I wasn’t supposed to work today, but I got called in for a long close shift, which I accepted because more money is great. But, I am so incredibly tired tonight that I refused to even close my eyes before finishing my writing challenge because I knew if I did I would fall asleep. Coming from an insomniac that’s saying something.
Anyway here’s the story. It’s crap. I hate it. But a challenge is a challenge, so I basically wrote a fiction rant about how much working in retail sucks. It’s almost cheating but it still counts.
Writing Challenge: Day 11 (Untitled)
By, E. W. Morrow
Word Count: 2027
The average person lies two to three times every hour. Michael wiped a few droplets of tea from the underside of the lid and reread the factoid. The tiny black letters stamped on the aluminum cap weren’t the problem it was the numbers. Two to three times an hour? That didn’t seem right. He’d have to write Snapple and tell them to do some fact checking. It was just so hard to believe that the number could be that low. He’d have to start counting.
Then again, Michael thought as he screwed the cap back on, I do work in retail. Maybe that means I don’t qualify as an “average person.” Especially at this time of year. The PA system had stopped playing Christmas music this early in November, but only after several seemingly different anonymous people had posted comments in the suggestion box that ranged from polite suggestions to angry tirades. Michael was glad nobody remembered him asking for all those different colored pens that day. It was a dirty trick, but he didn’t regret it. The first week of November was too early. The only hitch in the plan was that the music selection had gone back to almost completely Country, but at least no one sang along.
“Excuse me, sir,” came a sharp, needling voice from somewhere behind Michael. “I need to ask you something.”
“Yes, what can I do for you?” Michael asked, grimacing behind his smile. It hadn’t been a question. Not may I or can I. No, this person needed. Michael wheeled around and saw exactly what he had expected. A short, middle aged woman with sour expression plastered across her bony face stood there, arms crossed defensively, foot tapping expectantly. All that was missing was…no, wait. There it was. Michael could just make out the edge of the Sunday morning ads by her left elbow.
“We were looking for an item and you don’t have it out.” Her voice dripped acidic as she hissed the accusation.
“Oh, I’m sorry. What item was it? Maybe we have some more in the back.”
“It’s this,” she said, riffling through the ad to find the item. Please, Michael thought, don’t be… “The Barbie Walk Along Horse and Doll. We found the spot where it should have been but there weren’t any.” Michael weighed his options. He tried for honesty.
“Oh, yeah, that’s a popular one today. I’ve been in the back three or four times today and there aren’t any more back there. We should get some more in by the end of next…”
“The sale ends today.” snapped the woman.
“I apologize about that, it’s just…”
“Are you going to give us a rain check?”
“Oh, I’m sorry, we don’t do rain checks. It’s only while supplies last.”
“So you aren’t going to honor your advertisement?”
Michael knew that there were two ways this conversation could play out. He could stay the course and point out the spot in the ad that specifically stated that there were no rain checks or substitutions. If he did that, the woman would grow even more aggravated. She would fume and huff and her husband would come over and demand to see the manager. Jennifer was nice, and understanding, but she was also very busy at the moment and had asked not to be disturbed for any more customer complaints unless violence was likely. Michael’s only other option…
“I can run back real quick and have another look. Boxes get moved sometimes. I’ll be right back.” He had started moving towards the store room before the end of the second sentence. He shouted the last bit over his shoulder as he gathered speed, weaving between a inconveniently placed shopping cart and a gaggle of children on the verge of throwing a tantrum. He pulled out his bar code scanner and punched buttons on it as he walked, preemptively thwarting any questions from other confused customers.
As he walked and pretended to punch the numbers, he replayed the conversation in his mind. How many lies had that been? Did smiling when you didn’t mean it count as a lie? Probably not. Maybe all of them for the day added up to one. Other than that there had been at least three. He wasn’t going to go look, boxes rarely ever got moved and were always put back again eventually, and he wasn’t going to be back soon. Probably the only part he hadn’t been lying about was the direction. He would get back to the store room, stand around a bit, maybe check his phone for texts, and then exit the store room from a different set of doors on the other side of the sales floor. Either the woman would get fed up and leave, or she would flag down the next sales associate she found and complain to them. Eventually she would get the message and leave.
So he’d lied three times in ten seconds. More if you counted the fake smile, and even more if you took his scanner performance as a fib as well. Either Snapple was very wrong, or he was very far from average.
And what was worse was that it didn’t matter. Whether he lied so much because his experiences were above and beyond the norm or because everyone did, it made no difference. He didn’t feel bad about doing it, just that it had to be done in the first place. Women like the one he had just dealt with were just the tip of the ice berg. Oh, the vast majority of customers who came into the store were either polite or completely neutral, content with whatever they found and not likely to complain at the drop of a hat. Michael would hazard a guess that ninety to ninety-five percent of the people who walked through the automatic doors were decent, civil people who understood when things didn’t pan out the way they wanted.
