To no surprise, Arik was surprised to see Porkchop – at least, at such an early hour – and abominably sober, at that. Having shaved that day, the kid was looking sprite, with the aroma of cheap aftershave permeating his figure as Porkchop approached. Those horn-rimmed, oval-framed spectacles of his made him seem all the more astute, not that he was ever off-mark or out-of-pocket.
“My friend! Hello, good morning!” Arik’s Middle-Eastern descent imparted a barrier onto their casual banter, rendering certain greetings clumsy, yet always jovial. This fellow, moreover, was one of the few people that Porkchop could actually consider a friend. For he treated Porkchop as he would anyone else, despite knowing he was an enabler of those hard habits. Such habits led Porkchop’s eyes to wander, onto the counter where the plexiglass box of scratch-offs stared back at him.
First, though, he ought to give the day an honest, sober shake. Then, out back, he’d slip into a six-pack of beer at his usual pace.
“Early to the day, I see. What’s the occasion? Out of smokes?”
“No,” Porkchop said, slowly. “I’ve come for lottery, actually.”
“Ohh, the lottery! Good, lots of good luck to be had these days. What’ll it be for you, sir?”
Porkchop paused, putting a finger to his chin before carefully deciding on three of the $5 varieties, each of a different design and designated lot of winnings. “Give me an assortment, will you? Four of the $5 flavors. I’ll be right back.”
“Yessir!” answered Arik, as he peeled a few of the colorful cards from their placeholders and then placed them on the counter. Porkchop was already plucking his usual beer from the cooler when he heard the register tally what would be his grand total; that Arik was sharp.
Porkchop was hardly listening to what Arik was saying when he returned: something about the commission and their propensity to propagate supposed incentives for selling more volume; instead, his eyes fell upon with the small, green numbers which proceeded to needle the rectangular box above the cash register, realizing only at that moment that he had so suddenly squandered nearly a third of this fortune on that one fleeting grasp at fortune. Whether it hit or not, Porkchop determined something would have to give on these bad habits of hardly paying attention. Hovering between half-numb and thoroughly hammered all day, moreover, was a decidedly poor way to trot through life – even if, at times, it was the only effective route to mitigate the reality of the circumstances which he so unabashedly endured.
At the same time, a similarly troubling notion swept over Arik; it had not occurred to him as he first took the request, but now the truth enunciated itself as he, too, examined the grand total. Not that the clerk was above taking large orders in exchange for small, sweaty bills and smudged coins, but the idea of counting out a purchase of over $30 in a smattering of dimes and pennies was quite dreadful; his shoulders sank accordingly, and that jovial smile of his vanished.
“That will be $33.64…sir.”
Sight of that single, large bill, however, elicited a strange sense of intrigue in Arik. Had this fellow turned the corner, and was simply honoring his unenviable lifestyle of old? Or, had he saved his studs for a day like today? Was it, perhaps, this man’s birthday?
A faint gasp escaped Arik; he fought to control his contorted facial expression.
Porkchop omitted a similarly confounded energy, as he stood there, now processing the idea of handing over this bill in exchange for a mere square of filmsy paper and peel-away luck. What was he even doing here? It’s still so damn early.
Arik leaned back, emptied the addled expression from his face, and then let out a simple: Sorry. “I just…did not expect that.”
“Yes,” Porkchop replied. “Neither did I. But, here we are. So, let’s see how far we can take it.”
A grin came over Arik, and he offered a slight bow before taking the bill and turning it into a bunch of smaller ones.
For a second, Porkchop did consider scratching the lot all at once, right there: standing over the register with his hands gripped to its counter to brace the impact of another trick. But the pressure just as suddenly seemed all too great; he precluded the potential disappointment by instead swooping his sack of beer and the bushel of tickets in one heave, and then heading for the door.
Behind him, Arik called aloud: “But, sir, do you not want to see what you – er – might have won?”
Realizing himself to be equally as aloof, in the throws of this befuddled excitement he had for Porkchop, Arik aimed more carefully on the next attempt. “What I meant to say is – good luck! I hope that you spend all your winnings here!” Then he gave a wink, watching as Porkchop strode through the sliding door without looking back.