Late For Work
This is one story out of the collection as an example.
I wrote this piece in response to a writing prompt, which is the last sentence of the story. I enjoyed it so much that I worked it into a chapter in my novel The Seekers : Tales of the Tarot Archetypes.
Late for my meeting, I reluctantly turn into the convenience store parking lot and pull up to the pumps. The warning light had been on since yesterday and running out of gas would be worse than being late a few more minutes. Besides, a cup of bad coffee saturated with sugar and powder creamer sounded pretty good since I rushed out of the house with no time to brew my own.
I walk down the narrow aisles brimming over with colorful packages of cookies, chips and candy bars seducing me with their promise of sugary satisfaction. I march purposefully toward the coffee bar and fill a large cardboard cup leaving an inch at top for the necessary additions to make the black liquid palatable. Turning up another aisle I’m assaulted by the aroma of warm doughnuts neatly lining the inside of a clear plastic box, eyeing me with alluring glances. I strengthen my resolve and stride past, casting my gaze forward toward my goal of rendering payment at the register and escaping this den of temptation.
Two young men are waiting ahead of me, one tall and slender, dark hair slicked back under a baseball cap tilted askance. The other is round and stout, his gray T-shirt badly in need of laundering, thrust out by his belly. I look past them over the counter to see Shirley, indicated by the label on her black uniform shirt, a large bulk of a woman in her fifties flipping through a thick three-ring binder muttering and cursing under her breath. Her long, light brown hair is perched in an amazing act of balance, hair pins, and faith upon her head in a mesmerizing heap that threatens to topple with every nod and jerk as she continues to flip furiously through the pages.
Down the counter to my right in front of the other register is Debbie Ann, thirty-something, straight hair to her shoulders bleached nearly white turning bubblegum pink at the ends. She is speaking excitedly into a phone.
“No, he made me write her up! It was the second time she called in an hour before her shift. Jerry had to work a double to cover for her. He was so pissed!”
No chance of getting any service from her. I look over the two young men slouching in front of me to see if Shirley is any closer to attending to their needs. Next to her is Armando, a boy not more than nineteen who looks like he accidentally ran over someone’s cat and can’t decide who to tell. He is thoughtlessly picking through a pile of cash register receipts that is almost as tall as the register that continues to spew them. They are all connected to each other, slit halfway at the boundary between each one.
“She’s gonna get fired if she does it again,” chimes in Shirley without lifting her head from the binder as she continues to rifle through the pages looking for some clue to the chaos that continues to erupt from the register at unexpected intervals. She punches a few buttons and several more feet of paper sputters forth.
“Damn!” She rips the new stream off the little printer and squints at the numbers, obviously not happy with its message.
“I know! What right does she have?” Debbie Ann asks the person at the other end of the line. “I mean I would never think of doing such a thing.”
“What’s going on?” I ask the stout guy in front of me. He looks at me for a moment, unsure if I warrant the effort of a response. He shrugs and turns back to his friend who looks at me over the stout one’s head, smiles and laughs a little snorting kind of laugh.
I turn around and realize that there are three people lined up behind me all looking around as if nothing untoward has befallen them.
At that moment, a frenzied Latino man storms into the store and rushes up to the counter.
“What’s wrong now, Horace?” Shirley asks. He is clutching a lottery ticket which seems to have nothing to do with his predicament.
“It stopped pumping at eight-o-six. I paid ten bucks. Why’d it stop at eight-o-six?” He pulls up his pants, which seem to be two sizes too large, with his free hand.
“You bought that Chapstick and a can of Clamato,” Debbie Ann yells across the counter.
He looks at her and smiles. He has only two teeth, the ones in the front, making him look like a beaver.
“That couldn’t be it. The Clamato’s on sale.”
“No it isn’t,” says Shirley who has gone back to flipping pages in her binder.
“The Clamato and Chapstick came to one dollar and ninety-four cents,” says Armando in perfectly enunciated English while consulting one of the receipts from the enormous pile that gets a little bigger with a new round of receipt spewing by the machine.
Horace looks from Armando to Debbie Ann to Shirley. “But it stopped pumping at eight-o-six.”
I pull my cell phone out of my pocket and realize I’ve wasted too many precious minutes already. I can pay for my gas at the pump but would dearly like to take my coffee with me. I take a huge gulp which I immediately regret as it burns my lips, tongue and throat.
“Shit!” I sputter. No one pays any attention to me. I look at the middle-aged woman behind me holding a box of Kleenex. Who comes into a convenience store at eight o’clock in the morning just to buy a box of Kleenex? I reach past her and open the clear lid to the doughnut box. I grab a glistening one, squishy enough to require a firm grasp to pull out of the box. I take a large bite.
“Mmmm.” I chew slowly, thoroughly enjoying the experience. I follow it with another large gulp of coffee which tastes exceptional in combination. I look up at the counter and Horace is walking out unsatisfied.
“No, it doesn’t make any sense,” Debbie Ann says into the phone. “But no one asked me. Yeah, I know.”
Shirley and Armando continue to be occupied with the mountain of receipts and no one in line either in front of me or behind seems the least bit concerned. I finish my doughnut, lick my fingers and take another swig from my coffee.
“OK, I’ll talk to you later.” Debbie Ann finally hangs up and I figure the two young guys in front of me will move over to her register. “Alright, I’m outta here,” she says, swinging her purse onto her shoulder. I look at her in bewilderment, drain the last of my coffee and decide I will follow her out the door.
My plan for free coffee and doughnuts is full-proof until I hear Shirley, without lifting her head from the three-ring binder, utter the following.
“OK Dear, but before you go, could you reload the gun?”