‘Barb’ pinned the name tag she’d been forced to borrow after forgetting hers at home onto the poorly designed maroon and lime polyester shirt. One last tug to ensure the hairnet properly contained everything and she was ready for her shift. As ready as she ever was.
Only twenty minutes after clocking in, she was cornered by the shift manager, Larry. He invaded her space until she was sandwiched between his clipboard and the industrial meat slicer she had been cleaning.
“Hey-” his eyes darted to her name tag “-Barb. You’re needed at the customer service desk. Sylvie’s scale rot is acting up again. Or something like that.” He rolled his eyes. “Get going.”
C’mon, Larry, we’ve only worked together for five years now. You know my name.
Larry tried to pull his pants up as his eyes wandered along her figure. His belt was fighting a losing battle with his ever-growing paunch. When he brushed a hand along his stubby horns and assumed his version of a sultry expression, ‘Barb’ knew a flirting attempt was imminent. The other girls humored him. It wasn’t worth mopping the bathrooms twice a shift when an awkward ‘get me out of here’ laugh was good enough for the socially inept Larry.
But not ‘Barb.’ Even if she wasn’t married, she couldn’t bring herself to encourage that kind of behavior. “Yes, sir. Right away.”
Larry was left with his mouth hanging as she squeezed past, hung her apron on its hook, then nearly sprinted toward Customer Service.
“Welcome to Bubba’s Magical Emporium: Mythical Prices for Mystical Products. How can I help you?” ‘Barb’ intoned with a plastic smile.
A willow-thin girl shyly tucked her pale green hair behind one ear. She placed a small package on the counter. The wrapping was wrinkled and torn near the top. ‘Barb’ held back a sigh; she already knew how this was going to go.
“I’d like to return this hair fertilizer, please,” the girl fairly whispered.
“We can only take back unopened items for full refunds. Previously opened products can be returned for partial store credit.”
“Oh, but I didn’t open it,” the girl protested, albeit softly.
‘Barb’ eyed the puddle forming on the counter. One eyebrow rose above her tinted glasses.
The dryad had the grace to look ashamed. “Partial credit is fine.”
“All love potions are for entertainment purposes only. Bubba’s does not provide any guarantee, warranty, or promise concerning their efficacy,” ‘Barb’ droned for the fifth (or sixth?) time since arriving at the counter two hours ago.
“Break time!” a bright voice chirped as she was gently nudged out of the way. “I’ve got this,” Allison assured her.
‘Barb’ managed a tired, but grateful smile as her co-worker took charge of the gang of teenage centaurs who hadn’t stopped giggling yet. She slumped her way toward the break room slipping down the pet food aisle to avoid two hedge witches loudly debating the merits of various cauldrons. Her detour turned into two runs to the check out stands and back. The first trip was to help a petite sprite lug an economy-sized bag of griffon chow. The second was to return the first bag of food for the organic kind. No worries. It’s not like those things are fifty pounds a piece.
Her journey to the back was interrupted again to direct a brownie toward housewares; answer a licensing question about salamander purchases; remind one of the ifrit employees that the smoking area was outside--only; and offer an opinion on whether siren or lorelei music was a better bridal shower option. After redirecting the party planners to the elven wood pipe section, ‘Barb’ booked it the last five yards to safety without quite sprinting.
The break room was empty apart from the yeti snoozing in a chair against the back wall. Poor Alan had a newborn at home and only caught up on his sleep at work. ‘Barb’ sank a couple coins into the drink machine advertising Ice Cold Ambrosia. Popping the top of her drink proved that it was merely cooler-than-room-temp ambrosia. Oh well. The first few swallows slaked her thirst, the next few restored her temper.
“Last day on the job, huh?” an airy voice breezed past her ear.
“Hey, Aurella,” she said as she glanced at the overly large wall clock. “Only ten hours to go.”
“A double? Yuck.” The sylph materialized with a sympathetic grimace. “Still, soon you’ll never have to see this place again.”
“I’ll miss you too, lady. You and Marina are the only ones keeping me sane around here.”
