A Tragicomical, Unsophisticated Blog about the Weird, the Absurd, and the Banal

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Grocery Dispute

Looking back on it, Vicky was disappointed that her breakdown hadn't been more spectacular.

For several months, maybe even years, it had been building. A ferocious lump in her ribcage twitched and muttered, clawed and burned. At first, it just fired up every time some self-righteous customer bragged about riding his bike or bringing her own fabric bags to carry away terrifically expensive, organic, gluten-free, vegan, over-packaged food. Then it was the parking inconveniences. Then it was the apartment, the heat, the police sirens, the loud neighbors, the gnawing and itching I-have-no-idea-what-to-do-with-my-life.

One year, four months, and nine days after she started working at Conseco's Market, she came in for her evening shift more tired than usual. She hadn't been sleeping well. Loud neighbors. But it was pretty much a normal day on Esplanade, except there was some quality about the humidity that made it difficult to breathe.

At 10 o'clock, after a day of hearing the blaring PA system request her for managerial assistance, Daniel said something that sounded a lot like, "Manag- what? Fuck..." over the mic. She was sitting in the "break room," practically a closet in the back with a unusual window that made it possible to smoke in an indoor-ish area.

And for some reason, Vicky heard herself say over the PA system, "Repeat page please." A long pause. "Repeat page please."

"Managerial assistance to the register, please."

"Daniel, repeat the page, please."

"Managerial assistance to the register, please."

"Daniel, you said, 'Manag-what? Fuck...' Correct?"

"Please come to the register."

"What's the problem."

"...Is this really the place to be having this conversation?"

Then Vicky laughed. A cacophony over the PA system that made her involuntarily cringe even as she kept laughing. The absurdity of it. Hearing her own voice and laughter over the PA system sounded like someone else talking, a clipped, professional exchange devolving in content. What a cliché. This was the scene from Airplane where the announcers start arguing over an abortion.

But Daniel was not playing along. Not yet.

“This is precisely the time and place to have this conversation, Daniel. Loud and where everyone can hear. These people deserve to know. And this has got to be the last customer in the store – we’re about to close. What seems to be the problem?” Vicky leaned back in her chair and lit another cigarette.

“A customer wants me to accept expired coupons.”

“Customer. This is the voice of god. The manager, at least, which should be good enough for you, here. I kindly invite you to fuck yourself.”

“Vicky, maybe you should go home and I can close things down…”

“You? You can’t count to five, Daniel.”

“That was uncalled for.”

“That was uncalled for? Uncalled for? I’ll tell you what’s uncalled for,” Vicky said and then stopped.

After a moment, Daniel said, “Yes…?”

“Is the customer still there?”

“No. He stormed out. But there are a lot of people staring.”

“Well, now, hear this. It’s been a long, hot day. My back hurts. I have a degree in art history and I’m managing a grocery store. This is to be expected. It’s a good joke. For a long time I wasn’t laughing, but now I am and why aren’t you? You could be, but I wouldn’t know, because I can’t hear anything but the PA system in the back. You know, this thing is great. I never feel like I’m the one talking over this system. I hear my voice, but I can’t believe it’s me talking. And it’s this voice that’s speaking now. Now. Now. Fuck.”


“Yeah, Daniel.”

“There’s no one in the store.”

“You lied?”

“Yeah. Except for coupons.”

“So I guess I don’t have to fire myself.”

“Not if you don’t want to. I won’t tell if you don’t.”

“… I'm firing myself.”

They closed the store. The next day, she woke up early for the first shift. For weeks after that, she worked doubles after another manager quit and she had to pick up the slack.


My short story, "The Law of Gravity," is now available for purchase through Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine's issue #56.

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