Dead On Her Feet
“I really appreciate you understanding,” Jane said over the phone. “I promise to make it up to you as soon as I’m feeling better.”
“Sure,” I croak out. The sound of a crowd in the background makes me doubt her claim of being sick but I’m not high enough on the totem pole to demand a doctor’s note and the store manager is out with pneumonia.
“Ah, don’t tell me you’re catching whatever is going around, too,” she laughs.
“Sounds like it,” I say, flipping over my box of cold medicine. It’s only been six hours since I’ve taken it and it stopped working an hour ago. I wonder if two hours would make that much of a difference.
“Well, feel better and call someone if you need to go home sick.”
She hung up before I could ask her to not have me cover her shift tonight.
Fuck it, I decide. I’m taking another dose. I can sleep it off when I’m off in a few more hours.
I throw the pills back with the last of my water and wait for the inevitable cough that comes with the cold. It never comes and I’m grateful for the reprieve.
The rattling cough had been persistent for the last few days but it seemed to have past. My lungs feeling like lead probably meant it wasn’t a good thing but I was willing to not think about it for the rest of my shift.
Everything ached, including my hair and eyelashes. Blinking had become an effort of will as had thinking beyond the next few minutes.
I shuffled back onto the floor and my cashier huffed at me.
“It’s about time. And before you ask, no, I can’t stay. I have plans tonight.”
“That’s fine. It’s slow tonight, anyway. Enjoy your plans.”
She paused and looked at me. “You look like death.”
“Do I look bad enough to make you stay?” I ask.
The indecision flashed across her face and I shook my head. “Go home, Lauren. Enjoy your plans. I’ll be here.”
“If I didn’t already have plans,” she started and I waved her away.
“I understand. I’m the only one here without a life. Go on.”
Lauren didn’t need anymore nudging. She bolted to the back and came out a minute later with her purse. “It’s not fair for you,” she said as I walked her to the door. “You deserve a life, too.”
“Yeah, yeah, I croaked. I’ll go get one when I have the chance.”
She laughed and ran out the door to the only car in the parking lot with it’s headlights on. When she climbed into the passenger seat, I could see her lean across and kiss the driver.
New boyfriend, I thought to myself. Guess she has those kinds of plans tonight.
The store is dead, the only sounds the inappropriately upbeat pop music, the rattle of the air conditioning and my shuffling feet as I move around straightening shelves and stocking product.
I sit down for a moment in the chairs by the fitting rooms and feel my last breath gust out of me. The achiness in my limbs disappears and I look around.
It’s still hard to move and think but there’s not much to do so I just keep working.
A customer comes in and tells me she’s just looking when I mumble a greeting. A handful of clothes later, she calls me to the register and I get there as fast as I can.
My movements are slow and deliberate as I ring up her purchase and I can see her checking her phone distractedly. I tell her the total and she hands me cash.
I have to put the amount in twice, my fingers barely activating the touch screen and the drawer startles me when it pops open.
“Here’s your change,” I groan, trying to get her attention.
“What?” She snaps, finally looking up at me.
Anger flashes in her eyes and I’m suddenly hungry.
“Chaaaange,” I moan, trying desperately not to lick my lips.
“It’s about damn time,” she says, taking the money I hand her.
I watch in horror as I reach out and grab her. I pull her across the counter by her arm and ignore her screams. Each blow of her fists thuds against my arms but do nothing to stop me.
A wet cracking noise draws my attention to where I’ve grabbed her head, the red, sticky fluid running down my palms.
She looks like a watermelon and makes me think of steak as I take a bite of the first thing I’ve wanted to eat in months.
When I’m finished, I throw what’s left in the trash and grab the disinfectant. There’s a procedure for dealing with spilled fluids and I’m moving better after my snack.