A & P, John Updike
Around they come, Queenie still leading the way, and holding a little gray jar in
her hand. I could see her wondering between Stokes and me, but Stokesie with
his usual luck draws an old party in baggy gray pants who stumbles up with four
giant cans of pineapple juice so the girls come to me.
Lengel is about to scuttle into that door marked MANAGER behind
which he hides all day when the girls touch his eye. He comes over and
says, "Girls, this isn't the beach."
Queenie blushes "My mother asked me to pick up a jar of herring snacks."
All of a sudden I slid right down her voice into her living room.
Her father and the other men were standing around in ice-cream coats
and bow ties and the women were in sandals picking up herring snacks
on toothpicks off a big plate and they were all holding drinks the color
of water with olives and sprigs of mint in them.
When my parents have somebody over they get lemonade and if it's a
real racy affair, Schlitz in tall glasses with "They'll Do It Every Time"
cartoons stenciled on.
"That's all right," Lengel said. "But this isn't the beach." He didn't like my smiling,
but he concentrates on giving the girls that sad Sunday- school-superintendent stare.
Queenie's blush is no sunburn now, and the plump one in plaid pipes up,
"We weren't doing any shopping. We just came in for the one thing."
"That makes no difference," Lengel tells her, and I could see from
the way his eyes went that he hadn't noticed she was wearing
a two-piece before. "We want you decently dressed when you
come in here."
"We are decent," Queenie says suddenly, her lower lip pushing,
getting sore now that she remembers her place, a place from which
the crowd that runs the A & P must look pretty crummy.
"Girls, I don't want to argue with you. After this come in here with
your shoulders covered. It's our policy." He turns his back. That's
policy for you. Policy is what the kingpins want. What the others
want is juvenile delinquency.
All this while, the customers had been showing up with their carts
but, you know, sheep, seeing a scene, they had all bunched up on
Stokesie, who shook open a paper bag as gently as peeling a peach,
not wanting to miss a word. Lengel asks me, "Sammy, have you
rung up this purchase?"
I thought and said "No" and punch the register keys.
The girls, and who'd blame them, are in a hurry to get out, so
I say "I quit" to Lengel quick enough for them to hear, hoping they'll
stop and watch me, their unsuspected hero.
They keep right on going, into the electric eye; the door flies open
and they flicker across the lot to their car, Queenie and Plaid and
Big Tall Goony-Goony, leaving me with Lengel and a kink in his eyebrow.
"Did you say something, Sammy?"
"I said I quit."
"I thought you did."
"You didn't have to embarrass them."
"It was they who were embarrassing us."
I started to say something that came out "Fiddle-de-doo."
It's a saying of my grandmother's, and I know she would have
"I don't think you know what you're saying," Lengel said.
"I know you don't," I said. "But I do." I pull the bow at the back of
my apron and start shrugging it off my shoulders.
Lengel sighs and begins to look very patient and old and gray.
He's been a friend of my parents for years. "Sammy, you don't want
to do this to your Mom and Dad," he tells me. I fold the apron,
"Sammy" stitched in red on the pocket, and put it on the counter,
and drop the bow tie on top of it. "You'll feel this for the rest of your life,"
Lengel says, and I know that's true, too, but remembering how he made that
pretty girl blush makes me so scrunchy inside I punch the No Sale tab and the drawer splats out.
One advantage to this scene taking place in summer, I can follow
this up with a clean exit. I just saunter into the electric eye in my white shirt
that my mother ironed the night before, and the door heaves itself
open, and outside the sunshine is skating around on the asphalt.
I look around for my girls, but they're gone, of course. Looking back in the big windows,
over the bags of peat moss and aluminum lawn furniture stacked on the pavement,
I could see Lengel in my place in the slot, checking the sheep through.
His face was dark gray and his back stiff, as if he'd just had an injection
of iron, and my stomach kind of fell as I felt how hard the world was
going to be to me hereafter.
"A&P - John Updike." A&P - John Updike. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Aug. 2016.
Why does Sammy refer to Lengel as "dark gray and his back stiff" (line 92)?