A Christmas Tale… of Retail

A short story told through the stream of consciousness of an employee on Black Friday. Featured on the Reedsy blog December 2018.

Photo by Heidi Sandstrom. on Unsplash

The cashier in the Women’s department needs change.

I’ll get that after I drop this register tape in Tools. Then I can finally go home. I am old Kris Kringle… I am already sick of Christmas music.

Eye up the Children’s department on my way. There are… 11, 12, 13, 14 people in line. Okay, register tape to Tools, then help in Children’s, then back to get change for Women’s.

The cashier in Tools needs to take his 15 minute break. I have no idea what the best lug wrench is for fixing a drain. I don’t know what a lug wrench is. And I don’t know why we sell lug wrenches on one floor and Ladies Intimate Apparel on another.

Horizontal Integration, the training videos said. I did go to business school after all.

I send him to the break room and cash out the lineup of customers.

Women’s needs change, I remind myself.

Twenty two minutes later, the kid in Tools is back. Head back to Children’s and help. Kids clothes are so cheap, especially today. I should get something for my nephew. Three dollars for a onesie! Ok, yes, I need to find something today. Do four-year-olds still wear onesies? Whatever.

No, you can’t use this coupon on Black Friday. Yes I’m a manager. Sure I’ll have someone come tell you the exact same thing.

What is that smell? The woman working in Children’s is wearing way, way too much Gingerbread Body Splash. It was on special on Friends and Family Night, I remember. And she needs a 15 minute break. And Women’s needs change. Was that my name on the Walkie-Talkie? You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen….

Tools needs manager approval. I was just there. This does not matter, of course. I am closest. I’ll get it, I announce. At least I cut the line in Children’s down to five. Definitely getting my steps in today.

Corporate is making us all wear red and green bells around our necks for the holiday. It’s supposed to be festive, but I’m jingle-jingling with every step. I can’t sneak up on anyone. Like a cat.

Slide my card in Tools for manager approval.

Duck into the bathroom while I am over here. Everyone can live without me for two minutes. Jesus it’s a wreck in here. Why do people feel the need to trash department store restrooms on the busiest day of the year. Wash my hands and call for maintenance.

My feet hurt. The screen on my watch face is cracked. I’ve been on the floor since 6am, in the store since 4:30. It’s 2 now, but it feels like 5. I wish, Well, I don’t wish. I’m supposed to leave at 2. But Women’s needs change and the line is backed up in Children’s again. Cash a few more onesies. Try not to gag on Gingerbread Body Splash.

Was that my name on the Walkie-Talkie? I’m ignoring it. Smile at this customer. I’m over my time, and I have to buy a onesie for my nephew. A green one sporting monster trucks is hanging here in the cashwrap — looks like coupon lady gave up. It’s big enough. I think. Advance some register tape and scrawl a note on it — “hold for SP” — we’ll see if that works.

Head for the Women’s department to exchange their big bills for smaller ones. Get caught behind an elderly couple on the escalator. Try to look annoyed in case anyone is watching me on the security camera, but I relish standing still for 45 seconds. My feet definitely hurt. I’ve probably lost five pounds today.

Peer across the sales floor as I glide down. Is the girl working in Juniors… crying? Damn it, yes, she is definitely crying. In her reindeer antlers.

Send her to the break room. Ring up some jeans for an impossibly tiny teenager and her father. Crop-tops are back in now. I’m glad I am too old for a crop-top. But this would be cute for my niece. She’s eight. It might show too much belly, and my sister will hate it. Perfect.

I make note of the rack and ask if the customer has a store credit card. He doesn’t. The cashiers make $2.00 per credit approval, but I don’t. I ask halfheartedly if he’d like to apply and save 15%. He’d love to apply and save 15%. God damn it.

Have him step to the side to do paperwork. Cancel his sale so I can cash three more people while he looks for his drivers’ license. The Crying Reindeer is going to be pissed if he gets approved. $2.00 bonuses add up.

Look at my cracked watch. It’s 3:00. She needs to come back. I call up to the break room while I remove a security tag. No answer. Call again. Ger her associate’s number and process the app under her number. I’m not supposed to do that. But Black Friday is lawless. And now she’s coming back. Should she go up to Children’s? she asks. It’s pretty packed. No, I’ll do it. Then I’ll get change for Women’s.

I take the escalator two stairs at a time. Ring people out and call through a list of cashiers, begging people to come in. It takes nine calls, but finally a woman named Carol agrees. Thank goodness for Carol. Gingerbread Body Splash will just have to hold her own until Carol comes in. The Crying Reindeer can always help if it slows down in Juniors.

A booming voice interrupts the tenth replay of Frosty the Snowman today. The cashier in Men’s is on the loudspeaker demanding more shirt boxes. Dammit, this is what the Walkies are for. This is an upscale department store. Sort of. Roll my eyes, head back through the Tool department, and take the back stairs to the warehouse. Put a dusty box on a rolling cart, covering
my black polo in grey fuzz. I don’t even try to wipe it off. I’m an hour and half past schedule, and my feet hurt, and now I’m dirty.

I’m going to bring these boxes to Men’s, get change for Women’s, and then I’m leaving. Shit, I need to get the presents for my niece and nephew.

Drop the boxes off, run back up the warehouse stairs to Children’s to retrieve the monster truck onesie. Cut the line down to three, just as Carol arrives. Restrain myself from visibly rolling my eyes when she says, “It doesn’t seem that slammed.” Ask her to go grab me the crop top from Juniors. Carol does not restrain herself from rolling her eyes.

I take the warehouse stairs down to the store office. I’m not supposed to bring unpaid-for merchandise down these stairs. But Black Friday is lawless. Take off my Walkie, sit down for the first time since 5am. The girl in the office is reading a magazine at the desk.

Resist the urge to punch her. Punch out.

Breathe.

Can she cash me out?

She moves like molasses. She’d never last on the floor. Cute, she remarks, holding the crop top up to herself.

Walk slowly to my car. My ears are ringing from the constant ding of the cash registers, the Christmas music, the Walkie. The sun is bright and jarring after 11 hours in the windowless store. I have to squint. It was dark when I left the house, so I don’t have sunglasses.

I’m grateful my studio apartment is close by, and quiet at this hour of the day.

Throw my dusty clothes in the hamper and crawl into bed in my underwear. Stretch my toes out.

Wonder how we did in sales today.

My eyelids are heavy.

My ears are still ringing. Jingle bell, jingle bell, jingle bell rock….

We must have done okay, it was slammed. No matter what Carol says.

Begin to drift off.

The sheets are cool and clean against my skin and my apartment smells like the little tree I bought for myself on Wednesday and I am warm and not standing and…

I’m so tired… and….

And… Ugh.

God dammit….

I never brought change to Women’s.

This story was written by Shannon Patch. Check out her profile here!

For Reedsy’s curated feed of writing prompts and the chance to enter our prompts-inspired Short Story Contest, head to https://blog.reedsy.com/creative-writing-prompts

Originally published at medium.com on December 7, 2018.

Storyteller, political junkie, Mama. Lover of books, wine, and laughing. Changing the world one busy day at a time.