Drugstore Sob Story This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

April 4, 2014
Custom User Avatar
More by this author
It's almost four and you've been standing here at the cash register for three hours, popping your gum and cursing the fact that you didn't get that internship you wanted so now you're stuck working in this drugstore for the summer. Your feet are swollen and your nails are chipping. The beeping of the register is making your head ache, and you've started to invent wild stories about what ordinary customers will do with their ordinary drugstore items.
The middle-aged woman in the suit who bought mascara and wrinkle cream is going to get all dolled up and invite over a young man with nothing under his cop outfit, while her husband attends a work banquet.
The twenty-year-old college guy is going to take that lighter and burn down the frat house that rejected him when he was a freshman.
The elderly man who took forever and a day to hobble up to the counter is going take those plastic rabbit Easter decorations and name them Celia and Dolores and prepare each of them a special TV dinner for date night.
It's the only way you can keep yourself entertained. And who knows? These ordinary people could do any number of extraordinary things with the stuff they buy. You like to suspend your disbelief at the likelihood of that, because you never realized just how boring people were until you started working here.
There are currently four people in line: A woman wearing a hijab pushing her disabled son in a wheelchair, a teenage girl with an armful of items, a man who looks like he hasn't washed in a week, and a grandmotherly type who is eyeing the frozen foods refrigerator.
The woman with the hijab goes to the cashier on your left. You sink back on your hip and spit at the teenage girl who is not paying attention, “I can
help you over here, miss.” You startle her, and she drops everything she's holding onto the floor – a pregnancy test and six different types of diet pills. As she rushes to pick them up, you stare at her backpack and wonder if she's going to tip over from the weight of it. She doesn't, and when she dumps everything on the counter, you glare at her for being ditzy and clumsy. You ring up the pregnancy test first, then the diet pills.
You don't make up a story for her.
You look at her as you ring up each item. You're looking for something in her eyes: sadness, shame, maybe fear. But she refuses to make eye contact with you. She glances at the magazine headlines, her demeanor remarkably calm.
When you tell her the total and she throws two five-dollar bills and twenty-three singles at you, you forget she is your new drugstore sob story and get mad at her all over again. You hate people who pay with singles.
You hand her the plastic bag, and it crinkles as it's transferred from hand to hand. You watch as she stops in front of the revolving exit door and shoves the bag into her backpack. You don't realize that you're still watching the door even after she's left 'til you accidentally charge the grandmotherly woman forty dollars more than you should have. She nearly has a coronary right on the spot, but when she realizes your mistake she curses you out in words you don't think she's used in twenty years, at least not since the grandkids were born. As she leaves, you secretly hope that the shampoo she bought gives her flesh-eating head lice.
You leave the drugstore at six, and your boyfriend knocks on your apartment door at seven-thirty. He comes bearing Chinese food, and the two of you sit on your couch, which you really should clean, and watch the newest episode of a TV drama you've forgotten the plotline of already.
Your mind wanders back to the people at the drugstore.
You wonder if the middle-aged woman has already taken the cop outfit off of the young man, and you wonder how many missed calls she has on her cell from her husband.
You wonder if you'll hear something on the news about a frat house being burned to the ground.
You wonder if Celia and Dolores are all right.
And you wonder a little about your annoying drugstore sob story. You wonder if she's sitting on the closed toilet seat lid tapping her foot, and you wonder where she hides all those pills – or if she bothers to hide them at all. You hate her for not looking at you when you were trying to figure her out, and you especially hate her for paying with so many singles.
Maybe those items weren't for her. Maybe they were for a friend or a sister or a really elaborate, nasty prank.
You try rationalizing this out for so long you don't realize that the TV drama has ended and your boyfriend is in the kitchen cleaning up. You suddenly become infuriated. Who is this girl to be wasting your time? Who is this silly little drugstore sob story that you can't figure out?
Other people are boring and need to be re-invented, but no, not her. She's not a normal drugstore customer. She's too real, and she needs to be re-­invented the other way around, knocked off her sob story pedestal.
You go to bed cursing the person who invented the first drugstore.
Two months later, you finally get a call from someone who wants to hire you for a job that doesn't require handling products destined for a medicine cabinet. As you leave that last time, you raise an imaginary middle finger to the drugstore. You feel a little bad, but only because now no one will take the time to re-invent all the drugstore ­customers.
You walk home in a lovely sort of numbness until you notice something about the girl in front of you that makes you do a double-take. She's wearing a backpack with a plastic drugstore bag peeking out of a pocket she's left unzipped. You follow her with a racing heart until the two of you stop at the same crosswalk. You stare at the side of her face until she turns to look at you.
And this time she looks you straight in the eye. She looks at you with such pure and utter contempt that your face turns red and you decide to turn the corner instead of following her. With your cheeks still burning, you curse her under your breath. You become more and more furious with each step, until you're cursing the middle-aged woman and the man in the cop outfit, the college kid, the elderly man, Celia and Dolores.
You curse them until finally you start cursing yourself, because you hate the way she looked at you, the way she glared and spilled her stuff all over the floor and left her backpack unzipped.
You hate the way that she saw through you and didn't even see you at all.
You hate her, and you hate the way that her look said: “I refuse to be your drugstore sob story.”

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

Join the Discussion

This article has 2 comments. Post your own now!

BreeZephyr This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Mar. 16, 2015 at 6:50 pm
Whoa. Apparently I like hating people...but anyway, I love this! I actually do this kind of thing a lot--people-watch and come up with stories about them, depending on how they look, what they're doing, etc. I liked that this woman showed a strength that defied such a label. Also, your writing was very lucid and perfectly balanced in description. Congrats on making the magazine!
hannahc. This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Apr. 19, 2014 at 10:42 pm
Nice story, you're a good writer. I like the beginning about the lighter and the elderly man XD
Site Feedback