David haggled at the Waymart return station with a heavyset middle-manager named Milton. Milton wore a yellow pinstriped dress shirt and aviator glasses. David thought that he smelled rather like a musky ferret. The ferret analogy came easily to David because he was irritated. Milton was refusing to replace the defective microwave oven David wanted to return. David had forgotten his receipt.
Their argument grew heated. David released Kaden — his five-year-old son. Kaden bolted. His fraying blue jacket soared behind him like the plumage of a bird. He flew away from the blustering adults and disappeared into the forest of clothing. Milton leered from behind the counter as though the argument had just been settled.
“There he goes,” Milton said.
David followed Kaden. He left the microwave with Milton and began patrolling the aisles of shirts and shorts and shoes and belts. He listened carefully for the rapid pattering of miniature soles on waxed tiles. He heard only the lopsided spin of demented cart wheels and the subdued mumbling of worn-out greeters and checkers. David wondered whether it was peculiar for children to suddenly rush away from their parents. Perhaps it was a phase. If Kaden were not five years old, David would have suspected that this getaway was mean-spirited.
Then David heard a familiar squeal. He made his way toward a series of curtained rooms. They bore the inventive label: “changing stalls.” Kaden had been captured by an employee. She had clamped down to the end of his ratty blue jacket with clear polished nails and white knuckles. Kaden struggled gleefully against the Waymart employee.
The woman was young – David placed her somewhere in her twenties. He checked her tag. Adrienne. She lay hunched over her desk like a corpse, clinging to Kaden with sedated desperation. David suspected that she was, in fact, dead and had merely revived momentarily in order to address the tornado of childish energy whisking past her station.
“Is he yours?” she asked.
“Yes. Thank you.” David said. He collected Kaden from the corpse. Kaden was grinning.
“I found them!” Kaden said. “I found them. I found them.”
Kaden twisted and pulled the duo toward soaring stack of microwaves. Adrienne smiled and returned her forehead to the desk. David made a show of examining the microwaves. They were on sale and yet still seemed prohibitively expensive. In that moment, David experienced something of a catharsis. He resolved to abandon the frenzied wrangling at the return counter. He would purchase a new, expensive microwave rather than meet with that weasel manager again. The whole experience, David decided, would be worthwhile.
“Da-dee,” Kaden squealed, “have a nut!”
David glanced downward as Kaden produced a fist from his coat pocket. Clutched between his victorious fingers was a swollen filbert nut. David had an affinity for nuts, filbert nuts excluded. Sometimes, when he would purchase an assorted package of peanuts, almonds, walnuts, cashews, and pecans — among others — he would discover two or three massive filbert nuts crowding out the other options. David often found himself wishing that he knew the actual contents of each package before he committed. He already had too many filbert nuts.
“Ok,” David said.
David accepted the filbert nut. Returning his attention to the display, he tossed the small gift into his mouth. He chewed. The nut, he realized, had traveled for years through the inner lining of the donated jacket. It had weathered long car rides, frosty sledding trips, and weekends at the park. The nut had worked its way through a hole shared by the lining of the jacket and the pocket. It had been discovered and shared by the gleeful child. David reeled with the explosion of flavors. He was overcome with the taste of detergent and cotton and sweat and grit and love.