“Ray, are you there?” she asked.
“Yeah, I’m still here,” he said, his words echoing in the phone, bursting, pursing and pushing with little palpitations of anxiety, each melting into the collective ambient hum of the telephone line.
And as his lips grazed the receiver, he thought of all those other words, oozing through the countless tiny holes, like garlic through a press, or some other excruciating metaphor.
“Where are you,” she asked?
“I think I’m in love.”
“What’s it like?” she asked.
“Oh I’m kind of lost in it at the moment.”
“You’re not lost, you’re there aren’t you?
“Well, tell me about it, tell me about love.”
“I don’t know what to say. I can’t articulate anything.”
“Then don’t articulate,” she said, “Just talk.”
“That’s easy for you to say,” said Ray. “I’m running out of words.”
“Then you must not be in love.”
“No, I’m in love,” Ray Said. “As far as I can see, as far as I can tell.”
“Then what does it look like to you?” she asked.
Ray squinted at the last traces of sunset miles and mountains and deserts away, while his mindless finger traced doodles in the dusty glass. Ray said nothing.
She, after a long silence said, “When you find it let me know, and save a few words for me.”
“I will,” said Ray.
“And let me know what love looks like, and maybe I’ll meet you there."
Ray cradled the phone against his ear, the comfort of her voice lingering in the receiver, then fading into soft static. He’d never been good at saving anything--least of all words.
He felt the weight of the phone, thinking for a moment of all the voices, all the anger, despair and happiness that had passed through its mass of plastic and circuitry, and he wondered if all that emotion got stuck in there, giving the phone its bit of heft. Perhaps, he thought, he should unscrew the mouthpiece, and let the phone dangle, to spin and spill the words out.
Outside the phone booth, a naked buzzing light bulb illuminated what there was of love. Ray felt reluctant to move, but stepped out, staring at the glowing booth, and the dangling receiver, swinging in the wind, its wired guts, unscrewed, exposed, spilling.
There was no life at all in this place where he now stood gazing at the moon, the dark buildings, the gravel road ahead and behind. Love seemed to be unpaved and empty.
Suddenly there was a hum, and a crackle, and a buzz. Ray looked back at the booth, its light fading in the darkness. Panic.
He turned towards the noise, first walking then skipping, then running until he almost passed it by but then he skidded, turned and stood transfixed before the neon sign, that burst into all its neon glory, as the dust settled at his feet.
The cursive words hummed and flickered on and off, in their static display: Words & More . . . More, words, Words, More, Words & More . . . So much more.
He stepped into the warm orange radiance, feeling alive in its glow.
In the window below, blocky letters on white butcher paper advertised the specials of the moment: “Bastard & Bitch!! A scream of a deal and great when bruised or mixed with booze: “Bills, Bills, Bills, cheaper by the dozen!!!” But he didn’t want those words. “Lonesome” and “Depressed” were at a super value blue sticker price -- “buy one and get the other for free!" But he didn’t want those either.
He pressed his face to the glass. Here I am, he thought, all the things I need to say, all the emotions I could ever hope to find . . . and he pushed with all he could but the door was locked.
The lights in the store shut down in a wave of darkness that came towards him and he slapped at the glass.
“Hey, Hello, can you let me in.”
He yanked on the door again, but this time it opened easily, flinging him backwards, almost tripping in the street until he caught himself. He stood there, looking at the open door, which began to slowly shut, and he ran forward, slipping in just as it closed behind him.
The store bustled with a growing energy as though the words were alive with some sort of friction and certainly he could reach out and rub them against one another.
The aisles overflowed with them: Big words and small words and sentences and incomplete thoughts and dangling bits of participle and an abundance of innuendo and run-on sentences and . . .
He reached out touching “Friendship.” In big warm letters the sign below it read, “Never on sale but always a deal.”
Down the aisle words popped out at him. He stared at “Lust” and poked at “Desire,” then looked back at “Friendship.”
He stood there, realizing that something was missing and then, as though it had fallen off the shelf in front of him (but it hadn’t) he thought of love.
After all, love was what he craved. He’d been in love, felt love, made love -- but he still didn’t quite know what love was. And lately he’d just been feeling no love. Now here he was, in love, and he could buy all the love he wanted.
But he couldn’t find it. He raced up and down the aisles and the words became a blur, but still no love. He yelled out.
“Love, love, love, where’s the love?”
“Can I help you?” A voice said.
He turned to see a man standing there, dressed like any grocery clerk, but holding the word “ME” in his arms.
“Do you work here?”
“Only in your imagination. Can I help you with anything?”
Ray paused.“I’m looking for love.”
The clerk sang out, "In all the wrong places!”
“What?” Ray asked, moving towards the clerk
who turned and laughed.
“Never mind, sorry, it was just a joke. What’s your name," the clerk asked?
“Ray,” said Ray.
“Oh, like, ray of light, or truth, or sunshine, or doe Ray Me, or-”
“No, just Ray”
“Well, Ray, what was it you want?”
“I’d like to buy a little love, but I can’t find it.”
“Then we must be out.”
The clerk turned and walked away. “Sorry,” he said, “All out of love.”
“Out of love,” moaned Ray, “come on.”
“How about a nice case of anger,” said the clerk as he stepped away.
Ray’s shoes squealed down the aisle and he slipped on the word “lost” as he turned the corner. He stopped to shake it off the bottom of his shoe.
“Figures,” He said. “Sell me something I don’t already know.”
The clerk yelled from the next aisle, “Be careful!”
