“My mother is 89 today,” he tells Jenny, smiling with his eyes.
She shows him and his chatty wife the rack of mylar balloons and walks back to her work, picking up the feather duster once again. Flick swish swish, dust dust dust…
She hears them behind her:
“They did such a nice job with the cake.”
“They did. Bright and colorful. She’ll love that. You think this balloon goes with it, then?”
“Yes, sure, close enough.”
Jenny turns around.
“Yep!” he says. “Could we get one hot pink, one light pink, and…”
“…and one orange,” his wife finishes, decidedly.
“Absolutely. Give me just a second.”
Jenny wishes customers wore nametags too. Him with his smiling, bespectacled eyes, her with her gray bob and vibrant emerald scarf. She hears them behind her as she turns on the helium nozzle:
“You got the card?”
“Of course I got the card.”
“So, 89, huh?” Jenny says, tying them to a bright pink sand weight and struggling to stuff them into a bag.
“Yes!” He is so proud.
“And she is sharp as a tack.” She is proud too.
“That’s great,” Jenny says. “I was just talking with my husband the other night about age…he says he never wants to be old and decrepit. But what if your mind is still good? That’s what I said to him…”
“Exactly!” says this force of emerald and gray. She steps closer to the counter as her husband inserts his credit card into the reader. “She never did much for exercise, but she always walked. And she always read. And current events! She has always kept up with current events.”
“Is that the secret, then? Eighty-nine and sharp as a tack? Walk, read?”
“And current events!” This woman’s eyes are commanding. “Keep up with current events.”
Jenny pulls the receipt out and hands it to him. Jenny has been given a direct order.
Yes, ma’am, Jenny thinks. Anything you say. You with the emerald scarf. You have the answers.
She hands the bag of bobbing balloons to the man.
The emerald lady tilts her chin at Jenny and holds her gaze. “And she has always been her age, too. Never tried to be younger. I think that’s her secret.”
“She sounds like a wonderful woman.”
Emerald lady raises her eyebrows and smirks: “Yes, well…and…stubborn.”
“You folks have a wonderful day,” Jenny says, meaning it. She always tries to mean it. She means it half the time.
They walk away, the balloons bobbing, their steps sure.
Yes, ma’am, Jenny thinks.
“She just loves balloons,” she hears him say.