The Dawning of Dexter

This is for my granddaughter Amber, who has known Dexter for a very long time.

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When Dexter Murfee Nettleson approached the cash register at the front of the Morning Store, he had everything he needed to create a wonderful day.

He’d found smiles on Aisles 5 and 7, giggles on 3 and 8, and belly laughs on 10. The ones with the hands attached to the sides of the belly were toward the far end of that aisle, but he didn’t mind walking the extra several steps.

A belly laugh wouldn’t carry the same weight if it wasn’t flanked by a pair of hands. And that the hands were in white gloves reminiscent of those worn by Mickey Mouse made them even better.

Perchance Golightly, the lovely young cashier, shared an extra wide smile of her own. “How are you today, Dexter?”

He was so pleased to receive it, he tossed her a giggle.

“Fine, fine,” he said, then flashed his teeth at her as befitting common courtesy.

She juggled the giggle for a moment, but she finally pulled it under control and set it on the front of the conveyor belt.

“No, no, that one is for you, Miss Golightly. A tip for the dealer, so to speak.”

She retrieved it at once and slipped it into the left pocket of her smock. The left pocket was special. She reserved it for candy kisses, Horatio Hornblower Bubblegum, and the occasional slice of slapstick.

She glanced up at him, the faded edges of her smile still in place. “Find everything all right today?”

“Oh yes, everything looked perfectly fine to me.”

Both leaned back, each pointed at the other, and together they yelled, “B’dumpbump, tsh!” Then they both giggled, each issuing one giggle out of their private stock.

“No, no,” he said. “I found everything I was looking for. A place for everything and everything in its place, as they say.

“But really, everything was fine too. And shouldn’t it be, on such a glorious morning as this? After all, in a few short hours we begin the Transition.” He flung his hands wide as if announcing a major new development in the processing of cheese and very nearly dropped a belly laugh and two giggles.

Perchance pretended not to notice, suddenly finding the fingernails of her left hand extremely interesting.

In the interim, Dexter managed to corral his purchases. He arranged them on the conveyor belt. “There,” he said. “All better.”

Perchance said, “As compared with what?” Then she reached for the first item he’d placed on the conveyor belt. “But you’re right. The Transition begins soon. And not a moment too soon, in my estimation.”

“I can’t say I disagree with that, but let’s remain positive, shall we? After all, the Transition is a joyous occasion.”

“As with all Transitions since the dawn of time, n’est-ce pas? But you’re as right as you always are, and who can argue with that?” A mischievous twinkle came to her eyes. “Positivity is the watch word of the day.”

“Of the week,” he said.

“Of the fortnight,” she said.

“Of the month,” he said.

“Of the millennium,” they both said together to stave off the march through years and decades and centuries, then bumped a pair of belly laughs between them.

His had hands on the sides of it, but hers was more demure. As a cashier, she had to maintain a certain decorum, after all.

Besides, her hands were busy raking in his good graces as she verbalized a running oral inventory. “One belly laugh with hands,” she said, “and another, and let’s see, one, two, three—a dozen more. You want these in bags? It’ll save time if you don’t want them in bags.”

“You know better, Perchance Golightly. No, I’ll ingest them here, as I always do.” He raised one finger in the air. “For ‘tis better in all things to be prepared than to wish for things unrealized.”

From long practice, Perchance ignored him. She turned back to the conveyor belt. “And how many giggles you got there? Two, four, six, seven. Ah, eight—that one was jiggling. Nine, so… twenty-three. That it?”

“And the smiles.” He put one finger in the air again. “Don’t forget the smiles. For ‘tis a lazy practice to—”

“I’ll get to them.” She frowned. “But no grins? Dexter, what if you someone is beyond the help a simple smile can give, but not quite ready for a giggle?”

“Oh dear. I knew I’d forgotten something. Getting old, you know.” He turned to glance back toward the aisles. “Where are the grins?”

“I asked you first.” She bared her teeth in a flash and pointed at him. “Gotcha! But seriously—well, not seriously, but you know what I mean—they’re on Aisles 2, 6 and 8, small, medium and fanatic.” She put the back of her hand alongside her mouth and faux-whispered, “The fanatics are on sale.”

He swept one hand along the conveyor belt. “Can you hold these items for me?”

She huffed. “I’ll count slowly. Go, man! Go!”

And Dexter turned as quickly as his massive shoes would allow and flapped back across the store to Aisle 2. There he stopped and turned around to cast a glance, askance, at Perchance. He put his hands out to his sides, raised his eyebrows several notches and shrugged.

Perchance gestured.

Without bothering to face the aisles again, he shuffled sideways to Aisle 3, then 4, then 5. His eyebrows remained ratcheted up.

Finally she huffed again, then gestured and yelled, “Aisle 8, my dear Mr. Nettleson, if you want the fanatics.”

He raced into Aisle 8 and came out a long moment later all but staggering under the weight of the grins he’d picked up.

Perchance never was one to wait for the conveyor belt to deliver affectations. There was too much chance one might ride over the edge and fall into oblivion somewhere beneath the belt. Nobody knew what was under there, and she certainly wasn’t going to be the first to find out.

