The Middle Name

Ralph is my middle name. I don’t go by my first one anymore. I had to leave it behind when I left. That’s what the old man told me, anyway. I didn’t necessarily believe him, but didn’t want to press my luck. Being executed is a terrible thing, at least in my imagination. People used to tell me all the time that I was too timid, that I couldn’t take charge of my life. But in the end, being timid, being scared, worked out for me.

But I don’t really want to talk about back then. The trial, the old “friends,” the faces of the jury. No, what I want to tell you about is Frisco. Nestled high in the Colorado mountains, surrounded on all sides by snow-capped peaks for most of the year. The winters are brutal but beautiful, like a woman you’ll never have. The snow makes it tough passing for the folks who drive trucks, and the tow truck is always helping them when they hit the runaway truck runoffs.

I started bagging groceries, probably like a lot of people in my position, but moved up to cashier. I always hated the name Ralph when it was my middle name. But now, when they call me by it, I don’t mind. Especially Marsha, who normally works the same shift I do. She extends the “a,” “Raaalph,” like a song.

On good days, we are in aisles next to each other. We’re only really busy on Fridays and before a storm, so there’s normally time to talk. Of course, when it snows, the whole floor becomes covered with water dragged in from the street, so there’s a lot of mopping. But I don’t mind doing it, so I get put on it a lot, mushing around the grey water over the white tile.

I’d like to talk to Marsha more, to keep doing these stupid floor mops, but I don’t think I can. See, I first saw the black sedan while I was mopping. It was parked outside. No big deal, really—although tinted windows are pretty rare here. But when it was still there when I left, I noticed it. I remembered cars like it, from before. Still, I drove home, no bother. But when I looked out the window that night, and all of a sudden, down the street, there was the black sedan, same tinted windows. I knew that it was time to go. Maybe using Ralph was too close. Maybe they had eyes farther out then I thought. Whatever the reason, I knew that I needed to leave. I don’t have much anymore, so preparing to leave was pretty quick. I could figure out the rest later.

But as I headed toward the door, bag slung over my shoulder, I heard footsteps coming up the apartment building staircase. Maybe they were just going to the apartment next door, but it sounded like two heavy-booted men. I froze in front of the door, listening, waiting, to see which door they would choose. That minute took a lifetime.