“I hope you’re cursed forever t-”
The echo caught up with me. It echoed off the peeling white walls of his mother's basement. It echoed off the twin sized mattress, sitting in the middle of his cement floor. From my two slightly crooked front teeth, and off his shoulder blades. It was everywhere. My brain and breathing patterns were completely out of sync, but the echo caught up with me.
“To… sleep on a twin sized mattress. In somebody’s basement you’re whole life!”
My throat was raw from screaming. I should have sat down. The air pressure that left my body was surrounding my head and slowly cracking my skull. This room was the smoggy bottom of an abyss. I saw him beg me to stay, before kissing his knuckles and punching me in the face. And then he begged me to stay. And then he begged me to stay. And then he begged me to stay. But all I could do was imagine how I looked right now. Standing silently, the expression leaving my face as I realized my life was a scratched record. And like my friend always says, you can’t fix a scratched record. Is it better to be pummeled by love, or to be pummeled by nothing at all? I should have stayed. Though the second I pushed away from his cripping words, up the stairs, and past his sweet mother who was silently doing dishes by the window… I was greeted by a crisp windy hug and instant repairal of that cracking skull. Should I have stayed?
I could hear his scream through two floor boards and a front door. His ugly, exhausted scream. As though my absence had forced him to put his freshly kissed knuckles through other objects like… brick walls and cement floors. The further I walked the louder his scream. My car was finally in eyes view, smiling and waiting ever so patiently. I should have sat down. But I didn’t.
5:00PM sharp, I saw the time flash on my lockscreen. Pressing my forehead against the icey finish of my drivers door. I shut my eyes for two seconds. And then?
It was 6:49PM. I woke up with wetness under my nose, crunchy fingers and a forehead nearly stuck to the icey door. All because I didn’t sit down.
Driving down the highway I realized… I’d never done it before. A breakup, I mean. The closest thing I’d felt to this was when my mother threatened to kick me out of my house because I forgot to clean my room and in response: I anxiety vomited everywhere. So.. basically the same thing.
Stopping at a light, I glanced down at my phone. 0 messages. Such loving and considerate people I have worrying about me! There wasn’t even enough time for me to stop at home for the usual clean up before my 7:00 to midnight shift.
BEEP.... BEEP… BEEP BEEP, “I didn’t get two-”. BEEP. “Ha, that’s what I thought.”
Standing in front of register six… 4 foot 10... probably named Barbara… evil. I hated old ladies. I hated the way they refused to bag their items. I hated the way they stood over me when I scanned their items, breathing so heavy in anticipation that I’ll do something wrong. I hated that this was their thrill in life. I wonder. At what point does your life become so boring that you get your s***s and giggles from terrorizing the 19 year old girl that works at your local Shoprite? After your first colonoscopy? Maybe 19th, as a trade off. I could see it. The old lady convention where they all meet up and knit crucifix and discuss their evil matters.
“Come on ladies, 19 years for 19 colon cleanses! Lets get em’!” Next week's topic of discussion for the old lady convention? Racism and how everyone can join the fun!
The 4 foot 10 lady who’s name was probably Barbara had been at my register for a solid 47 seconds and I knew, normally, she’d have ruined my day. But, she couldn’t. My day was already crap.
From red tinted bags under my eyes from crying and screaming and all that… to a baggy pair of jeans that usually had a snug fit to them but being that I never do laundry and had worn these already yesterday, they did not.
I looked how I felt: like a creased up, rain stomped, paper bag. They should have sent me home. They should have given me the “12 items or less” light. Instead, they gave me Barbara.
Barbara didn’t give me problems past the extent of the usual reign of annoyance she’d poured on me. She took her coupons and her bags and scampered away to meet up with her caretaker or wherever the oldies go after they’re done buying cat food. She was the last of the rush. At this point in my shift my right eye was twitching and stinging. The underneath of my nose was raw from the car door and my eyeliner was a circular smudge. I looked like a board certified lunatic. And Owen still tapped me on the shoulder to chat, like he always does after a rush.
“Did you hear what she said to me” Owen always had an anecdote about his last insane customer that he managed to handle in a completely calm and professional manner.
“Who?” I’d turned around now to face the blonde colored, bushy head of my friend. That blonde bushy hair he was ever so obsessed with. He called it his staple. I used to tease him that his hair was naturally straight and he woke up at 3am to take a curling wand to his hair everyday. He got upset over that pretty quickly, and so I moved onto the next joke; Young Justin Timberlake references (obviously). Though waiting for me to ask him if he's “bringing sexy back”, was not an obvious concern to him today.
The shock of my physical appearance was in his tone, climbing a stair case of pitch with each word. His curls might have even tightened.
“The large lady. She comes here every day… lots of coupons? Neon pink yoga pants that she uh-”
“Should not be wearing” We broke out into a chuckle, he would have been stuck on the sentence for 15 minutes if I hadn’t finished it for him.
“Yes.. that- Well. She was just at my register. And guess what she was wearing”
“Do I have to gue-”
“Guess… please… do it… you have to.. Do it… please… Now ..”
