11 comments

Speculative

At a convenience store, I found the clerk curled up on her side within a large ice chest that sat along the right wall between the thirty-dollar tents and the fifteen-dollar lawn chairs. The ice chest held no ice, only her, motionless and glassy eyed under a blanket of yellow discount labels.

“Excuse me,” I said. “Where can I find the stuffed animals?”

She sprang up in her red collared shirt and black jeans. The discount labels fell around us like snowflakes. She forced a smile since I am a customer. At that moment she was very pretty to me, although all she did was look no older than nineteen and wear a smile and a petite figure, and as a misogynist I always preferred the company of women with such an appearance. The only change I would make on her what her hair: a sweet auburn, but it hid in a single braid behind her when it could have flowed loose across her shoulder. Regardless, I noticed her name badge—Yvonne—and imagined chasing her through Time Square or Disney World, places that would ignite her dormant adventurous spirit. 

“Stuffed animals? I can show you where they are,” she said. “Follow me.”

Yvonne crawled out of the ice chest and walked to the back of the store, her short legs moving lightning quick as she turned the corner and disappeared. I increased my pace to catch up before she realized that I failed to follow her, during which I realized that there was no one else here. There were bags of chips that have fallen from the shelves in the chip aisle, and in the toiletry aisle a pack of tank tops rested among the deodorants, so there were signs that people were here at some point. I worried for a moment that the economy had gotten so bad that less people were able to afford basic necessities anymore. 

When I reached the back and turned the corner, I found Yvonne seated on the floor. She sewed a stuffed bear by hand. A pill of fluffy stuffed dogs and cats and unicorns and dinosaurs stood taller than me behind her. Her gaze was stuck to the bear, so engrossed in her task that I did not want to disturb her. She appeared older than me now, about twenty-four or twenty-five, and had even gained enough weight to fill out her shirt better. I pictured her taking me to a bar or club I have not discovered yet, and us taking shots and dancing and stumbling on each other.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “but do you by chance have a stuffed bunny?” 

Yvonne glanced up at me but it took her a few heartbeats before she wore her smile again, as if she was not prepared for such a request nor to extra work she’d have to do to fulfill it. “Sure. Just give me a few minutes and I’ll have it for you at the register.” I took this to mean she had to sew a stuffed bunny before she can sell one to me.

I walked away, hoping the bunny would be ready in the next two or three minutes. The white tiled floor was polished and the florescent lights were bright and the florescent ceiling lights were bright and buzzing, and it occurred to me that Yvonne was the only employee in the store just as I was the only customer. I turned to offer her my help with the stuffed bunny, wanting to break the ice with her more so than physically helping with the sewing.

At the endcap of the cereal aisle was a 2-for-$10 sale on bags of cereal marshmallows—just the marshmallows, sold separately from the frosted oats and were more expensive than the normal cereal box. I shook my head at the amount of sugary poison peddled to the public, and how cereal manufacturers expect us to buy their products regularly without worry of the resulting long-term side effects. However, the marshmallow bags have already been produced and shelved, the deal already set, the marshmallows already the best part of any cereal by far. It would be a waste of food if I did not buy them at this point. So I grabbed the two bags for the sale and a half-gallon of milk and headed to the register at the front of the store.

Yvonne’s back was turned when I approached the checkout counter. My lizard brain made me check out her figure without the fear of getting caught, and that’s when I noticed her figure was rounder than before, as if she’s been on a steady diet of pop and moon pies. She looked over her shoulder as she drilled in metal frame for what I assumed will be a display case for cigarettes. “Uh-oh, sorry, give me just a minute,” she said. She looked around thirty-five, now. 

I waited patiently, then after a minute said, “They’re working you like a dog today, huh?” 

“Yeah, you know how it is,” she said, and apologized again, to which I immediately told her not to worry. I was more concerned with how she seemed to struggle with sliding the glass door into place. She finally turned to me when she finished with her assembly project with a sigh of relief.

“So, who’s the bunny for?” she asked. Even her voice changed to something more confident and mature, much different from its youthfulness back when we initially met, a detail of her I did not appreciate until now.

“My little cousin,” I answered. “I’m visiting from out of town and haven’t seen her in a couple of years, so I hope she still likes bunnies.”

“What a coincidence! I also loved bunnies when I was a little girl. My dad brought me one when I was seven. I named him Whiskers.” We both laughed at the name. “Poor Whiskers didn’t last very long.”

