Jessie came back from the stockroom covered in dust. Her glasses were disheveled, barely holding up her eyes. I was posted at the register, counting the scratches in the countertop again. She wore her radiant grin, as per usual. We always tried to keep it even by rotating duties on the night shift. Sometimes I'd ring people up. Other times I'd restock the freezer and shelves for the following morning.
"Did you see the pile of brokens back there? When did it get so big?"
My organs felt heavy. "I don't know."
The musky fluorescent light followed her back up to the register, reminding me that we were closing in 30 minutes.
"Gary dropped a case of wine yesterday," I said, "but I feel like it's been that big since I got here. Why? What'd you break?"
"Oh, just a six-pack. One of the bottles fell through. I don't like going down there," she laughed. "The dungeon is creepy."
"How often do they sell back the damaged stuff?"
"I've only seen it once since I've been here."
"How long is that?"
"In this store?" She stopped to ponder her choices. "I think 10 years? Maybe? Yeah 10 years."
I tried to picture myself in 10 years.
"But it's just something me to pay the bills with. At least until one of my art projects makes it."
"Oh cool," I said. "What's your medium?"
Jessie checked her watch. "Well anything really. I find that you have to live in such a way that ignites the medium within you. Erase the weighted anxieties of cultural responsibility and find the sparks in your blood. Sometimes that's paint, other times it's clay. When life sucks, it's the stack of broken cases in a basement. You know?"
I nodded. She was very good at expressing herself, a trait that I admired even though I’d only known her a few months. A man came up to the register with a handle of vodka and Jessie rang him up.
"I'm gonna go lock up the back door. Be right back."
She handed the man his change and smiled. I went off, wondering what it'd be like to be paid for my stories and books. College was fun and all, being published in the school's journal and a handful of online magazines, but it didn't pay the bills. Stocking shelves barely covered that.
In the back, I thought about where I was 10 years ago. How much I've grown. How far I’ve come as a creative in my own linguistic mediums. I was only now starting to find the silver in my sideburns, one at a time like a little reminder; an expiration date stamped to the side of my head.
Jessie had something figured out. I found her up at the register counting out the first cash tray. She had a lot more gray hairs than I did, but it never seemed to bother her.
“The backdoor is good to go. Want me to shut down the lights in the dungeon?”
“Sure,” she smiled. “Can you grab my bag while you’re back there? It’s the blue one with purple pineapples on it.”
“You got it.” I ran back, flicked off the lights, shut down the inventory PC, and went back to hand Jessie her bag. “Why are they purple?”
“Why not?” She laughed. “Things don’t always have to be normal.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“The trick is not letting other people’s ideologies into your head. Or your heart.”
She pulled out the second tray and started counting out. I relined the trash bags, refreshed the paper bags, shut down the aisle lights, and stacked some more boxes neatly next to the counter. Anything to make those last few minutes speed up. The clock above the entrance read 9:54 so I dead-bolted the door, hoping Susie, our boss, wouldn’t care about locking it up a minute earlier than she’d requested. I mean, they’d only find out if she checked the surveillance footage, which I was sure no one had done since I was hired anyway.
I thought about what I was going to try and write about when I got home. But all my head kept coming back to was the last decade on my timeline. And Jessie.
“So do you have plans tonight?” She asked, stacking the last of the twenties inside the bank bag.
“Probably just working on my book,” I laughed. “Just another wasteful night owl.”
Jessie stopped what she was doing, glanced up at me and said; “Doing what you need to do is never a waste of time. In the same way that pharmaceutical companies try to sell you ideas far beyond the particles of what makes you who you are, creating something that did not exist before is the framework of life. It is why we are here. Our purpose on this floating rock. Don’t trick yourself into thinking otherwise.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“You will see, Glen. You will see that one day.”
I smiled. “Thanks Jess.”
She nodded, finished the count, brought the bag into the office, put on her coat, and walked to the door. “Got everything?” She asked.
I checked my pockets. “Yep.”
We stepped outside into the cold winter night and she bolted the door behind us.
“See you tomorrow?”
I zipped up my hoodie, thinking about the noise in my heart. “Yep, got the night shift again.”
“I look forward to it.” She smiled.
And we went home to build another day.