ONES FOR TENS by Lee Landers
SANDY HALL HAD SUNGLASSES ON like always. The customers thought she was trying to imitate Hollywood celebrities. Most didn’t know she was blind as she sat in the three-sided glass ticket booth; the goldfish bowl of the Boomer Theatre on Campus Corner. I’d worked there my whole sophomore year while going to the University of Oklahoma. I was the doorman and ticket-taker, she was the cashier. We worked together to make sure that one dollar bills were not offered as tens. A rap on her window was the danger signal. She said, “Most of the time I can tell. The ones feel more used, and the customer’s don’t sound right, tight, when they try to fool.” She always smiled. But I wondered what kind of person would try to pass off a one for a ten. There was a good reason to keep the public in the dark about her condition. Odd thought “in the dark” like Sandy.
Sandy said, “Lee, sit here and hold still.” She got up and pushed her stool toward me. Business was slow on a Wednesday afternoon. She stood in front of me and put her hands on my temples. “Rita told me you had curly, light-brown hair.” She pushed my springy coils.
“I tried straightening it. Nothing works.”
“Leave it alone. Let it be natural.” She love-slapped me. What color are your eyes?”
“Same as yours, blue.”
“Rita said you look like Steve McQueen.”
“I don’t think….”
“Rita has a crush on you.”
“It must have affected her eyesight.” God, I wished I hadn’t said that. Sandy didn’t seem to notice. “Anyway, she’s not my type.”
“Why not? She’s eighteen, just two years younger than you?”
“Too churchy. When we met, the first thing she asked me was, ‘Where do you go to church?’ like she had to pigeon-hole me in her mind as to whether I was acceptable or not. I don’t go to any church.”
“Rita and I go to the same church. Pastor Thomas says we should be ‘like with like’, that’s what the Noah’s ark story was about: two lions, two sheep, two doves. The Church encourages us to keep with other Church members. My Dad especially. He’s an elder and board member.” I closed my eyes. Her fingers smoothed my eyebrows and she put her thumbs on my eyelids.
“Cornflowers?” she asked.
“Light blue.” I moved my eyeballs around under her thumbs.
“That tickles. You’re cute.” She pinched both of my cheeks and pulled them out.
“I dunno. Were you asking or telling me?” With my cheeks stretched it sounded like I had a Sugar Daddy in my mouth. She giggled and asked, “What do I look like?” I had to think for a moment.
“You look like Vivian Leigh in Gone with the Wind, except you have thick auburn hair.”
“Vivian Leigh. Is that good?”
“Very.” Sandy’s hands were small and soft. No nail polish. She had a silver sweet-sixteen ring on her left pinky that her dad gave her. Twisting it at odd times during the day reminded Sandy of him, she said. Reading Braille for years had made her hands sensitive like she had eyes in her fingertips. I wondered if her super-sensitive hands could read random bumps on my face that said weird things by accident like ‘Satan’ and would freak her out. As they moved over my face I remembered seeing at the zoo the baby elephant’s trunk reading the world. My nose, cheekbones, lips and chin were measured by her fingers. I almost puckered and kissed them.
“You have high cheekbones, a straight nose, and a square jaw with a little divot in your chin.”
“My face is like someone played golf off it?” That made her smile big. I did that a lot for her.
“How about, indentation, instead.”
“Much better, thanks.”
“No, thank you. I think I could make a clay model of your face now.”
Mr. Bill Love, our manager, suddenly materialized in the doorway. He said, “Break-time, fifteen minutes.” The appropriately named man was the proprietor of the Boomer Theatre, the beating heart of love-central for Campus Corner. Red-brick cobblestone pavement-veins of Asp Avenue, Boyd Street and White Avenue connected the University’s limbs to the throbbing movie house at 765 Asp Avenue. My Mom had said, “The theatre has been here since dirt and your Dad and I went there when we were in college.” Cupid lived at the Boomer. Love took place in the auditorium on the screen and in the seats. Young men and women sat glued together in a cloud of Junior Mint breath, took in the cinematic love-potion from the celluloid images, and passed it back and forth to each other on a little river of spit flecked with popcorn-hull floaties.
After opening the ticket booth door, Mr. Love moved to the stool when I stood up. Sandy followed me out to the lobby as I walked to the concession counter knowing better than to help her. She knew the number of steps on the red carpet to the linoleum in front of the counter and the number of steps from there to where Rita Nemesec, her friend, worked. We played a game called Cricket Crunch. Sometimes when she walked on the linoleum there would be a crush underfoot. I’d say, “Popcorn or cricket?” Sandy was right most of the time. When she was wrong she’d say, “Oww.”
Rita, Olive Oyl, I called her, was Auschwitz-thin with herringbone, cat-eye glasses. I didn’t call her Olive Oyl to her face, I needed her help with Sandy. I knew she liked me and it was better than her hating me. Behind the counter the floor was built up six inches and made the concessionist taller, skinnier, and look down on the customers. Rita towered over us.
Sandy said, “Hi Rita. Can I get a small Coke, please?”
“Hey, Sandy. Sure. Want anything, Lee?”
“No thanks.” Freshly popped popcorn fumes met with dill pickle smells. Poof, pa, poof–muffled vegetable explosions of popcorn kernels mixed with the more sinister pops of the Steve McQueen movie, Bullitt, spilling from the auditorium. From behind the counter I got my usual quart of cold milk, that I’d stashed there in the ice machine before work, and opened it. Rita handed me two straws. I smiled at her, put them in the carton and took a long drink until my throat ached.
Rita said, “Lee, why don’t you come to church with us Sunday. We won’t bite.”
“Yes, do,” Sandy said.
I asked, “Do you guys date anyone who doesn’t go to your church?” Rita looked at Sandy and then me.