“That’s probably why my uncle won’t buy her a real one,” I said. Yvonne laughed at this as well. My mind flashed with thoughts of how I’d respond if she tried to hit on me, how I’d let her down gently, or if I’d take the chance dating a cougar. Since I’ve entered this convenience store it feels like I’ve known her for over a decade, like there’s bond between us that transcends the typical employee/customer transaction, like I can speak from the heart without repercussions.

Instead, I paid her for the stuffed bunny, the marshmallows, the milk, and a last-second purchase of a pack of gum, and headed for the exit. The sliding door did not make way for me when I approached it. I stepped back, then stepped forward, but it still malfunctioned.

“Hold on, sir!” Yvonne cried. She hobbled from the checkout counter to where I stood, her face now weathered by wrinkles, her back now slightly hunched. She pressed her palms against the sliding door, and as she leaned to the direction where the door was supposed to move she slowly pushed it open with all her strength. Wincing as she struggled, she never quit, for we both knew that only she, as the employee, was capable of opening the exit. This reminded me of how cheap big companies have become. They cut costs anyway they can, hiring less people for the sake of increased bonuses for corporate employees. Meanwhile those on the ground level, like Yvonne, sacrifice their free time and physical desirability to maintain an entire store by themselves without additional compensation.

“Do you need a hand with that?” I asked, concerned. 

“Nope!” she said, eyes shut, teeth clenched. The door continued to resist her. “Almost got it.” When she got it all the way she collapsed and died. 

I stood over her corpse as tears rolled down my cheeks. Before my eyes her body entered rigor mortis, then the epidermis sank into the muscular system, which withered into the skeletal system. Her bones broke down into daisies that smelled like spring and were once called Yvonne, the woman who gave her life so that I may be free to leave. I said a little prayer, then stepped over her bouquet remains to go about my day, as I’m sure she would have wanted.

June 05, 2024 15:12

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11 comments

VJ Hamilton
00:53 Jul 09, 2024

This was intriguing... the time compaction was unexpected and the narrator had no filter (misogynist!). Thanks for a great read!

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Jarrel Jefferson
19:16 Jul 11, 2024

Thanks, VJ.

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Tommy Goround
07:55 Jun 25, 2024

More more more You have to prepare for an anthology one day. Rankings of why I purposely come to read JJ: IMAGINATION... like the drug dealing bush.. This one, life of a clerk, is like literature. Probably favorite is adopting a troll from Internet. I expect you to give me "what works" for memorability.ine day. More more

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Jarrel Jefferson
13:32 Jun 26, 2024

I appreciate you, Tommy. I've been working on other writing projects, which is why I don't submit to Reedsy as much as I could. But I eventually come back, for the week-long prompts that challenge me and for your kind words and Barthelme-esque writings that inspire me. Seriously, I was reading something by Donald Barthelme a few months back and was reminded of you the entire time.

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Tommy Goround
00:13 Jun 12, 2024

Listening.... 2 zingers.... Discount like snow Misogynist "There were signs that ppl had been here at one point" I like that you were shopping for a person. Ahh....sugar. yes. Round figure: (would be interesting if she got pregnant from five minutes of talking?) Standing to clap! Symbolism abounds. The life of a clerk. How she gives her life to the economy. Importante

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Jarrel Jefferson
16:36 Jun 14, 2024

Thanks, Tommy. I actually thought about her having kids, but I didn’t want her to have a life outside of being a clerk, so…

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11:43 Jun 09, 2024

This is very sad. It's what a lot of lives boil down to isn't it. Slaving away In society for someone else's benefit. This really reflects that brilliantly. Well done. I noticed a mistake here, a duplication. The white tiled floor was polished and the florescent lights were bright and the florescent ceiling lights were bright and buzzing, 

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Jarrel Jefferson
23:40 Jun 10, 2024

Thanks for pointing out the duplication. I’ll watch out for that in the future.

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Mary Bendickson
16:53 Jun 05, 2024

A relationship of a lifetime in a few minutes.

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Jarrel Jefferson
20:49 Jun 06, 2024

Much of this story was based on a dream I had about a coworker a week ago. In the dream, her nails and hair were overgrown and there were spiders crawling around the place, but I didn’t think those details would fit in with what I wanted to say through the piece.

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Mary Bendickson
21:15 Jun 06, 2024

🤔 interesting. Thanks for liking 'Secrets That We Keep'

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