In which Katy says goodbye, gives Satan the finger, and finally does something she should have done a long time ago.
The Beginning of the End: A Grocery Store Horror Story
“Packed and ready to go?” I yell from the kitchen, up to my elbows in suds. Scrubbing a baking pan free of burnt crust reminds me of Arnold. Nostalgia and grief still my hand for a moment that passes with a shake of my head.
“Hardy har har.” Regina sweeps into the kitchen, followed by Rain. “Can you imagine how weird we would look? A pair of floating suitcases.” Regina opens her mouth in realization and excitement and turns to Rain, only to be cut off with a firm no.
“Terrifying the villagers will have to wait. I can’t believe both of you are leaving the nest,” Guy needles from my bedroom door.
“You can go too, you know. See the world and all that.” My suggestion hurts my heart, but it’s the right thing to do. Guy moves his head side to side as if to weigh his options.
“Nah. I got it good here. Free apartment, food, and you.” Subtle, but sweet. “You’re a regular sugar mama,” he continues and slaps my butt. Well, I guess it’s time to find a new boyfriend.
“Oh hell no-” I laugh and swat at him, but he turns to smoke at the last moment. A small cough from the duo in front of me brings me back to the matter at hand. “I’m going to miss you guys so much.” With a small amount of hesitation, I pull them both in for a big hug. This is a good thing. A good thing.
“We’ll be back before you know it.” Regina consoles while Rain calms me with a few awkward back pats. Releasing them both and rubbing the corner of my eye, a thought occurs to me.
“Do you even know how to get to the Grand Canyon?”
“Eh, life is about the journey, not the destination.” We walk them to the street, and they give us a final wave before strolling down the sidewalk.
“That’s not a real answer,” I yell after them. They both laugh and disappear into the evening shadows.
Another day, another dollar. It’s a slow workday as I bag in tandem with James, who has seemingly chosen to forget about my parking lot mishap. Add him to my growing friends list, check. The mother at the checkout stares blankly ahead as her children scream and play tag around a basket that includes mac and cheese boxes, salad bags, and nuggets. James and I are so busy making plans for our next fishing trip that we don’t see Christina sneak up behind us.
“Hey!” she snaps, making James jolt his head up and swear. “Go find another register.” Christina turns to me after the customer with five kids and help me written on her face leaves. “Carlos wants to see you in his office.”
“What for?” I ask in a nonchalant voice. What’s the point of quaking in my boots? I’ve already faced off with Death; what can one mean boss do?
“What was that?” She could fire me.
“I said,” I clear my throat and try to subtly square my shoulders,” do you know why he wants to see me?”
“If I had my way-” she sneers.
“Look, I get it. You don’t like me.” I fold my arms across my chest. “You already told me how you feel. Did you tell Carlos?” My bully stares at me in shock. Maybe it never occurred to her that I would fight back?
“Why would I-”
“Since we were on the clock, I assumed that was an official evaluation.” Guy would be proud.
“He won’t believe you,” Christina hisses and moves her arms out expressively. “Who do you think has more sway? Someone who makes pennies an hour or a manager who’s worked here for years?” Stay cool, Katy.
“You know, I can’t seem to find any fucks to give. So, this is how it’s gonna go.” I gesture to myself. “I’m going to talk to Carlos. If my negative behavior is brought up, I’ll tell him about your little homophobic tirade, and I’ll quit anyway. I heard the mall is hiring.” I didn’t, but what does she know?
Christina grabs the wall of the checkout lane like a lifeline.
“Otherwise, you need to back off. Don’t ever bring up my sexual orientation, the Church, or my dad again.” Hate-filled eyes burrow into my soul, trying to call a bluff that isn’t there. A prim cough breaks up our unprofessional Mexican stand-off (hah) and lets us know that we have a new audience.
Christina waves me off with a “just go see Carlos.” The little, older Mexican lady in line gives me a smile of solidarity through an adorable tooth gap, which I use to propel me up the stairs. Carlos’s smile greets me as well, and he gestures to the chair across from him.
“You wanted to see me?” I stare at a button on his shirt and think about the best way to improve my resume. He clasps his hands together and gestures towards me with his fingers.
“I think it’s time we promoted you to cashier.” My eyes widen comically. How, what, and why?
“Really?” It turns out, I had been receiving a number of customer compliments that Christina had apparently forgotten to turn in and mysteriously ended up in the office wastebasket. Carlos had fished out several lined one-sided papers covered in Luna’s cheesy marketing phrases filled in by older women with names like Betty and Carmen. He pushes a creased paper across the desk.
“You’ll receive a raise and training, nothing too crazy, just $12 an hour to start,” he laughs. “Oh, and I don’t know if Christina told you, but we also have a scholarship you might be interested in. You’re planning on going, right?” I sputter a yes after glancing at the paper in amazement, and a handshake and a jovial slap on the back later, I’m walking down the stairs on a cloud. I eventually clock out, wave goodbye to James, flip Christina off in my head, and squeeze into my rundown car.
Reaching into my pocket, I take the folded, off-white paper out to analyze once more. The praise doesn’t catch my attention, but the name does. Nathan. I insert my key into the ignition as the sun sets, ignoring the well of questions left unanswered. How can I be sure all of this was real? Are there others like me? Why do I have these powers? Can people really change?
I place my hands on the steering wheel. A sunray peeks into my windshield and warms my hands. A pair of parents walk their flock of children across the parking lot in my rearview mirror. Laughter, warnings, and the patter of sneakers ring through the air. It’s moments like these that bring back memories.
A driving test.
A mean DMV instructor reducing me to tears.
My dad consoling me with bravado and expletives directed at the government. And a small, insignificant driving tip.
Katy, he says, when you drive, you can’t look at both lines on the road. You have to choose, or else you wobble.
Maybe “real” doesn’t matter. Maybe being “right” doesn’t matter. I take my phone out of my pocket and look at the email address of a therapist given to me by a distant relative after my father’s funeral. Maybe I matter. Thumbs shaking, I type out a message, hit the send button, sit back, and let go of a breath I’ve been holding for a long, long time.
And that’s a wrap! Huge thank you to everyone who stuck with this story over the last year. Next steps are rewrites, beta readers, and more. Hopefully, my book will be finalized and printed by the end of 2021. Until next time ❤️❤️❤️.