Work is hard.
That’s what Dad always said. He wasn’t wrong. Work is hard. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t get to benefit. The benefits are what I like most.
Right now, I work the aisles at your local Supermarket. Right around Christmas, there is so much Christmas cheer here, it’s catching, like some kind of addled insect you just can’t shake. I don’t know why I’m happy at Christmas. I just am.
Located all over the supermarket are Christmas decorations, Christmas chocolates, Christmas food. Anything you can think of, they had it. It was my job to sort and display. But what wasn’t my job was to break the odd thing here and there. Things that I wanted but couldn’t afford. Things I knew I would be able to have, if only it was broken. When Dad said work was hard, he never said that it had to be honest. Honest I was not.
This was how I got all of my Christmas presents for the year. I would break them early so that I could have them wrapped and under the tree by Christmas. I loved working shifts leading right up to Christmas. I was not your model employee; my eagerness for the job came from the perks when combined with Dad’s work ethic. Work is hard. But perks are fun.
Nobody ever notices that all of my gifts are broken in some way. At least not at first. They love the coffee maker that has a crack in the plastic so that the coffee leaks when you try to use it. They love the book with it folded pages making it look as though someone had read it but not loved it. They love the crumpled clothes with its missing buttons. They love the cell phone that will not dial. And they loved the tarnished decorations that I helped decorate our house and the tree with. At least they loved everything until they found out they couldn’t use them.
Then, they would ask me if they could have the receipts? Uhm, no.
Dad said work is hard. So, I told them, work is hard. I don’t have your receipts.
When they point out that everything is broken, I said, “blame the Postman.” They blamed the Postman. To his face.
He said he didn’t deliver anything to our house since last Summer. No way it was him.
“What is going on?” is on everyone’s lips. “Is this some kind of Christmas prank?”
I hide my embarrassment but the odd crease on my forehead belied the truth. I couldn’t tell them why. Not even when Dad asked me. I mumbled something about hard work and fun perks. He went away unsatisfied and talked to Mum. He had noticed that everything broken was a present from me. He noticed that everything had come from my job. He noticed the crimson blush spreading my cheeks and the disheartened look in my eyes as I watched people, the slump to my shoulders that made me look defeated by something. There was no Christmas cheer in me now.
At last the food was cooked and served. So much of it had come from the supermarket I worked at. It had been hard work making sure that everything we wanted would be discounted or free. I had torn the packaging, cracked the glass, ripped at plastic coverings…whatever it took, I did it. I went under budget when it came to buying everything. When I came home, arms laden with all those good Christmas things to eat, I unpacked in a hurry before Mum could see the damage. I hid them before she could ask those questions that I did not want to answer. I bundled everything sans packing in the cupboards and in the fridge, ready for my mother to cook. She had wondered why everything was unpacked – I said I thought it would make her life easier with all the stress of Christmas. She was grateful. She didn’t suspect anything. She didn’t check the garbage before the garbage men came to haul the evidence of my dirty secrets away.
We ate jovially and happily with constant cheer. People gossiped about their presents (mine garnered the most talk). We sang Christmas songs during pudding. Everyone complemented us on the cooking. I smiled, a guilt ridden, knowing smile. You can get things for less, I thought. You just have to know what to break, what to tear. You have to know what they will give and how far you can go. Not getting caught is an art in itself.
Leading up to Christmas, our work shifts are hell. We have to put in extra hours to stock everything. The days are long melting into night before anyone can leave. Work is hard. Come Christmas, work is harder. But the perks are also bigger. There are more things you want or need. More things that just have to get on that clearance rack. I send things I don’t want there on purpose so it won’t seem like I’m the only one benefiting. You have to be smart. I turn up to work with a smile on my face, a strut to my steps and a great attitude. They never suspect that girl. So, I’m kind and approachable to everyone. I laugh and smile with them. When they gossip about things being damaged, they don’t think it’s me.
I’m smart about it. I don’t steal. I just damage things a little so that they can’t be sold. Then I buy or take them, trying to get them before the other staff. I take advantage of the situation. But I don’t steal. If you don’t make your perks you won’t get any. So, I make my perks.
Tired out after long work shifts, there is one more perk I’ll get. Too late for Christmas festivities, my family celebrate Christmas twice – because of my job, we get so much of what the supermarket can’t sell that is Christmas related after the holidays. Anything that will go bad and can’t be stocked or sent back is given to us. Why do I damage things if I’ll get them anyway? It’s called Christmas spirit.