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  • Girl you always look so sad, Alma said, let me see your pretty smile.
    She was always smiling, talking with the customers, joking with the stock boys and friendly with the manager.
    We worked the Dolgin’s registers at the front of the department store on a busy Clayton shopping strip. We typed in merchandise numbers all day, made change, it was mostly cash sales or gift certificates, very few people used credit cards and debit cards did not yet exist. Alma also worked at the Anheiser Bush bottling plant, capping Budweiser bottles on the line. It sounded tedious to me but she kept smiling.
    It was 1979 and I was just out of high school, starting night school, living at home and wondering how I was ever going to get to anywhere else. I knew I should be somewhere else, that I had somehow stepped into the wrong life, like getting dressed in the dark and going about all day with a shirt on backwards, feeling the bias of the fabric rubbing in unexpected places. Her warmth reached a cold spot in my life that I was trying to locate and thaw.

    The day it happened was my day off. When I went into work it was too quiet but it took me a while to figure what was different, why everything seemed so flat, fluorescent and dull.
    Where is Alma? I asked someone.
    They took her away in handcuffs yesterday, the police came in and walked her out the door. Why? She was running a scam with returns where she voided a sale and pocketed the money, taking home some beaucoup dollars my co-worker said. She was always smiling I said, quietly. Girl I’dve been smiling too if I was her, bet she’s not smiling so much now.
    But I still wonder about that because I like to think that Alma greeted whatever came her way with a smile, like she was comfortable with being who she was. What is it that we see in another persons’ smile that brings us so much happiness, could it be no more than the feeling that they are glad to see us and in that moment we can see our own worth?
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