FLASH Fiction Challenge 100 – Day 22
“Good morning, Juliana,” I say. She doesn’t hear me or she’s just being rude, either way, she doesn’t answer me. We’ve been working together for years now. She works in produce, I’m a cashier. Honestly, I can’t remember the last time she’s said two words to me.
There’s Raoul. He’s a jerk. I nod at him as I pass, but I’m careful to not make eye contact. However, when I pause by the communal bulletin board in the employee lounge, he nearly runs over me. I wanted to check the board for roommate wanted notifications. I’m trying to find a new place to live. The old place is fine, but it feels like it’s time for me to move.
I look for my card below the time clock. Typical practical jokers here, someone has removed mine – again! This seems to happen more and more lately. I’d complain to management, but the last woman, Teresa, that complained to management, was let go.
In Columbia, things are still hard for women in the workplace. We make a bit of progress on one front one day, then slide immediately backward on three other fronts the very next. What is it the French say? C’est la vie?
Well, I guess it’s another day off for me. I walk by the checkout lanes in the front just to make sure. As I expected, every single lane already has a cashier. Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I worked. Life is rough in this town. Rival drug lords started a bloody feud in the mountains where they have their opium labs. Sometimes their fighting spills over and touches the civilians. I’ve lost track of how many funerals I’ve gone to. I would move elsewhere, but I have nowhere to go. I think about making the long trek to America, but I don’t think I would survive the journey.
On my way past the lanes, I see at least four new cashiers. This is unacceptable. I’ve not worked in weeks at least! And Daniel is giving new employees shifts!? Unbelievable! Daniel tried to coerce me into sex one time. I said no because I’m not that kind of girl. But I never imagined he would be so vindictive! I’ve got to confront him and there are few things I hate more than confrontations.
I turn around and head back, make my way deeper into the store. To the back right corner of the store. I walk through the door and nearly collide with Isabella coming down the stairs. I step to the side, but she just keeps walking. Rude.
But that is weird. Isabella is one of the sweetest people here. And I thought we were friends. Was I wrong about her?
“Isabella?” I shout after her. Nothing. So I shout her name again, louder.
She flinches, turns, looks right at me. No, that’s not right. She’s looking through me, I think. She’s wearing a strange, almost scared look on her face. I don’t know what to say, so I say nothing. After a few seconds, Isabella continues on her way. Her shift is over, she’s headed home to her kids.
I climb the narrow, creaky steps to Daniel’s office. His office has four darkened windows that look over the entire store, so it’s a good vantage point for catching shoplifters.
“Danny, we have to talk!” I shout as I barge into his office without knocking. I’m quite nervous, so I am careful to not look at him. He’s doing something on his new computer because he doesn’t acknowledge my presence. The computer is an ugly, enormous, clunky thing, but Daniel thinks they are the wave of the future. I’m skeptical. My nephews play some games on theirs, but their hype seems undeserved to me.
I lose my temper. I shout at him. Call him a coward for being so vindictive, so petty. Call him every name I can think of, but still, he won’t speak to me? He won’t even look at me?
In my desperation to be seen, I shove a tall stack of papers off his desk. They plunge to the floor, then cascade in eight different directions.
Danny jumps up from his chair. He looks around the office. He seems both frightened and sad.
He walks towards the door, stops, and begins talking to a framed picture there.
Has everyone in this store lost their minds?
He’s whispering something. I take a step closer to him. It sounds like he’s praying.
I take another step closer. It sounds like a prayer.
Daniel finishes with his prayer, makes the sign of the cross, and says, “Vaya con Dios, sweet Maria.” Then he leaves his office and I’m alone.
Okay, I’ve got to find a new job. This is simply untenable.
But then I see the picture Danny had prayed over. It was taken on my first day of work here, eight years ago. My smile is broad and genuine. While I don’t consider myself photogenic, I have always loved this picture. This was years before the gang violence had gotten so bad.
I read the words underneath my picture, though at this point I already remember them.
‘To our sweet sister Maria. Tragically killed on April 3, 1978. We miss you! Go with God, Maria!’
In my memory, I see them. Four gunmen. The shouted threats and profanities. Rushing into the store. Two of them trying to do something to the door. One of them bleeding from the abdomen, his left arm cinched tight to his waist. Then a squeal of tires from outside. Three large and loud, black trucks. The kind they drive in the mountains. Several men getting out of the trucks. One man, the one driving the second truck, gets out of his car and pulls something out of the bed of his truck. It’s a comically large gun.
‘A rocket launcher!’ someone had shouted. Daniel, maybe?
It felt like a dream.
‘Everyone get down!’ Daniel, or someone else, had yelled then.
I moved too slow. The grenade, if I remember right, killed three of the four men. One of them, the one that had been shot in the gut, looked to be no older than fourteen, still a boy! But it was glass from the front window that took my life. I remember the piercing pain of the large shard of glass penetrating my neck. How the air and the blood got all mixed together, the gurgling, bubbling sounds that came from deep within me as I tried to breathe. The pain, my ears ringing from the explosion.
Isabella bending over me, tears in her eyes, telling me I was going to be okay. We shared a brief look that says we both know she was lying.
She tried to apply pressure to the wound, but the shard was still in my neck, and she could not. My blood so hot on my blouse as it flowed out of me. Isabella knew better than to remove the shard. I was as good as dead the instant the missile penetrated the window and launched the glass splinter into my neck. No doctor on earth could’ve saved me at that point.
Then I remembered Daniel. Stooping low over me. Crying. Daniel had cried! Then the doubts. Had I been wrong about him? All these years?
And now he prays over me.
I remember it all. Because I’ve done variations of this day, every day, for the past eight years. I am only a ghost, a lost ghost. If I saw a tunnel of light, I would rush towards it. But I see no such thing. Maybe some clerical error in death’s office? Someone forgot a form, and so now I’m stuck here?
I feel tears running down my non-existent cheek. Impossible. I make my way out of the store. My memories start to fade as soon as I exit the store. But I know I’ll be back tomorrow. I’m a lost ghost. Where else would I go?