“Where is that mermaid? Her tank was empty when I drifted past earlier.” Aurella wafted over to peer into the mostly empty vending machine. Only a couple packaged snacks still clung to the coils. “Bubba really needs to upgrade the employee areas.” A look of distaste slanted across her face.
“Now you wouldn’t be talking about our esteemed boss, would you?” ‘Barb’ teased. “The cyclops who somehow talked his father into letting him run this store on his own, but can’t talk to customers or employees without insulting them?”
Aurella strangled a laugh as she checked for eavesdroppers. “Speaking of beings lacking social acumen, I thought you were scheduled in the deli today. Larry?”
The sylph grabbed a paper cup and filled it with water. She held it out to ‘clink’ against the ambrosia can. “Here’s to only one more day of Larry.”
Seemed Larry wanted to squeeze every drop of enjoyment out of ‘Barb’s last day. She had barely ducked behind the Customer Service counter when he appeared with a smug grin. A grinning Larry was always a ghastly sight, but this sneer had an edge that meant a mop was in somebody’s very near future. ‘Barb’ stifled a sigh. She summoned the practiced retail smile that covered all emotion.
“Barb, grab a clean up kit. Aisle 19.” Larry’s smile grew. “Some nymph’s emotional support creature had an accident.”
“What ... creature?” ‘Barb’ stalled.
Larry turned to leave, but smirked over his shoulder. “A bonnacon. You might want gloves.”
Sadistic satyr, she thought as she firmly pushed her glasses up her nose.
Cleaning up the flaming excrement required evacuating three aisles in either direction and a full body hazmat suit. It ate up two hours of her remaining time though. Another half hour was devoted to scrubbing the unfortunately fragrant waste off the suit. After that, ‘Barb’ spent forty minutes reorganizing the already pristine maintenance closet in an attempt to settle her stomach in time for her meal break.
A brief, and unsatisfactory, lunch was followed by another stint helping disgruntled customers and dealing with a few more ‘urgent’ incidents before moving back to the deli. Her deli shift was blur of cheese, meat, and olives as she rushed to assemble 41 fancy snack trays for the banshee who originally ordered them for her party the next day, but really wanted them that evening. It wasn’t her fault that the employee who answered the phone was incompetent. He should have known that she meant today even if she accidentally got the date wrong. Whatever happened to the customer always being right?
They may not have been the prettiest trays to leave the deli, but they had all made it out the door with the correct contents. And in the end, nobody was subjected to more than some initial whining from the persecuted banshee. A lack of wailing always counts as a win. ‘Barb’ managed to finally clock out only twenty minutes past time.
‘Barb’ dragged herself through the front door. Her husband’s guide dog bounded up to meet her. She hung up her jacket, removed her glasses, and pulled off the hated hairnet.
“Hey, Argus,” she cooed as she rubbed his ears. He submitted to her affection before urging her into the living room.
There, stretched out on the couch, was her beloved husband. She smiled fondly at his sleeping form before carefully removing the remote from his chest. Since the tv was currently showing a mockumentary on drop bear rights, she felt no remorse in turning it off. The sudden lack of sound woke him up.
“Babe, that you?” A sleepy smile crept across his handsome face.
“Yup. Last day done,” she said as she nudged his legs over to sit beside him. “I never have to work in the piece of Hades again.”
“How was it? Blast anyone with your laser vision today?” he baited as he sat up and reached for her.
“Ha ha. No. Not even the infestation of imps in the weapons section inspired me to remove my glasses,” she avowed, taking his hand.
“Which aisle?” His other hand found her shoulder.
“So … Greek fire?” By this time, his hand was carefully combing through her tresses.
“Of course.” She could feel her whole body relaxing.
“I’m so proud, Medusa.” He kissed her gently. “And just think, at your new job you don’t even need the hairnet.”
“I know! My poor babies are so tired of being confined all the time. I can’t wait to start work at the herpetology lab.”
“I can’t wait either,” came the reply as the couple made their way out of the living room to get ready for bed. “All those night classes are finally paying off. I’ll finally get to see my wife again.”
“You’ve never actually seen me, babe,” she teased.
“Ha ha. Mock the blind man. Very funny.”
Medusa’s laughter was cut off with a kiss that carried them the rest of the way down the hall.