“Neon green spandex pants”
“Beautiful” I faced towards my register, scraping off the lime colored “Thank you!” stickers the person before me had stuck all over this register. I knew exactly who it was, it was her trademark… Mini. Now she, was a lunatic. With a half shaven head, thick braces and no trace of a verbal filter for miles. It was a marvel they even had a physco like this working in customer service.
“Hey Jess, don’t be a scratched record” For whatever reason, Owen loved record reference. They made him feel rock n roll I guess.
“You know the only way to fix a scratched record is to throw it out a-”
He was cut off by a loud screech. No, not a screech. A voice. A high pitched completely 100% non authentic voice. Our managers voice.
“Jessica, Owen, my honey bunches of sugar and oats! Could you please do your job properly my sweetie pies, okay?” Oh Miss Michelle, a woman who on the outside was short and chubby and had bright red hair to match the lips which pulled open her wide smile. Though her inner core, I’m almost positive, was filled with death and emptiness that only escaped through her in the form of an incredibly fake, banchee like voice. Thank God, the latest she ever worked was 7:30 PM, and my shift started at 7.
Whenever Miss Michelle came over to politely punish me, I could always count on a fellow cashier, Cole, standing a few feet behind her providing me an apologetic scoff and eye roll. He was Michelle’s nephew and knew damn well Michelle was crazy. More than any of us ever could understand. Though for some reason or another his lanky figure was nowhere to be found. I guess, he was late to work today.
I wasn’t really paying attention to her little speech about “B- Big smile. U- Urgent Service L- Laugh and smile more. L-Literally never say no.”
Yes, that was our team motto. “BULL”... I genuinely do not understand how the managers do not get why that acronym is absolutely terrible and why the back of our shirts really should not have “Our service is BULL!” printed in a nice big font.
Miss Michelle was pointing to the back of her shirt over and over, completely unaware that I had not listened to a single word she said to me. She looked like a twitchy squirrel jumping back and forth to show the shirt off while carrying out her lecture. I could see Owen biting his inner cheeks to suppress the laughter that was building with each of her jolts and turns, until she just-
“Which- which is why the bull- is the most important- and and strongest animal… that-” She just walked away. Mid sentence. She just abruptly turned to the opposite direction and walked that way. I wish there was a diagnosis for her. I’m sure there is. But I’m not a therapist, I’m a cashier, who simply does not care enough to Web.Md her.
“I swear that womans on crack.” Owen said. My eyes were fixated on her as she walked away. Something inside me envied her. The lack of shame she had for her mannerism. I couldn’t even walk from my register to the service desk without grimly narrating my life; “With raven colored waves drifting over her shoulders, in a way that would be angelic on others, but absolutely horrid and awkward on her. She should not have dyed her hair dark. Everything about her was wrong.”. The narrator in my head was kind of a b****. Definitely did not like me. Whenever I tried to do something to better myself I’d hear a sentence such as;
“And so our wimpy protagonist tries to get the guy once again. Which once again will lead to her total self destruction, humiliation and our direct amusement! Stay tuned to see which episode of ‘The Office’ she chooses to indulge herself in as a distraction from the crippling anxiety while waiting for a text back!”. I swear that b**** always makes me look bad.
I’m sure Miss Michelle's narrator cheers her on and refers to her as “Queen Chelle” and refers to all the cashiers as her maids. I envy her for that, and that only.
“Yeah, probably.” was my response.
My shift dragged on forever. I was forced to watch nearly all my coworkers make their way to their means of transportation, with a bright smile as the wet air of freedom hit them. Michelle lugged her “this is more than half my size but I carry it as a power move” purse into a station wagon, Mini hopped on her roller blades, and eventually even Owen’s brother came to pick him up. By 10:00 PM, no one wants to grocery shop.
I sat on the belt of my register, eating expired Reese's peanut butter cups that I stole from the damaged product bin. 10:03. No one wanted to grocery shop. I began to throw the wrappers at the register in front of me, trying to get them in the wiry pencil holder. 10:05, no one wanted to grocery shop and I ran out of Reese's peanut butter cups. I would have texted my friends, but I didn’t want to bother them. Last they heard I was going to his house this afternoon. No one cared to check in on me, even knowing what was going to happen. 0 messages. So I decided to study the scene I’d studied a thousand times. Linoleum floors, cement walls, dangling ceiling lights. A place you didn’t want to be for more than 20 minutes and if you were, you better drop your groceries and run because you’d probably die or turn into an abused employee or something. I heard a rumor that that’s how Miss Michelle became manager. When she made the 19 minuet mark she realized she forgot to get Cheerios… and that's when they got her.
100% B.S, but it's fun to imagine her getting forcefully being put into a management position.
There’s always a point in my shift where I physically cannot be anywhere near a cash register. By my second,
“Could I see some ID… I understand you’re 50 but it's our policy.... I’m really sorry”
I had reached that point.
In order to take a break on this late of a shift you either need to page someone from another department to cover you, or if you’re lucky there’s another cashier who can take care of everything... I had to page a very unhappy stock boy.
