Essential Services (a very short story)

by Amitava Kumar

Every day that week a line formed outside the liquor store by noon. Those in line stood six feet apart, checking their phones, or reading a book, or looking up at the trees. Twelve people were allowed at a time into the liquor store.

A man and woman, wearing masks and gloves, arrived from different directions. The man, who might have been in his twenties and whose mask was blue colored, made a flourish with a gloved hand and let the woman take the place ahead of him. For a moment, he studied the back of the woman’s head. She had blonde streaks in her hair.

‘You weren’t answering the phone last night,’ the young woman said to him, turning. ‘Do you think it is easy for me to step out like this?’
Her companion hadn’t stopped smiling under his mask ever since she arrived.

He now said, ‘I’ve heard that the wait is longer in the line outside the CVS on South Hill Road. Your father must need medicines. Let’s meet there tomorrow.’