Dear Supermarket Check Out Boy -
I am sorry your cousin has Acute Myelogenus Leukemia and that it will probably kill him. That sounds awful. But, mostly, I'm sorry for the way I snapped at you for tossing my apples down the conveyer belt as you were telling me your cousin has cancer.
Fruit can be really expensive. Especially the Honeycrisp apples that we prefer – they are so round and big and full of sugar. These are no waxy tasteless Red Delicious: those tough-skinned road-side gas station apples waiting forgotten next to dust-covered Slim Jims. You probably don't know this but the Honeycrisp was selectively bred, a cultivar of juice and tartness. It is the ideal apple for eating raw. I took my time selecting four perfect apples, perfectly cross-bred and shipped to your store without any bruises. I could smell the sweetness through the pale pink and yellow-streaked skin. But, they were not on sale like the Granny Smith and when I saw you so carelessly toss them, I felt helpless.
My husband says it is my smile, too open and eager that attracts so many strangers to tell me random facts about their lives. I was not smiling at you but giving you only the briefest of basic kindness. I was affording you a respect. An acknowledgment that for the next several moments, we would be engaged in a job together: you, weighing my purchase and me, paying the levy.
Maybe to you, working at the cash register, it feels like an act of friendship to tell every woman that comes through the express aisle about the advanced state of your cousin's degenerative cancer. But, that is not friendliness. For me, it feels like an act of aggression. An aggression so small, it often slips by unnoticed. It is an unintended discrimination. It is a casual degradation.
You chose me because I am a woman and you wanted comfort or attention. I just wanted apples. Aggressive friendliness is not totally unlike a cancer, I suppose. I hope you consider that and the fragility of the apples going forward.
Yours in friendship,
Mrs. Gwynneth Black
N.K. Wagner is executive editor and publisher of Page & Spine.