540 - You Are Welcome


The half-disgusted, half-pitying stares you encounter as you stumble down the street don't really bother you anymore, you tell yourself, lying. Really it only bothers you a little bit when a beautiful young woman who, just a few years ago, would have been fawning over you instead shrinks away from you as you pass by, holding her nose - but not really. If you're telling the truth it crushes what's left of what you think used to be your sould. You would never tell the truth; it hurts too much.

The warm, red neon lights of the sign above the liquor store brings a smile to your face. Well, you guess it's more like you see that you're about to walk into the liquor store and force yourself to smile because they throw you out right away if you walk in looking angry. You can't really blame them for that. When you're angry, you're horrible, just like the rest of the time.

At first eyeing you suspiciously, then odiously, then with the impatient irritation eventually acquired by anyone that encounters you on a regular basis, the clerk follows your movement through the store. You've never stolen from the store, so you're not sure why he hangs around you so closely. I mean, you would steal if he'd get off your damn back for five seconds, but he doesn't know that and it's pretty rude to just assume.

You move slowly through the aisles, glancing at each bottle you pass. You realize you've emptied one of most of the brands you see, and the weight of your anti-accomplishment settles slowly on your shoulders, growing steadily heavier each time you turn into a new row.

Your steps turn into a slow shuffle as you near the back of the store and you see something that wasn't here the last time. A small doorway stands before you adorned with a cheap string of Christmas lights.

"Alan," you say, turning to the clerk still tight on your back, "what's this all about?" You're not sure if his name is really Alan, but you don't really care and neither does he, because he doesn't correct you.

"We expanded," Alan(?) explains. "New inventory in the back section." The bell over the front door jingles, catching his attention. "Don't steal anything, please," he asks politely as he leaves to tend to the new customer.

You turn your attention back to the doorway, basking in the soft, multi-colored glow of the stringed lights. The red, green, blue, and yellowish white cast conical spots of light on the wall, lending a kaleidoscopic look to the plain eight-and-a-half by eleven paper taped at eye-level to the left of the portal.

The warm message on the laser-printed sign is one you've not heard in a long time and brings a tear to your eye. YOU ARE WELCOME BACK HERE, it says.

You step through the doorway into a new world of possibilities.

...and liquor.