Ray looked around for the clerk. “Look, I just need some help finding love, and it would be really, really, really, wonderful if you could help me out.”
The clerk yelled back, “Oh really. Sorry but somebody came in here and bought up the entire supply.”
Exasperation filled Ray’s voice. “You let somebody come in here and buy out the entire God damn supply!”
The clerk sliced open a box of sarcasm and reached inside. “I really wish I could help you.”
Ray frowned. “Look, I get all excited to come in here and buy, buy, buy, and you’re telling me you’re out of Love?”
The clerk put sarcasm on the shelf. “Do you want it that bad?”
Ray clenched his fists. “Yes, yes, I do. I want it bad. I was thinking of taking some home tonight and maybe sharing it.”
Ray turned around to find the clerk behind him. “Follow me then,” he said as he sauntered down the aisle singing, “Cookin’ up a little lovin’ throw it all into the oven, easy bake and 1,2,3 . . .that’s the kind of . . . ”He stopped singing and turned to Ray.
“Ray, Do you know what love looks like, how it feels, what it’s made of. Is it squishy or soft or sharp?” He looked into Ray’s frowning face.
“How can I poss--” The clerk jumped on the end of his sentence.
“Then how can you possibly find it?” He stepped forward and shook his finger in Ray’s face. “You--are standing in the middle of hell-knows-where, which just happens to be the center of aisle #6 of WORDS & MORE, are you not?”
“Yeah, I guess so, I mean . . .”
The clerk put a stop to Ray’s indecision cutting him off with a wave of his hand and leaning forward, whispered in a
conspiratorial tone, “So you must know something of love.”
The two of them stood there, silent until a spark set the clerk off in a mad speech.
“Take your time. Check out our other aisles. Specials on more damaged goods, parables of thought, allegorical insights, litanies, empty rhetoric, super redundancies, etc.”
Ray’s face twisted in confusion. “What the hell is all that stuff?”
The clerk looked indifferently at him. “No idea really.”
Ray looked up into the endless white of the ceiling and at his empty reflection in the mirrors, feeling hopeless.
“When’s it going to get here?”
He turned around, and was again startled to find the clerk standing right behind him. The clerk smiled and motioned Ray forward with a wave of his hand.
“Here you go.”
Ray looked at the shelves, then back at the clerk.
The clerk snapped at him.
“You don’t want this do you, this love.”
“No, I mean, yes, yes I do,” pleaded Ray, “Really.”
“This then,” the clerk indicated with another long sweep of his hand, “Is all the stuff that goes into love. It’s all right here.”
Ray picked up the first word he found.
“Admiration,” glowed like a smile, “commitment” felt heavy and solid and “patience” waited on the shelf, but even so, Ray could not pick either of them up.
“Look, I just want love, L-O-V-E--one word.”
The clerk hissed, “Listen, you want to know why you can’t find love--it’s because you can’t describe it, you
don’t even know what goes into it--what it’s made of, which, in here, means you ain’t goin’ to find it. So I’m telling you now, I’ll help you find everything that goes into love, but you’ve got to make it yourself, then maybe you’ll never forget.”
Ray stood there. “Okay, I can do this.”
“Good,” said the clerk, “watch this.”
The clerk picked up respect, commitment, fidelity, then jumped to the other side of the aisle and caught passion, romance, affection, devotion, adoration, dote, and stacked them on top of one another and said, “These ought to do for now.”
He pushed the words together, smooshing passion into devotion, dribbling desire down the sides to trickle into dote. The words began to look less and less like themselves and more and more like one big ball, and then he worked it
into the palm of his hand until finally he closed it, shook it, and opened it. There, in the palm of his hand, was “Love.”
Ray stared at love. “I don’t believe it.”
“You must, you’re here,” said the clerk, “And like I said, you don’t get in here without believing, even if it’s only a little bit.”
Ray reached out, grabbing at love, snatching it from the clerk’s hand. The weight of it almost made him lose his balance and the nimble clerk snatched it back and with the deftness of a taffy-twister, pulled the words apart and put them back again.
“So, if you want this,” The clerk held love in his hand and tossed it over his shoulder, catching it behind his back, then pulling it out into a string of words. “From this, well, it’s up to you.”
They stood silently, each waiting for the other, until finally Ray spoke.
“I think,” But before he could say anything more, the clerk raised his hands in exclamation and said, “Excellent,
great, right on, let’s get to it!”
Quicker than words could hurt, the clerk shoved a basket into Ray’s hands.
“Catch,” he yelled, throwing the first word at Ray and then the next and then another.
“A little of this and a little of that,” but suddenly he stopped and looked at Ray. “I get a little carried away some times. You should be doing this.”
Ray hesitated. “I can’t do this on my own.”
“Oh, but you can if you want, or else.”
The clerk spun around and walked away,chattering.
“I’m busy, busy, busy.”
Ray yelled, “But how do I pay?”
“Oh, you’ve been paying all along,” said the clerk.
“What,” shouted Ray.
“You can’t buy love,” said the clerk, “But did you check out the cliché section?”
Ray suddenly felt like one of those mad, happy shoppers, grabbing up all they could in a matter of minutes to win the contest.
Everything fit into his basket and finally he stopped, his basket full, yet his basket felt light, as though he might have only grabbed up one word.
Ray walked out the door and turned to look back at the store. He felt so good and thought not to leave, that this good feeling might not last.
But nothing happened and he walked farther and farther down the road ahead and the store was a beacon of warmth, radiating out into the night, bringing love to the desert of life.