Remember the way the customer stands waiting, how he shifts his weight from right to left, from leg to leg. I’ll have a carton of Marlboro and —. Menthol or filter? Soft pack or box? Doesn’t matter. See the customer’s red cap and bark-colored hair, how the strands nearly hide the mole at the top of his forehead. Remember how you see your face flicker in the dark-shaded sunglasses.
The cigarettes are on the scratched, off-white, metal shelves that line the windows behind you. You can look at the parking lot through the smudged panes. Remember how you turn your back and reach for the cartons. The customer says, you can do something else for me. Keep quiet. Give me all the money in your drawer. Just do as I say.
Remember the way the customer’s voice sounds urgent and tight, how he places his left hand on a gun beneath his shirt. See how the weapon is wedged between the tight blue jeans and pale flesh, how the customer’s fingers curl around the wood-colored handle.
Remember to stay calm in order to keep the customer calm. See the aisles of merchandise lined behind him, rows of packaged black combs, foil-wrapped chocolates, and One-A-Day multivitamins. Your gaze, your mind, blurs then finds the no-sale key on the register. Feel how your fingertip touches, the skin and bone presses, into it. Hear Lenny Kravitz sing insistently from somewhere above:
So many years I’ve tried to keep this love alive
But baby it ain’t over til it’s over…
See how another customer approaches your checkout counter. Her fake red nails tap the top of each bottle of shampoo in her plastic shopper’s basket.
Hurry. Okay, you say.
Remember that you are seventeen and this is your summer job: you are a cashier stationed behind the register counter by day, the family dinner table at night. See how the silverware spars with the food, how your father cuts his meat with the jagged-toothed edge of a knife. What’d the surgeon remove a part of your brain when he took off part of your breast? See how your mother answers by dishing more peas onto her plate, letting them tumble in circular patterns, poking their middles with the points of a fork. Your father swallows his anger; your mother chokes on her pride.
So many tears I’ve cried, so much pain inside
But baby it ain’t over til it’s over…(over, over)
Remember that you can do nothing but wait and watch, watch for the shoe to drop, wait for the imminent end.
The customer says, give me the large bills, the ones you hide, he points, underneath your drawer. Okay, you say. Your hand removes the wrinkled bills.
Your father says, you know I love you, right? See how the palm is placed on your knee, how the fingers curl around the crook of your thigh. Yes, you say, always.
Remember to give him everything. Feel the emptiness spread inside you, pulling at your ribs, leaking onto your cheeks.
So many years we’ve tried to keep our love alive
‘Cause baby it ain’t over til it’s over…(over, over)
See how your knuckles clench the rolls of coins. The customer says, no, I don’t want the coins. You say, you don’t want the coins.
The manager is in the back room counting change: quarters, nickels, pennies in their proper slots. Remember that no one knows what is going on and keep it that way.
See how the customer steps backward, eye the next one who comes. Have a nice day, ma’am. Thank you. You too.