Just another UMW Blogs weblog

2. “Write a short character sketch (it may be from life), focusing on how your character makes a living.  Put your character in a working situation and let us know by a combination of direct and indirect methods what that work is, how well he or she does it, what it looks like, smells like, and [how] the character feels about it.”

–Janet Burroway, Imaginative Writing

Shannon checked her phone one last time before letting out a massive sigh.  4:26.  Four minutes to make it to the front of the store and clock in.  Tossing her phone into her dented, too small locker, she shrugged into the beige shirt that comprised the upper half of her uniform, then pulled the apron over her head and deftly tied it behind her back.  4:29.  Thankful for the anti-slip soles of her work shoes, she power-walked through the greenish puddle that had pooled outside the break room doorway.  The acrid smell of cheap cleaning products mixed with the odor of rotting vegetables.  Boxes of various products to be shelved loomed above, but, like a light at the end of the tunnel, the double doors to the sales floor lay just ahead.

To spice it up a bit, she decided to bust through the doors saloon style.  Oh yeah–total bad ass.  A customer paused to look down his nose at her, but she shot him her best smile and a cheery “How’re you today, sir?”  The man grumbled a quick “fine,” and continued on his way.  Shannon swept briskly into the narrow hallway that housed the time punch.  As the numbers of the clock flipped from 4:29 to 4:30, she keyed in her employee ID, waited for the beep of affirmation, and then walked to her lane.

Stepping behind her register, she flipped on her light and mentally steeled herself for the oncoming dinner rush.  Everybody and their mother came through between 4:30 and 5:15 to pick up last minute ingredients.  As was the norm, her too cheap employer didn’t have enough people on register.  This would prove to be yet another hectic evening.  While waiting for her first customer, Shannon wrestled a couple stacks of plastic bags onto the twisted arms of the bent stands; apparently the store lacked enough funds to even pay for the most minor repairs.  A huff and a thunk drew her attention away from her present line of thought.  She glanced down the length of her stand in time to see a woman in her mid-fifties hoist another liter of Coke onto the belt.  Her wiry, graying hair clawed the air as the woman heaved can after can of Progresso soup shot put-style into the cue of groceries, followed by an incredible amount of toilet paper rolls.  At least her form was good.  “Hi, how are you doing today, ma’am?”  The woman said nothing, but instead chose to glare back at Shannon, puffy red face gleaming with an expression that screamed “mind your own business.”  It was just going to be one of those days.

After loading the devil woman’s cart and offering assistance to her car, the store seemed to explode.  Customers that had been hidden among the shelves and aisles swarmed to the front of the store.  Did they plan these things?  Little spite-induced plots formulated in the produce section?  That’s got to be the answer.  As the customers flowed through the line in a seemingly endless river, her hands flew as products slid across the scanner and neatly into bags.  Her fingers danced across the keyboard, rapidly typing in various product codes, resulting in an impressive clatter of keys with each six digit set.

The wave of dinner-seeking customers dissipated and the store returned to its inactive state.  She heaved a great sigh and tried to ignore the tension in her knees and back.  A woman wheeled abruptly into Shannon’s lane, talking obnoxiously into her cell phone, haphazardly flinging her groceries onto the belt while her 5 year old held tight to a Go-gurt in the front basket of the cart.  Beep.  The first item scanned.  WHUMP.  The little boy slammed his Go-gurt onto the edge of the checkout lane.  Beep.  WHUMP.  Beep.  WHUMP.  Should she say something?  The mother clearly wasn’t going to.  Beep.  WHUMP.  Beep.  WHU—The Go-gurt promptly burst, sending a strawberry spray into Shannon’s face and across her shirt and pants.  The mother paused her conversation, checked her total and handed over the necessary cash:  “You should probably find a paper towel for that,” she said as she accepted her change, returned to her chattering and left.

Wiping the sticky yogurt from her person, Shannon looked around, taking in the tired eyes and thin lipped smiles of her coworkers.  Her smile and enthusiastic greetings were part of the reason customers liked her so much.  However, she felt that smile starting to crack.  At twenty-five, there was no reason she should feel so worn out.  This wasn’t how it was supposed to be–she had dreams!  She had a degree, damn it!

Customers came and went over the course of the evening and the clock took its precious time ticking past the minutes.  She was nearing the end of her shift, finally, and she chatted with a few of her regular customers about the weather, their kids’ latest achievements, and their various other updates as they came through her line.  The clock moved ever closer to 10:00.  The woman who had just stepped into her checkout lane would be her last!  Shannon flipped the switch of her light, simultaneously lighting a spark of end-of-work-happiness in her.  “Hello!” she said happily as she ran the woman’s purchases through the scanner and neatly bagged them.  She grabbed hold of the biggest box of laundry detergent she’d ever seen while the customer continued on about her busy day.  In one smooth motion, as she slid the box over the barcode reader, a spurt of the powder blew from an apparently open lid.  Standing there, covered head to toe in a white powder that was starting to make her itch, the customer looked up and saw Shannon, letting loose a huge laugh. “Oops!  Guess I forgot to tell you I opened it to get a whiff of the scent!”  “Well,” Shannon said with a forced chuckle through gritted teeth, “at least I smell April Fresh now, right?”

The woman let loose another asinine guffaw, clearly finding the entire scene vastly entertaining.  The smell of detergent burned her nostrils as Shannon rang up the rest of the woman’s purchases and loaded her cart.  They did not pay her enough for this.  She swept up the inch of powder that had invaded the floor of her check stand; the detergent continued to induce an irritating itch.  After scrubbing down her conveyor belt and station, she clocked out and all but sprinted to the back of the store, avoiding customer eye contact as she went.  She peeled off her soiled work shirt, retrieved her belongings from her locker, and left the backroom again, making a beeline for the doors to the parking lot.  Crossing into the humid night, she made a point to put as much distance between her and that store…at least until the next afternoon


One Response to “Exercise 2: The Glory of Groceries”

  1. math games on February 5th, 2011 5:09 pm