I’m trying not to lose patience as the pharmacy clerk conducts some sort of complex transaction with the old guy at the counter, complex as the Treaty of Versailles apparently, and he can hardly hear her and I want to shout throw a hearing aid in with the deal and all of us in the huge line waiting for this to end will gladly chip in and pay for it.

I look around the store hoping to find another clerk who can come and help us, maybe they shouldn’t be stocking fungal cream, maybe they need to get over to the other cash register now. And I notice the woman right behind me.

I am ninety-seven percent, or at least ninety-two-point-four percent sure I know her. Dark hair, dark eyes, and that innate thing some women have without even trying, just the way they are. I think maybe from my son’s old soccer team, she was one of the moms, but I can’t be sure.

Now I realize I can’t even be sure I know her, maybe she reminds me of someone else, a different woman. Or maybe I just want to think I know her, a lizard brain reaction, because of that vibe she’s giving off.

But now she’s seen my face, and she caught my eyes scanning across hers, and I have a problem because if we do know each other and I don’t say hello she’ll assume I’m a jerk, a typical guy, so self-absorbed in his own stupid crap that he can’t even be bothered to say hello.

But if she isn’t the person I think she is, if I don’t know her at all, then saying hello and how are you doing it’s been a few years hasn’t it will come across as the oldest trick in the book. Really buddy, that’s the best approach you can think of?

Because I can’t get away with anything any longer, I’m too old.

If she is that soccer mom it was twenty years ago, when I was still young enough to get women to notice me, and I was still fit from all that tennis and softball, and whether I knew the woman or not I would be forgiven because I was just attractive and charming enough to skate on nearly anything.

But now I’m merely an old guy, thick and falling apart, whose only options for being in public are to remain invisible or risk being seen as a creep. You won’t believe the old creep who tried to hit on me today, she might tell her friends.

Yet a tiny little part of me says maybe she wouldn’t mention it to her husband because even though the guy was old he had nice eyes and there was something interesting about him I liked, he wasn’t a creep at all, he just thought he knew me.

James Irwin is a writer and media artist in northern New Jersey. His work has appeared in Bay GuardianBig Windows Review, and Spiral; he co-founded the film journal Cinematograph and is associate editor of the Atlantic Journal of Communication. Awards include the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, National Endowment for the Humanities, Gotham Writers Workshop, and Rockefeller Foundation. He recently got his first tattoo and is completing a novel. Find him via linktr.ee/jimirwin

Artwork by Marvin Liberman