I have always been completely terrified of the handicap elevator which leads to the breakroom. It has a flickering light and makes creaky noises and is painted a cold beige. Who the hell paints an elevator? My two options were a flight of stairs, and the elevator. I took the elevator.
I shut my eyes tight as I entered the elevator of death, quickly shoving little white earbuds in my ears. I had my comfort song already playing at full blast and by the time I reached the breakroom I was singing.
Words cannot explain this feeling. The feeling of hearing a beautiful song projected directly into you ear. You hear it so loud and you know all the words. You sing at a loud volume and still can’t hear yourself singing it. All you have is the vibrations of your voice jumping up and down in your throat. With my eyes completely shut, the entire store could have picked up and started floating… I wouldn’t have noticed.
The break room was not the place to do this. It was as white as the inner circle of a flashlight, though sitting in the back of it was a leather, metallic, purple couch. I can only assume Miss Michelle drove past it on the side of the street one day and decided the break room could use an 80’s feel. There were two dangling old lights that swung back and forth whenever anyone opened the door to enter… or the krusty microwave door… or walked anywhere in the room at all. As much as I hated that breakroom, something about it always comforted me. Which is why I felt comfortable enough to stand on the couch and sing my comfort song, Step by the Vampire Weekend.
I’m sure not every single person in the world has heard this song. But they should. I’ve never heard such poetry through a combination of words and rhythm. I would sing it for the rest of my life if I could, but I’m sure after a while of that I’d genuinely hate it. The chorus was the best part ; “The gloves are off. The wisdom teeth are out. What you on about? I feel it in my bones… I feel it in my bones”. Whatever that means.
I knew I was singing flat, but every “I feel it in my bones” I sung the more passionate it got. Something felt homeish about this scenario. As if this were my ugly leather couch… and my creepy elevator… and my ugly linoleum filled store. The only word I could use to describe my movements would be, “Hippie”. As though I was vibing at woodstock, with a head down and airplane arms. I could feel the chorus coming up as I whisked myself off the couch,
“Everyone's dying but girl, you’re not old yet-”
I nearly screamed as I felt someone pull my left earbud out,
“The gloves are off…”
The whisper kissed at my eardrums. Tracing the path from my upper arms to my finger tips in a slow motion. I was transported back to woodstock, but this time I wasn’t alone. With loose arms, we danced like two hippie idiots. The scent of the fresh daisy’s in the floral department downstairs had followed me into the breakroom and danced around us. My left arm was lifted up, turning me around in a swift motion. The two swinging lights had followed our movements the whole time.
I saw him kiss his palms, and place them on my opposite sides of my smiling face. Dragging his plush skin from my cheeks, grazing my nose, and over the bruise which sat under my eye. He was trying to hide it. Like it’d vanish when he removed his palms.
“You should have stayed” He whispered. His knuckles had bandages around them, the reason for him being late to work.
“You should be”
It remained silent, as I put my head against the ceramic figure of a familiar stranger: who ruined my dance. It was my fault he lost pay, and had to get his fingers wrapped up. The one person who made an effort for me. That was how I repaid them. The earbuds still hummed in my ear, the same song that was beautiful a few moments ago now had a haunting twist to it.
My eyes floated down to my phone, I hadn’t made any use of it other than music and the time since 5:00PM. All my conversations I set to “do not disturb” out of pathetic sadness had a blue dot next to them. Underneath the thread from my mother which had, “Xoxo momma” as the most recent message was Owen’s thread. “Jess” was the first message. Followed by six more “Jess” messages. And then, “Answer now.” Until he gave up and simply told me, “You need to ask to leave early.” I shut my phones screen, and stopped swaying.
“Jess” The words bubbled around me as I stared at him. His sweet freckles had faded and his brown eyes had turned black. I must have missed the day they changed. How could I miss that? Did his freckles fly off from the wind? Did his eyes blacken with winter? Was it last week? Was it two years ago? Was it before I even met him? What made me notice right now, and not when everyone else did?
I quickly pushed away, I hated strangers.
“You’re not my only person.”
That was my famous, groundbreaking, tell off. “You’re not my only person”. I’m not that smart on my feet, sue me.
The only way to fix a scratched record, is to throw it out. He didn’t bother chasing after me. He never chased me in the first place. I went immediately to my car, with no effort to even clock out. I’d never driven so quickly before.
I found myself in front of a dark red house, which had a bright yellow front door. There were petunias in the flower beds which poked up against every window. The best thing, was it was a one floor home. I got out of my car before I even had time to understand exactly what I was doing.
Knock knock… nothing.
I was just praying it wasn’t the wrong window I was knocking at. Quickly the curtain was pulled open,
“Jess! What the fu-”
“Just let me in”.
I hopped in the room as soon as the window slid up. We stood in silence for a moment, as he tiredly stared at me. I reached my hand up to elongate a bright blonde curl in his head,
“The only way to fix a scratched record is to throw it out… and what?”
It was stuck in my head. Miss Michelle had cut him off before he got a chance to finish his sentence earlier. Throw it out and what? And what?! And that’s it? And cry? And burn the garbage can? And what!
“And get a new one.”
And get a new one… I like that.