By Heidi Scheffers


You are reduced to a number when you clock in for the day. In here, there are no days, no time. The light is always on: it beams down on you from big, industrial somethings in the ceiling. You can’t see them, nor can you even see the ceiling – they do their job well. The light bounces off the grimy lino floor; it is white above, white below, and in the middle, stuff everywhere. Stuff people want and stuff people don’t want. Dish sponges, dog costumes, doona covers, and bikes. You are in charge of the things people don’t want.

‘All staff: Please look neat. No branded shoes. Smile!’ says a note above the mirror in the locker room. You look at yourself in the mirror and you are small. Staying small is a form of neatness and your hobby. There’s no time for much else.

Out on the floor, your first station is the door. It’s simple enough. Under no circumstances are you to run out of the store after people without receipts. They could have knives to stab you with. You are to report them to store security.

An old woman hobbles towards you as if to ask you something.

‘You’re the bag checker. You’re so small, aren’t you?’ She smiles benignly.

Like looking in the mirror before, it was kind of satisfying. But as she hobbles left towards the cooking aisle, near-floor length matted hair swaying behind her, you remember her snaggle-tooth and the vague feeling she could eat you.

You’re glad when you’re called to your main spot, the Service Desk. This is where the people come when they don’t want the stuff anymore.

A tall, lithe woman with emerald green lipstick walks towards you, pulling a trolley that seems to glide effortlessly behind her. She has long fingers and sharp nails and she reaches into an envelope to pull out eight crisp fifty-dollar notes to pay for her wares. Usually you’d explain to her that all purchases are made at the main checkout in the middle of the store, but you proceed with the sale, saying nothing.

The next customer approaches. You can’t see his eyes because his hair hangs over them. He has come with a blender and says it doesn’t work. At last, a normal customer. You print him the store credit and start to fill out the faulty product paperwork as he saunters back into the bowels of the store. Out the back, you’re bending down to put the box on the pile with all the other faulty items when the cardboard tab flicks open and all of a sudden you’re face-to-face with maggots. Writhing and squirming inside the green blender gunk. You internally scream and are about to get the manager when a voice resounds in your ear canal.

‘Could Service Desk 1 please check the hardware section? We’ve got someone looking dodgy and we need to confirm location,’ says the worm-like earpiece.

Service Desk 1. That’s you. You tell them you’re on it and walk back out onto the floor.

The phone rings. Always pick up the phone, you’re told. A man babbles in an ancient language you do not understand. You’re too busy to decipher this – you’re on a mission – and you transfer the call to a store the next suburb over.

Out on the floor you are swarmed for help.

‘Excuse me, I’m looking for – ‘

‘Hi! Can you help – ‘

‘Excuse me! Are you the only one here? It’s absolutely atrocious there are really not enough people on the floor to hel– ‘

You turn back to them. ‘Hi. Could you all please wait here for one second? I’m on a task with security at the moment. If you head to the main registers, there will be some people who can assist you.’

They see the earpiece in your ear and shut their mouths. It’s like you’ve drawn an invisible line on the ground that no enquiry about fluffy pillows, no matter how serious, will make them cross.

You’re back on your mission. Stalking along the main corridor you peep into every aisle. Hoses, hammers, nails, rope. It’s all… quiet. Weed killers, mouse traps, staple guns. Where… are… they… you think to yourself. And as you step closer towards the battery aisle you hear the unmistakable click of plastic against plastic. Of course. Batteries are expensive, and small. You got him. You focus on your gait. You need to walk past slowly enough to see what’s going on, but with enough haste to ensure that you’re just passing, just passing. You saw on a documentary once that herd animals never enter fight or flight mode from strangers who are just passing.

You see him. He’s in a baggy t-shirt and his arms are flying from the battery rack into his bag at such a pace that you swear he has three of them. Click, clack, clack. The packets of plastic are sliding over one another as they enter his rucksack. He looks right through you with a maddened glint in his eye – but maybe he didn’t see? You bring your mic to your mouth as you keep walking to confirm. Yep, he’s there. Grey t-shirt. Battery aisle.

Now you may return to the desk to complete your job. A young woman of about thirty shuffles up to the desk.

‘How are you?’ you ask.

The woman smacks a piñata on the table. Ribbons of pink and yellow curl away from the cardboard. There’s nothing inside.

‘My son’s birthday was ruined and I want a refund.’

‘The product has already been us–‘

‘There were no Redskins in there, and Redskins are his favourite.’

‘And there were other lollies inside?’

Yes,’ she says, all teeth, ‘but the Redskins.’ She steps forward and tilts her head down to glare at you. Under the bright lights, you spot two little triangular shadows on either side of her forehead.

Ok, I will check with the Party Section about the contents of our piñatas. Have you got a receipt?’ They will not let you make a return without a receipt.

‘First you don’t believe me about the Redskins and, now? And now you want to see a receipt?’

‘I’m sorry, it’s store policy –’

‘This is ridiculous,’ the woman, of thirty years old, says stamping her foot. ‘Where is the manager.’ It’s not a question.

Behind her, a backlog of customers is building. You mic in the Manager.

They yak away in your periphery for some time. Then she returns, cutting the line.

‘He said I could have my money back’, she mumbles through a pout, and slides a credit card your way. ‘Karen’, it reads. This is still against store policy. Her long red ponytail swishes into a fork as she rounds the corner to leave.

The final customer sidles up. For a quiet moment, you both look down at the savagely beaten carcass on the table.

‘It looks like he actually had a pretty epic birthday party,’ says the customer.

He puts his returns on the desk – a faulty globe, and a receipt.

‘She was awful,’ he says. He has light brown eyes.

‘Yeah,’ you smile, a little embarrassed. She actually was. You remember it’s shortly approaching your eighth hour in the store. Gosh, you’d started to feel a little crazy under those fluorescent lights.



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