The last working light flickered over my head as I packed the tomatoes in the plastic bags. The plastic smelled like rot. When they’d started smelling like that, I don’t know, but every time I packed groceries I poured about half a gallon of hand sanitizer on my palms afterwards and rubbed like crazy. Never worked anyway, they still smelled like shit.
“I’ve got a coupon for that.”
The old woman at the counter sounded like a meowing cat: Phyllis, in here every damn night. I looked down at the item in my hand – bug spray. Past the layer of film on the windows, I stared pointedly at the dark sky then back at her. Now what the fuck did Phyllis here need bug spray for at ten o’clock at night in the dead of winter?
I shrugged, punched her coupon code in and swiped her pointless bug spray. I opened my mouth to speak but before I could, she thrust something else under my nose. She smelled like mayonnaise.
“I’ve got another one,” she croaked and I narrowed my eyes. I took the coupon as patiently as I could, which wasn’t patient at all. I nearly ripped it and then jammed my fingers onto the buttons. With one final dusty breath, the old woman shuffled out of the store — last customer. And it only took two and a half hours after closing. A personal best for Phyllis who was usually found wandering the cat food aisle by the opening staff.
“Samantha,” I heard over the loud speaker. I rolled my eyes.
“Fuck man, what does Gerald want now?” I untied my apron and threw it under my register, ruffling my hair as I made my way towards the back of the supermarket.
“Slow down Rocky,” Kevin put one hand out in front of me and smiled. “I’ll go talk to Gerald, he’s gonna chew you out about the cranberry juice.”
I had spilled about twenty-glass bottles of cranberry juice on aisle seven that morning, and had ‘forgotten’ to clean it up. The floor looked like a red swamp now, and Kevin motioned towards it with his thumb.
“Go clean it up, yeah? I’ll tell him you’re taking care of it and you won’t have to deal with his massive BO.”
“Again?” I groaned.
“Worst one yet. Like fart and onion soup.”
“How are you two related?” I shook my head.
“Pretty sure my parents found him on Craigslist.”
“I owe you.”
“You sure do,” he said as he walked away.
I shuffled towards aisle seven, mop already in hand. Why couldn’t the floor be red? Then I could spread it around and hope for the best. But like everything else in this bootleg old supermarket, it was buttery yellow – neglected teeth, 1970’s living room yellow.
The floor was worse than I’d remembered. I’d spent the entire day avoiding that part of the store, hoping someone else would just clean it. I crossed my fingers that Kevin would but since he did everything else in the store, and Jason spent his entire shift getting baked behind the building, I wasn’t surprised he hadn’t. There was someone else in the store too, some new girl I think, but she was probably just as useless as I was.
I plopped the mop into the soapy water and pushed it across the red puddles. It was almost solid, gross. I pushed, and pushed, and pushed. Sweat beads formed down my back and trickled into my butt crack. Great.
I wiped my hands on my jeans, looked around and rubbed my backside. What the hell kind of cranberry juice was this?
BANG. A noise erupted from the back room. I snickered. Gerald had finally had enough of my shit, was probably coming to fire me. Good.
“Give me that please.” I looked up, an annoyed Kevin staring at me.
“What happened?” he took the mop from me and started swishing it around.
“Go home Sam.”
“Huh? I have to help clean –“
“Go.” He stopped cleaning and looked at me. He had taken the heat for me tonight and now he had to clean up after me too.
“Sorry dude,” I muttered and hurried to the front door.
My shoes stuck to the floor, and a trail of red foot prints snaked from where I’d left Kevin to where I was standing now. The door. I just stared at it like I stared at everything when I didn’t know what to do. Mouth half open, eyes glazed. Too much effort to make a decision, my brain mush from twelve hours of scan, beep, complain, scan, beep, complain , scan, beep.
I touched the handles, felt the chain and pulled, transferring red glop between my hands and the front entrance. This damn juice was everywhere. And it smelled weird, like everything else in this expired supermarket. Old, browning, dead.
“OH, WHAT THE FUCK.” I turned around and nearly clocked the new girl in her freckled face.
I scrunched my nose at her. “You scared me.”
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” she mumbled wringing her hands. Cute.
“Kevin told me I could go early. I didn’t mean – “
“Yeah, a-huh. Door is locked anyway; some idiot put a padlock chain around it. Was it you?” I narrowed my eyes at Freckles McGee.
“No honest. I wouldn’t even know where to get a padlock today was my first day.”
I just stared at her and sighed. Like I said, useless. I plopped towards the back exit and could hear Freckles scurrying behind me. I sped up.
“KEEEVIINNNN,” I screamed, not caring if Gerald heard me or that Freckles nearly knocked into some clumpy milk behind her.
I picked up the second padlock of the night; the heavy chains were covered in more red stuff. This was like a period from hades. Wait. I moved closer to the padlock, there was something else on the chains. I held my own hands up to my nose and sniffed.
“Oh…,” for once I didn’t have some expletive lined up. This wasn’t just cranberry juice on my hands, and feet and all over the store. I turned around and looked at Freckles, her eyes big like a cows.
“It’s blood dude.” My face twisted in horror. There was blood everywhere.
To be continued!