as the cleaning ladies they employ.* Keep up the great work! :)
Melinda L. said...
Apr. 30, 2009 at 11:32 pm
Wow, that was incredible. I loved the part where you said, "I return her saccharin stare with one of my own." I love that word: saccharin. Nice vocabulary!
KB rider said...
Apr. 30, 2009 at 8:43 pm
I really like that story, you are a great writer and i could visualize the entire scene, if you get a chance please check out my short store please and thank you!
Nalakitty01 said...
Apr. 22, 2009 at 9:55 pm
Oh my gosh. I really liked this one. At the end I found myself wishing there was more. :D
You're a great writer. Keep up the good work said...
Apr. 19, 2009 at 1:48 am
very good. i could just visualize it.
BellaEzrebetFang This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Apr. 13, 2009 at 3:46 am
Jeez, I felt like I was right there! Really really well done! :)
Mark Christmas said...
Apr. 13, 2009 at 3:24 am
I think you are a very good writer but I also feel you could have further explored the coworker's relationship when the woman is ridiculously ordering food. Nonetheless, I think you wrote a nice piece. The writing was exquisite and tasty and I sense you could write something outside your realm and still make it great.

Keep it up.
Undiscovered said...
Apr. 12, 2009 at 11:52 pm
Oh my gosh, there are not many things I read that I can actually SEE, and I saw it. You really have talent. Wow...

Can you look at mine and tell me what I can do better? Thanks!
TheWriter01 said...
Apr. 12, 2009 at 8:19 pm
This is really great writing. Have you ever been to a site called FICTIONPRESS? It's really cool way to get people to read your stories.
Hailey said...
Apr. 12, 2009 at 6:31 pm
i work at a cafe and we get a lot of snobby customers. i totally get this article. very good job. said...
Apr. 6, 2009 at 11:44 pm
I loved it! You definately have a gift. It was incredible!
tweedle dee said...
Apr. 6, 2009 at 4:19 pm
wow this was really good. i have a friend who just started working at a grocery store, and he says the same thing. loved the part about "as foreing as the cleaning ladies they employ" great job!
EVHrocksmyworld said...
Apr. 6, 2009 at 10:29 pm
i really liked this story! :) it's really cool and i love the description.

i think you're a really good writer! do you mind reading my story and telling me if it's any good?
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