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Hall 47 JOAN JOFFE HALL Known to the State of California Who is that masked man? Cheryl imagines her smile floating to greet him as he comes through the bright stationary store door. Wrap-around goggles , white tee-shirt and shorts glaring, he's cute, a piece of coconut, good enough to eat. So she likes looking at men, what's wrong with that? In her head, she's explaining this to her mother. Now he's chatting up Azulia, the stock clerk, eye to eye with her, a big gall, boss's niece, six feet tall , with cornrows. Azulia's sandals go clap-clap against her pink heels, a comforting sound around the store. But Azulia's not interested in white guys. Cheryl guesses, from where they stand, third aisle over, that Azulia's helping the masked man find computer stuff. Neat Buns. Curly hairs on his legs. New in town, she figures, all the while waiting on Mr. Grudge and Bob Loew, regulars, and flirting with them just a bit, you know, the way customers like. Is that why she was hired? But thinking, will the hunk open a business account, or ask for the greeting card section? It can go either way. Escondido Stationers doesn't do Hallmark; she feels responsible for the store's reputation. A real street, a real store that has some history to it, she tells everybody, justifying why she works in a black store; established before she was born, even Mr. Moffit has only owned it a dozen years: she likes that. She likes Moffit too, who has nicer manners than anyone she's ever met. And so few things in the North County are even this old. Cheryl's twenty-six. And looking , she always says. So's Azulia. Oh, they talk about everything. Sunglasses hooked now to the neck of his shirt, the new guy piles some purchases on the counter next to her register. No wedding ring. Her ex never wore one while they were married, but this guy looks yuppie. Azulia hustles over, cornrows bobbing - here's his printout paper - bumps into a large display bin filled with little white-out bottles. Azulia's usually more graceful, into belly dancing and women's spirituality, hating it when people ask if she plays basketball. Her uncle played in high school; he teases her about pickup games. The man glances down at the bin, then up at Cheryl. "What's that sign behind you mean?" Why is there a smirk on his face? Here's a guy with an ulterior motive. She likes the phrase; it sounds like a fancy car. Cheryl turns, but she knows what it says anyway. Products sold in this store are "known to the State of California" almost like on cigarette packs, "to be hazardous to your health." And then there's some fine print. They've had it up a long time and she pays no more attention to it than to, well, the 48 the minnesota review restroom notice that goes: snap off the lights. "Oh," she shrugs, "we sell photographic chemicals I guess you shouldn't stand around with your hands in. Or if you're pregnant, breath the vapors. You know, like they say on gas station pumps." She like the word "vapors," too. Cheryl imagined them coming at you like bars of music in comic strips. "What do they cause, cancer?" the man asks. His accent is odd, Eastern. "I suppose, some. Not if you use them carefully. I mean, maybe you'd stop smoking, but would you stop using gas?" When Cheryl was pregnant she'd thought nothing of drinking wine, - what do you live in California for, if you can't drink cheap wine she told her mother, who agreed. And now for the past few years restaurants have posted signs warning pregnant women that alcohol is known to the State to cause birth defects. Guilt city. He nods. He scoops up some of the white-out bottles from the sale bin and holds them out to her like goldfish crackers. "Why are these on sale?" Uh-oh. Over his shoulder she catches Azulia's eye. It didn...


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