Somehow it was the other five percent who managed to ruin everything. Boisterous, alpha male type men who were used to bullying things and people until they got what they wanted. Bitter old women who couldn’t read the fine print and wouldn’t have bothered even if they could. Sleazy layabouts who came in right when the door opened and bought out all of the most popular toys to sell on eBay for exorbitant prices, profiteering on children’s dreams. Frosty shrews and wailing termagants who looked down their noses at you because you couldn’t afford a brand new car or had to wear sneakers to work, most of whom had probably never worked a day in their life but had married rich before their beauty had started to fade. Michael had seen and hated them all. Give him a divorced father who’s apathetic about buying a toy for his son when he comes to visit once a month. They were too defeated to be much of a hassle. Grandparents who didn’t know exactly what their grandchildren wanted for their birthday but could describe it if you gave them long enough? That was fine. Take them to the computer, start typing in keywords until you get a match. Michael loved scavenger hunts. New mothers taking forever in the check out lines, trying to maximize their coupon savings? Michael made minimum wage, he understood stretching a buck as far as it would go. Difficult was not the same thing as bad. It was the people who didn’t have the introspective ability to realize that they are not any more or less special than anyone else that made Michael hate his job.
The store room was unusually busy for the time of day. Normally it was deserted unless a customer had been sent back to the loading docks to pick up a big item, Michael cherished the times he could find an excuse to slip back there and catch his breath. Even if the excuse was legitimate he would linger, marveling at how the sound of the sales floor almost disappeared when the doors swung shut.
Today was a little different. It seemed that a large truck had come last night, packed to the top with boxes and boxes of product. Most of it was simply things that the store had been running low on: dolls, Hot Wheels, refill packs for arts and craft products, super hero action figures, and other random things. But the truck had also come bearing several pallets of new product that did not seem to have a home yet. Stacks of boxes taller than Michael lined the walkway. To make matters worse it seemed that the store’s capacity for layaway storage was shrinking dangerously low. Shopping carts laden with items wrapped in brown plastic bags choked any available space. The stocking team had arrived early, it seemed, in an effort to clear up some of the congestion.
Still, Michael had to admit, it was better than being on the floor right now. He hung a right and did his best to stay out of everyone’s way. He slipped into a hole and pretended to check bar codes on random boxes on the large metal racks that served as the store rooms main storage system. Michael had a vague understanding of where everything went, but he always had to spend several minutes narrowing his searches down, piece by piece, whenever he had to find something. Sometimes he would find someone else who knew the place better than him, but now everyone looked busy. And, he thought, I’m not actually looking for anything.
Maybe because he wasn’t actually looking for it was the reason he found it. God must like that brand of humor. Sitting right in front of him at eye level was what appeared to be an ordinary cardboard box. But instead of a generic stream of letters and numbers indicating manufacturer and point of origin and serial numbers, the side of the box was clearly labeled in curly writing. Barbie Walk Along Horse and Dolls, 2 count. The box was still sealed but Michael pulled out his box cutter and slit the tape along the lid with three expert cuts. Sure enough, inside he found two long, thin pink boxes. Inside each was the must have girl toy for the holiday season.
Michael now had a choice to make, and once again he found himself left with only two real options. He could either take the box out to the aggravatingly rude woman he had left standing in the doll aisle, or he could wait. If he waited long enough the woman would leave, and he could take the boxes out and put them on the shelves where anyone could buy them. There were two boxes, but Michael was loathe to give the old bitch what she wanted, if only to teach her a lesson. Would she understand that it was a lesson, though? Would she even notice that things had not gone her way simply because of her attitude? Probably neither, but still, Michael wanted the toy to go to someone more—more deserving.
The figurative angel on his shoulder chimed in at this point. Ah, but the woman isn’t buying the toy for herself. She probably has a daughter, scratch that, granddaughter who desperately wants this toy. Would he be doing the girl a favor? Or would he simply be aiding the woman in spoiling an innocent.
Michael decided that he couldn’t decide. He took a quarter out of his pocked at flipped it awkwardly with is free hand. He tried to catch it mid-air but it tumbled through his fingers and under a dolly at the end of the metal racks. He sighed and made to move it, promising himself to accept whatever side it had rolled to a stop on. He moved the dolly and laughed. There were two quarters lying there, one showing heads, the other tails. Rather than flip again he took it as a sign. He’d give the woman her toy and put the other on the shelf where it belonged. Pocketing the quarters he started wondering whether this invalidated his previous lie count of 3ish.