by Jake Christie

a story.

“Excuse me, sir!”

Sam jumped. He was having one of his jumpy days already, and being yelled at by some larger-than-necessary woman in a hairnet and plastic gloves wasn't helping his disposition. He gripped the handle of the shopping cart. His jar of pie filling fell over and rolled, tink-tink-tink, across the metal tines.

“How would you like to try a piece of our refrigerated strawberry cheesecake?” she said. She swept a plasticine hand over a table of tiny cheesecake-filled cups with the practiced fluidity of Vanna White.

“I wouldn't,” said Sam.

The sample lady affected a pout. “Oh, come on now,” she said. “One piece won't hurt.”

The throbbing pain behind Sam's temples, which seemed to be on the rise, begged to differ. “No cheesecake for me,” he said, and turned to step away, the imposition – in his mind – settled.

“It's really good,” said the sample lady.

Sam ground his teeth and pressed his palms into the plastic handle so firmly that the two front wheels of the cart lifted off of the floor. “Listen,” he said, trying to keep his voice steady. “I don't want any cheesecake. And furthermore, I'm not going to buy any cheesecake, so f I did take some, it would actually be a waste of cheesecake. There are starving children in the world who don't have cheese or cake, let alone cheesecake, and their voices are crying out when you are so callous with that cheesecake. So please, and thank you, stop offering me the cheesecake. I'm going to walk away now, and if you see me walking by again, just ignore me. Think of me as an invisible ghost who's allergic to cheesecake. Persona non cheesecake. Give your little cups to someone who cares.”

The sample lady put her hands on her hips and tucked her chin coyly. “It'll be our little secret,” she said.

Sam chose to keep walking. His wheels slipped on the tile. His shoes squeaked. His pie filling rattled. And behind him the woman continued, always continued, like Poe's telltale heart, imploring the next person, “Excuse me, sir, would you like to try a piece of our refrigerated strawberry cheesecake?”

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