Tuesday, July 15, 2014

"Seven on Twelve" - Vignette

“Seven on Twelve.”

I say the simple code into my register’s microphone for the third time. There are at least a dozen people in line, most of them with full carts, waiting for my manager to come and give me the override. Three of them have children in tow. Snot-nosed children. Haven’t these people ever heard of tissues?

I haven’t seen her in months. Even with the job, I still get out just as much as ever on the hunt. Much of the time I had previously allotted to sleep was now taken over by my work. My real work. The part-time job alleviated the relentless hell I catch from Grandma for a week or so. But she was soon at it again, since my wages hardly made a dent in our household expenses.

At least I like my manager. Sort of. He’s middle-aged and paunchy, balding. Wire-framed glasses, mustache. He’s always stressed out with the responsibility of running our shift, but usually he’s even tempered and kind. Unless there’s a shortage anywhere. My till for instance.

“You’re 37 short.”
“Am I?”
“Well, shit. How can that be?”
“I don’t appreciate your language or the hostility of your tone. I’m docking you.”

He was usually nice, but it was obvious, to me anyway, that his manners were the result of concentrated effort. He never talked to any of us about his personal life, but you could tell he had some serious shit going on. His body language said everything. He was a defeated sort of little man, frustrated and sour, the type that once had some grandiose ambitions, but through a series of fatal mistakes, saw none of them come to pass. He’d been through lots of therapy in the hopes of salvaging some semblance of a dignity from his shitty life. Abuse? Addiction? Perversion? One could only guess what brought him to this place. He had the air of someone who fancied himself a benevolent ruler – superior yet magnanimous – and it gave his presence some sorely needed but unintended humor he’d not have had otherwise. Of course this was all speculation on my part. 

Tonight his nerves are thin. One of the few things I can do to alleviate the boredom at this job is to imagine whatever in his personal life has caused him to be so out of sorts at work. Maybe he’s got a boil in the fold where his cheek meets the back of his thigh. Maybe his wife has given him the final ultimatum on the length of his mustache, which covers his upper lip and makes him look like some sad, underfed walrus. Maybe he’s been to the doctor and found out he’s got a hundred more years to live.

“Cleanup on aisle 97,” he says to me robotically. “Someone spilled a whole box of detergent.”

I grab the mop and bucket and begin the long walk to the other end of the building. I’ll clean some things. Spilled detergent’s not a problem. But I draw the line at bathrooms. Never again. Not after the blowout I had to take care of in the women’s bathroom in my first week.

I finally arrive at my destination to find that some fucking old lady has slipped and fallen in the detergent. Some shithead had placed a warning sign there to keep people away from the site of the spill, but who knows if they put it there before or after the old bag skated? I choke back a chuckle as I look at her there, helpless, arms and legs flailing in slow motion like one of the huge brown cockroaches we get in our apartment.

I wish that it was Grandma there. But I think better of it, because I know if it were her down there in that sudsy mess I’d not be able to control my laughter.