Isolation Architect by Blemished Projections
It's always the last hour that is the longest and time passes slower and slower. No customers, just the wait and aimless wandering. No more thoughts, I'm reduced to being there, a body, defending the merchandize — shoes and menswear — from some unlikely thief. I can't do much in that last hour except fight a losing battle against boredom. Mandip, the woman in menswear, she folds until the last minute, like a machine, as if in some sort of trance, pushing her clothes folding table around like a walker. She's not ugly but suffers from some kind of chronic stomach pain and always looks like she's about to cry, dark circles under her eyes.
Once Thomas, my schooled friend, explained to me Zeno's paradox. How you can't get from point A to point B because you have to cross half the distance first and then half of the remaining distance and then half of that and so on for all fucking eternity. That's how time feels in that last hour. As if every passing moment increases the gaping void ahead. The finish line becomes ever more distant, impossible to reach, like a nightmarish race through quick-sand.
In the background, Cher started singing: "Do you believe in life after love? / I can feel something inside me say / I really don't think you're strong enough?" Is there life after work? I asked myself. Do you believe in life after rape?
I was definitely not felling strong enough. Thomas wasn't able to hang out after my shift, spending too much time with his stupid new girlfriend. I told him he should share her, just for kicks, but he just ignored me. He maybe caught feelings for the cunt. When she's not around, we'd mostly get high and play first-person shooters, sometimes drug my mom's cat just for fun. Of course, I could do all those things by myself but it wouldn't be the same. I considered stopping at Safeway to buy some junkfood but that desire wasn't strong enough either. I was just there, enduring that final hour, with no hope or want to move me, just existing, breathing.
My feet took me to the menswear area, in a half-assed attempt to check some new clothes, although most of them were too tight for me. They had some new cool shorts in the Point Zero brand but they weren't on sale.
Suddenly, I noticed something on the floor, by Mandip's folding table. I thought it was a pile of black clothes some customer left behind, but something pink stood up on top of the pile. As I got closer, I recognized a face, Mandip's sad face; it appeared stretched and almost liquid. I gaped at her in shock. The whole thing seemed like one of those magic tricks where some bearded wizard brandishes a wand and the monster disappears in a puff of smoke leaving its clothes behind. Except, in this case, Mandip only half-disappeared, her flesh was left behind, boneless, melted.
In the background, Cher's song made way to Lady Gaga's Born This Way.
Mandip looked at me with crazed, pitiful eyes. They were widely spread on her flattened face. Her toothless mouth struggled to form words, "Jjjjjack, I don't ffffeel wwwwell..." She spoke with spittle in a way that reminded me of Sylvester the Cat.
Slowly, I took my cell phone out of my pocket and asked, "Should I call an ambulance?"
"No," she spit. "I have to shtay tillup the end of mmmy sshhift...jjjust a bit mmmmooore."
I stared at her in disbelief. "But...you seem to be dying."
"Noooo!! I'm ok, I'm sure I'll get bbbbetter later. I'm jjjust tired, you know? But I need to finish my sshhift for the mmmoney. I don't want my mmmanager to be mmmad at me and cut mmmy hoursh. Is ssshe hhere?"
Catherine, our manager, was also on the closing shift, but she rarely ventured upstairs. I looked around and didn't see her and told this to Mandip.
"Good," she mumbled and just stayed there, waiting, her black, tearful eyes darting around to make sure no one sees her.
"Are you sure you're gonna be ok?" I probed.
"I'll be jjust fine," she said. "After I finish this sssshift and get home and make ssome tea. I'm jjjust exjausted. Worked sixsh days in a rrrrow"
I highly doubted some tea would fix Mandip's problem. I looked down at her with pity and disgust. I really didn't give a shit about her. Not about anybody, except maybe Thomas. Sometimes I go through the motions to show that I give a fuck and am civil but I really don't. If all my coworkers died overnight, I wouldn't give a rat's ass.
Suddenly, with a flabby, trembling hand, Mandip lifted her ID card toward me. "Will you help me sssswipe out ppplease...when ttttime comesh?" Obviously, in her current state it was difficult for her to climb on top of the desk and swipe the card and punch in the required keys.
"Sure," I said. "I'll see you at closing time."
I hurried back to my department. On the plus side, the small incident killed some time. My cell phone said we only had half an hour left. I did a final walk through my footwear department to make sure no shoes were on the floor and no boxes on the display shelves and tables. I did the final clean-up at a snail's pace. Soon, Catherine's voice came from the speakers. "Good evening customers, the store will be closing in fifteen minutes. Please take your final purchases to the nearest cash-desk. The last doors to be left open are on the main floor by the women's apparel department."
Fifteen more minutes, that was three times five minutes. Five minutes sounded more manageable. I pulled out my cell phone and started browsing through pictures and vids of some fresh meat on Toiletwhores. Ashley Sartre was almost as depraved as Tasha Suicide. Soon, the metallic sound of change being counted signalled that the cashiers were closing the tills. I put my phone back and adjusted my boner. I went to the stockroom and grabbed my backpack that still had some lunch leftovers, pop, and expired chocolate that the store idiots wanted to throw away.
At five to nine I headed to the cash registers area to swipe out. Mandip was there, waiting in between baskets full of clothes and other merchandize that customers had returned throughout the day. She looked grateful to see me. There were no more shoppers and the cashiers were focused on counting the money and paid no mind to Mandip and I. I took her ID card and swiped out for her. Like a Jack-in-the-box she stretched her rubbery neck to look up at the screen and make sure everything was ok. The desired message popped up, "Well done! Thank you and have a good day." I returned her card and she put it in her purse. Then she began slithering toward the escalator, like an octopus navigating the bottom of the sea, leaving a slimy track in her wake. I knew she was taking the escalator out of habit, without thinking, and I had a gut feeling I had to stay behind to avoid any responsibility. I swiped out and waited. Mandip oozed down the metal steps. Sure enough, in a few seconds screams pierced the quiet of the store. The cashiers and I ran to the top of the escalator.
As I expected, Mandip was pierced by the metal teeth of the combplate at the bottom of the stairs. Her clothes and amorphous flesh were getting shredded. The two cashiers stared in disbelief, their brains trying to make sense of the gruesome sight. I didn't want to press the emergency stop, why ruin a perfect experience? Mandip's flabby hands slapped on the metal platform but she could gain no purchase as her belly and tits and legs were ripped and chewed by the mechanism. Blood and excrement splashed the steps and the glass of the balustrade as her agonized screams turned to blubbering and then subdued gurgling. Gore and bits of flesh dripped in the pit below the stairs like meat from a grinder.
"Code white, code white!" Catherine screamed over the pager. "John, bring the first aid!" John was the guy from Loss Prevention. I saw Catherine run and press the emergency stop at the bottom of the stairs. Too little, too late for poor Mandip, who was just a ripped, crumpled, stinking bag by now. I doubted a first aid kit would do anything. Maybe just call the cleaning lady.
As the spectacle was over, I made my way to the elevator and went to the lowest floor. On my way I saw John run with his first-aid kit and I bit down a smile. Talk about being useless. Through the employee exit I stepped outside. The long summer day was turning grey. I grabbed my smokes from the backpack and lit one up. The nicotine struck my brain and I had an idea. But it was too late and the regret made my legs feel rubbery. I realized I played the whole thing wrong. I should have gagged Mandip, stuffed her in my backpack and taken her home. Maybe show her to Thomas the day after and see what he thought. Just for kicks.