Rita said, “Sometimes.”
Sandy said, “My Dad would have a fit. I can’t date, anyway, until I’m seventeen, two more months, now.” She twisted the sweet sixteen ring. “Time goes slow when you’re crossing off days one by one.” I knew that I was going to be her first. Imagining Braille-feeling Sandy’s face with my lips gave me the will to wait and make sixty anxious crosses on my calendar.
“Sandy, I think Bobby Thomas likes you,” Rita said.
Sandy’s eyebrows raised, “Pastor Thomas’ son?”
“Yes.” Rita nodded and looked at me for the effect. My throat had stopped hurting but it started again.
Rita said, “He’s seventeen and in your bible class isn’t he?”
“Yeah,” Sandy said. Rita crunched crickets on purpose.
Our theatre was one of the last buildings in Norman to have evaporative coolers instead of air-conditioning and the moistened cool air added to the dark cavey-ness. The auditorium was three stories high and had long maroon curtains hanging down from the walls on either side of the screen like old woven stalactites. It was a love cave. No bats.
I watched Sandy in the ticket booth through the heavy, full-length, glass doors from my doorman’s spot during the early evening rush and was wary of dollar bill liars. Tearing tickets in half, putting my half on a spindle, opening doors for customers almost filled my mind and stopped my thoughts of Sandy. She sat there with that smile. People streamed into the Boomer two by two as if it were an ark: black with white, tall with short, thin with fat and pretty with ugly—a love boat. Everyone was paired up but me.
It was funny that Sandy had, setting on the counter next to the register, a small three-section folding picture frame with her Dad in the middle, Mom on the left and little brother on the right. They were there to watch her, I guess. She kept a small sack of Starlight peppermints in her purse and melted one in her mouth throughout the evening. They made her breath so luscious I could take a bite out of it and created my daydream about setting in a cave, stuck to her, lost in a mint cloud.
Mr. Hall took Sandy to work and picked her up every evening in a tan Buick station wagon. The Buick was immaculate; Armor All tires, with the white sidewalls gleaming in the dark like a leading man’s teeth. Mrs. Hall stayed in the car with Sandy’s brother, Tom, in the back seat. Her Dad got out, came toward the front double-glass doors of the Boomer and Tom opened the Buick’s back door for his sister. Mr. Hall was neat too, his long-sleeved, Madras shirt buttoned to the top, no tie.
I said, “Sandy, your Dad’s here.” I wondered if she’s ever mentioned me to them. I opened the door for her. “Hi, Mr. Hall. ‘Night, Sandy.”
She said, “See you tomorrow, Lee.” I always thought that sounded odd. Mr. Hall got to the door and took Sandy’s arm. He looked down at my shoes and raised his eyes to mine slowly as if he were hunting for something in particular.
He said, “You’re too old for her.” Sandy gasped a tub of soggy Boomer air that gushed out of the opened doors as if the theatre were gut-punched.
“Daddy!” she said and reached out toward his face as if to shut his mouth. She had mentioned me. From helping Rita with the intermission rush, there was a dollop of melted nacho cheese on my scuffed penny loafers.
Two months went by quickly because I got to see Sandy four days a week at the theatre–almost like a date. Without telling them, I did go to their little white wooden church one Sunday. Services had started and I slipped quietly into the back pew with my cleaned, shined shoes immaculate. Sandy’s Mom, Dad, and little brother sat together like in the picture frame with Miss Oyl puddled on Sandy’s right. Praying I wouldn’t be noticed, the Pastor eyed me and directed his sermon as if he could read the bumps on my face too.
Pastor Thomas thundered fire and brimstone at the congregation and passed the collection basket to save souls. It looked like Little Thunder, Bobby, sat next to Rita. They were drawn close to the front where the sulfur was most pungent. Rita leaned left, said something to Sandy, and then oozed right, whispering to Bobby. The oily Miss was in control. I’d seen enough and stole away before I was discovered and asked to repent.
Sandy and I took our afternoon break in the auditorium on Thursday after that church service. It was almost empty for the matinee of Goldfinger. Rita wasn’t working that day and I had Sandy to myself. She had her Coke and I had my milk. Screwing up my courage I said, “Now that you’re seventeen we can go out together Saturday night.” She squirmed in her seat.
“I can’t, Lee. My Dad.” The drink kept her mouth busy for a moment while she thought of what to say. “I have a date with Bobby, Saturday.”
It might have been the cold milk that caused me to shiver. A vision of sixty crosses came to me. They were tiny and nailed to me with a trickle of blood dripping from each wound.
“Do I have to be exactly like you to get a date? Do I have to be blind too?” She was quiet and wouldn’t turn to me. Some functions of Sandy’s eyes were normal and she faced straight ahead at Oddjob who was fighting with double-oh-seven on the silver screen. I could see sparks of reflected light in the watery trails struggling down her cheeks.
She said, “Sorry,” in a voice I’d never heard, got up and left. I’d just tried to pass off a one for a ten. Oddjob got electrocuted as I sat in the dark.
Two years later, after I had quit show business, I saw Sandy on the North Oval of campus. I said, “How are you doing, Sandra Kay Hall.”
She said, “Lee!” instantly recognizing my voice. She was still in the dark.
CONNLEY (LEE) LANDERS was born in Norman, Oklahoma in 1947. He received his BS in ’72 and MS in Nutrition ’74. After careers in nutrition and later, real estate investments, he is working toward a creative writing degree from the University of North Texas. He exercises vigorously, plays tournament poker aggressively and lives humbly in Mckinney, Texas. He has had stories published in Rope and Wire Magazine, Darkest Before the Dawn Magazine, The Horror-Zine, and can be reached at connleylanders [@] yahoo.com