As she waited for Dexter, she tapped the fingernails of her right hand on the chrome strip in front of the conveyor belt. A rhythm developed. A pleasing rhythm.

Her left hand grew envious. Soon it crept unnoticed from its position near her hip, joined the right on the wide chrome stage, and those fingernails began tapping too.

Within seconds the two sets of fingernails joined in a rapid-fire, staccato flurry of unchoreographed dance steps, the likes of which still never have been seen again.

But as Dexter exited Aisle 8 and moved toward the register again, she came to her senses. She quickly relegated her left hand to the left pocket of her smock. Unlike the candy kisses, bubblegum barrels, and slapsticks, it wasn’t there for storage. It was in time-out to think about what it had done. Oh, it would be remorseful. That much was certain.

In the meantime, in keeping with her promise to count slowly, she allowed her right hand to walk on two fingers toward the first giggle on the belt.

It looked odd, that hand, walking in that limp-step. But the second finger beyond her thumb was longer than the other by almost a half-inch, so the limp-step was necessary. Either that or she’d have to take one step with the shorter index finger, then drag the other along like a weak cousin.

She’d remedied that last year in preparation for the solstice by growing the fingernail on her index finger especially long and cutting the one on the next finger over almost to the quick. But she was repaid for her efforts to eliminate the limp with one fingernail broken—or maybe severely sprained—and the other painfully in-grown. That, she was certain, was a direct result of embarrassment at the jagged edge she’d left on the nail.

And that’s when she realized surgery, or practicing medicine in any form, wasn’t for her. She was a cashier, plain and simple.

Ever since then, when she had reason to tarry while awaiting the return of a forgetful shopper, she had employed either the limp-step or the step-drag-step technique. The latter looked sillier than the former, but it did enjoy the singular benefit of keeping the fingernail polished as it dragged along the conveyor belt.

On the other hand—well, on either hand—she couldn’t wear colors because they, too, would wear off that one nail on the conveyor belt, and that would just look silly. And she liked wearing colors on her nails, so most often she used the limp-step.

An Nee Way, the way Dexter spaced out the items on the belt, she didn’t have to worry about going too fast. Everything had to be spaced just so, according to Dexter. Six inches from one item to the next and so on. It was practically a forced march for her poor right hand from one giggle to the next.

And never mind the extra time it took get from here to there. Dexter was a doll, but he was never mindful of customers waiting in line behind him.

Of which currently there were none, but there might easily have been if there were any other customers around like Dexter. But the only other customer that came in with any regularity didn’t hit the store until the late afternoon. So overcrowding was never really an issue.

Still, Perchance often dreamed of seeing the aisles were as packed with shoppers as with affectations, greetings and the occasional fine comestible. Like shrooms. Shrooms were a delectable comestible, and they often contributed smiles all their own. Or grins and even giggles, sometimes, if a customer selected shrooms from the wrong bin. So why offer the magical shrooms at all? Well, customers do have a right to choose, now don’t they?

Her right hand had walked almost all the way to the last giggle by the time Dexter came huffing up to the register again.

“There!” he said, and lowered his arms into a kind of chute, spilling grins all over the belt. Then he set about spacing them.

Perchance slapped at his hand, lightly so he would know she was joking. “No time for all that, now. Leave ‘em be. I’ll take ‘em where they are. We have to get you out on the street.” And she abandoned the limp-step finger-walk and began raking the grins toward her an armload at a time. “Let’s see four, eight, sixteen, and eight more make twenty-four. So fifty-three all told.” She reached beneath the counter and slapped another grin on the belt. “There. We’ll round it out at fifty-four for you.”

“But I only—”

“Don’t have a hissy, Dex. You’re only paying for twelve. They’re on sale, remember? And this one’s a freebie from me to you. But don’t hang onto it on my account. Use it as you see fit.”

“Thanks, Perchance.”

“Now then, it looks like your total comes to three guffaws, two slapsticks and a hug.”

“Three guffaws? Are you sure? Maybe I ought to put back—”

Perchance rocked back away from the belt, put her hands on her hips and laughed loudly. “There’s one guffaw. I’ll carry the rest. You know your credit’s good with me.”

Dexter flashed his teeth at her again. “Thanks, Perchance.” For a third time, he raised one finger into the air. “The Transition awaits!”

“So it does. Go on, y’old piker. Hit the sidewalk. See you tomorrow.”

And hit the sidewalk he did.

He exited the Morning Store with only a long moment to spare, but fortunately it was the very last building on the very east end of the very first town, locationally speaking, on Earth.

It would be a glorious Transition, a glorious Transition indeed. He looked to the east for a moment and stretched his arms wide to loosen himself up for the day ahead.

He turned around, prepared to dispense smiles, grins and giggles. Among those he would scatter a few chortles left over from the day before, and the ever-popular but less-often induced belly laughs.

Then with the prep work completed for another Transition, he put on the largest, broadest, happiest smile he had, and beamed over the face of the earth.

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