by Dominic Martia © 2002

When she fainted at the check-out counter, all her change--eleven dollars and forty-one cents--fell to the floor and scattered. Only Jean knew how much there was on the floor. A single, a quarter and a nickel were visible alongside the fallen customer's right arm. The dime, the penny and the ten dollar bill were not visible anywhere.

The paramedics worked fast.They put an oxygen mask on her face, lifted her onto the stretcher and carried her out. Jean stood quietly, watching, her eyes scanned the area under the counter. She saw that the ten had somehow fallen into a little black hole bounded by the waste basket and the wall of the counter. A soft breeze must have blown it in there. Once Jean knew where the bill was, she refused to look at it again. She knew it was safe.

As the paramedics were walking past with the stretcher, Jean reached down and picked up the single and the quarter and clumsily stuck them into the shirt pocket of the fat paramedic. "Here. this is hers," she said. He nodded and said "Thanks."

After they carried out the fallen customer, Jean dutifully went back to her station in front of the check-out terminal. Soon a small line of customers was waiting to be checked-out. None of them knew where the ten was, any more than the paramedics knew, any more than the fallen customer knew. But Jean knew, and she could wait.

x x x

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