I went to the supermarket tonight to get some candy. I needed lemon drops, you see. I was tired, and wanted to go to bed, but various body parts were acting up, causing me pain, so I couldn’t sleep. I decided to get a little candy and then watch a movie while I waited for the pain medication to kick in.
My contact lenses, they’re soaking in this stuff that the optometrist gave me on my last visit, they have to stay in there for six hours or they burn hell out of my eyes. I walk to my car, careful with each step because I’m not used to wearing my glasses outside of the house.
The supermarket was surreal. Late at night on New Years Day, almost midnight, and the place closes at one. The only people in the there are college students and whatever freaky-ass employees the store could force to work. Nobody’s sober.
The couple in front of me, they’re buying a bottle of wine, a clear plastic box of strawberries, and two large bars of expensive chocolate. Starting the year out right. She has a tattoo of a naked Asian mermaid on her arm, and I wonder why. It goes from her shoulder all the way down to the crook of her elbow. Long-sleeved shirt in her future, if she ever wants a professional job?
The cashier acts nervous, skitzy, like he thinks he’s going to be robbed, even though this isn’t that kind of neighborhood. He’s tweaked on something. The hydrocodone melts under my tongue as I stand in line, listening to the strange emptiness of the supermarket.
It’s usually packed with people, screaming children, the sounds of clattering grocery carts and the constant beeping as items are passed over the scanner. Tonight, only two registers are open, and the beeps are spaced so far apart that they remind me of lonely coyotes out in the country.
Lemon drops and red hots, the stiff plastic bags crackle in my hands as I shift my weight. “Oh, no!” the cashier cries out, and makes a worried face at the end of the line. We all turn and look to see what he’s looking at, but it doesn’t seem to be anything. When we look back, he’s scanning a can of cat food like nothing ever happened.
“I’m going to have to see some ID,” he tells the kid in front of me, even though the kid already has his ID out, and is holding it out in front of the cashier. The cashier stares at the photo, then looks at the kid. Back and forth he’s looking, like a cartoon doing a double-take over and over again.
“I got a haircut, man,” the kid says. His hair is shaved almost to the scalp. “That’s me with long hair.”
The cashier continues to look at the photo, reaches out and takes the wallet from the kid’s hand in order to examine the picture more carefully. He flips the photo compartment back and forth, like a cop practicing to show his badge.
“Gotta be sure, you know,” he says, handing the wallet back.
And then I’m up, my bags of candy that suddenly seem so stupid being carried away on the conveyor. He picks up the first bag, holds it, waits. And then he’s viciously scanning it, like the bags of candy have done something to offend him, or like he has only a matter of seconds to scan the barcode if he wants to save the world. Three bags of ninety-nine cent candy, whipped across the scanner, and the cashier is breathing heavy from exertion, telling me my total as I slide my card through the reader.
“You have a good night,” he says as I pick up my bag. “Be careful out there.”
I look at him, at the receipt he’s holding out to me. I take it slowly, not wanting to touch his skin. “Is it out there I need to worry about?”
“It’s night. Out there.”
I used to work at an all-night diner. Sometimes I’d work the graveyard shift, and there was this waitress who was scared of the night. She jumped like a frightened cat every time the bell over the door clanged, and if someone called, she’d just let it ring. “I don’t answer the phone after eight o’clock,” she told me once as I strode from the kitchen, covered in bacon grease and egg steam to answer the phone at the front of the restaurant. “If people are calling a place after eight, they’re up to no good.”
I walk to my car, careful not to look around the parking lot—it’s one of those nights where, if you aren’t careful, you’ll see much more than you ever wanted to.
I glance up at the moon, and it’s a Cheshire cat grin in a sky of tar. I drive down the dark road to my apartment, occasionally looking out at the various structures. The lit up offices inside the buildings look like vacant aquariums, dirty and depressing.
The world feels older to me tonight. The sky and under, the grass and under, the under and under, years of things I will never know about, people and things living and dying, and I’m here for but a moment.
I can’t decide what movie to watch once I’m home, so I sit down and write this.